A sixth Memphis police officer was relieved of duty after the traffic stop that led to the death of Tire Nichols earlier this month, police said Monday.
Body camera video released Friday shows the officer, identified by police and his attorney as Preston Hemphill, firing a taser at Nichols as he was initially running from officers during the Jan. 7 stop.
“I can confirm that I represent Memphis Police Officer Preston Hemphill, who was the third officer in the initial stop of Mr. Nichols. Video one is body camera footage of him,” attorney Lee Gerald said in a statement.
He added: “Per departmental regulations, Officer Hemphill activated his body camera. He was never present in the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.»
Five other officers, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, were fired Jan. 20 after an administrative investigation found they had violated the department’s use-of-force policy. They were hired between 2017 and 2020.
The former officers were charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault, prosecutors announced last week.
Asked why the department did not announce disciplinary action against Hemphill on the same day it announced the firing of the five officers, a police spokesperson said: «The names of the other 5 officers were announced when they were charged. departmental and then criminally accused». Officer Hemphill has received no departmental or criminal charges. As we have reported, the investigation is ongoing. Officer Hemphill’s name came up after it was heard on Tire Nichols’ video of the scene, which was released Friday night. We just confirm that he is relieved. of duty.»
That answer wasn’t enough for Nichols’ family attorney, Ben Crump.
“Today’s news from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of his duty weeks ago, but has yet to be fired or charged, is extremely disappointing. Why did his identity and the role he played in Tire’s death just come out?» he asked him.
Crump added: “We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community; this news seems to indicate that they have not risen to the occasion. Certainly the question arises as to why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and shielded from public view and, to date, given sufficient discipline and accountability. The Memphis Police Department owes us all the answers.»
At least one city official said that the discipline against Hemphill is not enough.
“For the record, relieving someone of duty is not firing them,” said Memphis City Council Vice President JB Smiley Jr. tweetedending the post with «#FirePrestonHemphill» and «#JusticeForTyre.»
A representative for the union that represents rank and file officers, the Memphis Police Association, could not be reached for comment.
Nichols, a 29-year-old black man who was an amateur photographer and skateboarder, he was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after the traffic stop.
Multiple police videos show officers punching, kicking and hitting Nichols with a baton.
There were three videos from police body cameras and one from a pole-mounted police surveillance camera. Body camera video shows Nichols escaped while he was on the ground and an officer fired a stun gun at him. At least one officer appeared to have been hit with a chemical irritant when he was sprayed on Nichols during the initial encounter.
Nichols managed to run to his mother’s neighborhood and was about 80 yards from her house when video captured several officers assaulting him as he yelled for help.
Two Shelby County Sheriff’s Office deputies have been relieved of duty pending an administrative investigation in connection to Nichols’ death, Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. Announced on Friday night after seeing the video for the first time.
Bonner said he had «concerns about two officers who appeared on the scene after a physical confrontation between police and Tire Nichols.»
The investigation will look into his conduct to determine what happened and whether any policies were violated, the sheriff said.
Last week, two Memphis firefighters were also «relieved of duty» while the department conducts an internal investigation into Nichols’ death.
Fire spokeswoman Qwanesha Ward said the employees were «involved in the initial care of the patient» for Nichols; she did not provide further details.
«This is an ongoing investigation and we are unable to comment further at this time,» Ward said in a Jan. 24 statement.
This is a developing story. Please check for updates.