The family of Tyre Nichols said on Friday they plan to be at every court date of the five former Memphis police officers who are indicted on second-degree murder charges for the death of the 29-year-old.
Speaking outside the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center after the five former officers submitted not guilty pleas, Nichols’s mother RowVaughn Wells said Friday was just the beginning of the process.
“I’m waiting for this nightmare basically that I’m going through right now, I’m waiting for somebody to wake me up,” she said. “But I also know that it’s not going to happen, OK. I know my son is gone. I know I’ll never see him again. We have to start his process of justice right now.”
“I want each and every one of those police officers to be able to look me in the face,”
she continued. “They haven’t done that yet. They couldn’t even do that today. They didn’t even have the courage to look at me in my face after what they did to my son. So they’re going to see me at every court date — every one — until we get justice for my son.”
Nichols was stopped on Jan. 7 by Memphis police for reckless driving, though officials later said there was no evidence to substantiate the reckless driving claim. Nichols ran from police officers, who eventually caught up to him and kicked, punched and beat him with a baton for three minutes. Graphic video footage of the beating was released to the public in late January. Nichols died from his injuries on Jan. 10, and on Jan. 26, the five officers were indicted.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Desmond Mills Jr. all face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression. All five officers are also Black.
At their arraignment on Friday, the former Memphis police officers’s attorneys entered not guilty pleas on their behalf. The five are due back in court on May 1.
Wells said that she wasn’t surprised to hear the officers submit not guilty pleas, but that she will put her faith in the district attorney’s office to prosecute the former officers until a guilty verdict is reached.
Wells was joined by her husband Rodney Wells, their attorney Ben Crump and Van Turner, president of NAACP Memphis Branch.
Turner said the court process will be a “landmark decision” that has the potential to lead to policy changes.
“How do we stop this from happening again? The state needs to pass the Tyre Nichols Police Reform Act,” Turner said. “Governor Billy [Lee] needs to stand up for his families. We want the thoughts, we want the prayers, but we actually we want this bill passed right now, the Tyre Nichols police reform.”
That bill would ban chokeholds and mandate law enforcement agencies develop a policy regarding de-escalation. It also requires any law enforcement officer who has direct knowledge of excessive use of force by another officer to report the actions as soon as possible.
Crump, who is representing the family, also took time to dismiss “salacious rumors” that Nichols had some sort of connection with the five officers who beat him.
“We are aware that there were photographs that were taken and none of them were sent to all of these rumors data out there in the social media world,” said Crump, referring to reports that Haley sent a photograph of Nichols, bleeding and half-conscious, to at least five people, including two fellow officers, a civilian employee of the department and a female acquaintance.
“The family is dealing with enough, grieving the death of Tyre and their brave fight for justice, than to have to deal with all these salacious rumors,” Crump said.
He also addressed reports that Nichols had some sort of substance in his blood at the time of the beating. Officers in the video footage can be heard saying Nichols was “on something” after they beat him.
In response, Crump’s team has performed an independent autopsy.
“We don’t have the toxicology yet but we feel confident that Tyre was not on any account of intoxication or anything like that,” said Crump.
“Miss RowVaughn and Rodney, they know Tyre and what kind of person he was,” Crump added. “Who Tyre was was what you saw on that video — while everybody else was escalating it using excessive force, Tyre was de-escalating and trying to do everything in his power to remain calm.”