What we know about Tyre Nichols’ death after traffic stop by Memphis police

People holding signs showing Tyre Nichols in a church in Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 23.

People holding signs showing Tyre Nichols in a church in Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 23. Photo: Brandon Dill for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The U.S. government is investigating whether the civil rights of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who died days after a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, were violated during his encounter with police officers.

The big picture: Attorneys representing Nichols’ family alleged earlier this week that video from the traffic stop showed police officers “beating” Tyre Nichols for three minutes.

  • Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Kevin Ritz announced earlier in January that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in coordination with the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, opened a civil rights investigation into Nichols’ death.
  • “Last week, Tyre Nichols tragically died, a few days after he was involved in an incident where Memphis Police Department officers used force during his arrest,” Ritz’s statement from then reads.

Catch up quick: According to a statement from the Memphis Police Department, officers stopped Nichols on Jan. 7 for “reckless driving.”

  • Per police, as officers approached Nichols, “a confrontation occurred, and the suspect fled the scene on foot.”
  • Police stated that “another confrontation” occurred between them and Nichols during the attempted arrest, and they ultimately took him into custody.
  • Nichols was taken to hospital “in critical condition” after complaining of shortness of breath, according to police. He died on Jan. 10, according to attorneys for the Nichols family, Benjamin Crump and Antonio Romanucci.
  • The police department said the officers involved in the traffic stop were relieved of duty pending the outcome of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe, which it said is a routine action. The department did not say how many officers were relieved.

What they’re saying: “I would like to share with the community what I told Mr. Nichols’ family,” Ritz said during a news conference Wednesday. “What I said was that the Department of Justice cares deeply about potential violations of constitutional rights here in Memphis and throughout America.”

  • “I said we have opened a criminal civil rights investigation. I told them this federal civil rights investigation will be thorough, it will be methodical, and it will continue until we gather all the relevant facts,” Ritz said
  • “The United States is committee to following the facts and the law, guided by principals of justice every step of the way.”
  • According to Ritz, state and local authorities have the responsibility to determine when to publicly release the video of the encounter between Nichols and the police — which has been seen by his family.

State of play: The Shelby County medical examiner’s office has yet to issue an official cause of death for Nichols, per NBC News.

  • However, Crump and Romanucci, the family’s attorneys, released a statement Tuesday saying the family hired a forensic pathologist to conduct an independent autopsy, which was performed on Monday.
  • “We can state that preliminary findings indicate Tyre suffered extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating, and that his observed injuries are consistent with what the family and attorneys witnessed on the video of his fatal encounter with police on January 7, 2023,” per Crump and Romanucci’s statement.

At a news conference on Monday, Romanucci said video of the traffic stop on Jan. 7 showed that Nichols was subjected to “unadulterated, unabashed, nonstop beating” for three minutes by police officers.

  • “He was a human piñata for those police officers,” Romanucci said. “That is what we saw in that video.”
  • Romanucci said some of the officers who pulled Nichols over were from the Memphis Police Department’s Organized Crime Unit and were in unmarked cars.
  • “Why are they conducting traffic stops?” Romanucci asked. “This is a pretextual traffic stop, which, let’s call it what it is, it’s a racist traffic stop is what it is.”

Go deeper: 5 first responders plead not guilty to charges from Elijah McClain’s death

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