Two more Memphis Police Department officers have been suspended following the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, officials revealed on Jan. 30.
Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after he was shocked with a Taser, pepper-sprayed and beaten by several members of the Memphis Police Department during a traffic stop.
Preston Hemphill, who is white, is the sixth police officer involved in the stop to be relieved of duty — which in his case is not the same as being fired — in connection with Nichols’ death.
The seventh officer — who was not identified Monday — is known to have been suspended without pay, while Hemphill is still drawing his salary. Many are claiming Hemphill was being protected over the five Black officers who were seen beating Nichols to death on the video.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith were all fired on Jan. 20. Ten days later, on Jan. 30, the same day as the announcement of the two previously unrevealed officer suspensions, the Memphis Fire Department announced it has fired two EMTs and an MFD lieutenant in connection with the incident.
Robert Long and JaMicheal Sandridge, both emergency medical technicians, and Lt. Michelle Whitaker have lost their jobs after authorities say an investigation revealed Long and Sandridge failed to properly assess Nichols when they were called to the scene. Whitaker, who arrived with the two EMTs, remained inside the fire truck with the driver at the scene.
Hemphill reportedly tased Nichols times and is heard on the video saying, “I hope they stomp his ass” after Nichols ran away during the traffic stop.
Attorney Lee Gerald is representing Hemphill and confirmed that he had been relieved of duty pending an investigation. Gerald claimed that Hemphill is cooperating with the investigation and had not yet been charged with a crime.
“I can confirm that I represent Memphis Police Officer Preston Hemphill who was the third officer at the initial stop of Mr. Nichols,” said Gerald. “Video One is his bodycam footage. As per departmental regulations, Officer Hemphill activated his bodycam. He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”
Memphis Police Department spokesperson Kimberly Elder also confirmed that the investigation is ongoing.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” said Elder. “Once additional information is available, we will update our social media platforms. Hemphill was hired in 2018.”
Nichols’ family attorney Ben Crump questioned why it took the MPD so long to reveal Hemphill’s identity and suggested that his skin color protected him.
“Why did it take so long for Memphis officials to reveal Ofc,” wrote Crump. “Preston Hemphill’s identity and that he was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago but not yet terminated or charged? Why was the white officer involved in the brutal attack of #TyreNichols shielded and protected?
Crump also called for the end of the Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. The unit of 40 police officers was meant to protect the city against the most violent crimes. Crump spoke on the nonchalant attitude of everyone involved with Nichols’ death on the scene and their indifference to providing him with medical attention.
“You have a man literally laying down in distress, dying, and people are just talking like this is business as usual,” said Crump. “Had Tyre not succumbed to his injuries, how many more times would they have done this and how many times have they done it before?”
Crump also appeared on “The Breakfast Club” on Jan. 30 and spoke on Nichols’ death. After Charlamagne tha God questioned why Hemphill wasn’t arrested, Crump said he received the same question over and over on social media.
“Five minutes after the video was released, I started getting hit up on my texts, everybody on social media were saying, ‘Hey, hey, that’s a white hand that’s tasing him at the beginning,” said Crump. “And we all know that it was five Black men who were, you know, arrested.”
The SCORPION unit was deactivated on Jan. 28 following the public outcry.
Nichols’ stepfather Rodney Wells also questioned why Hemphill’s identity was kept secret and believes that everyone who was at the scene should be charged with a crime.
“So everyone [who] was active in the whole scene … should be charged,” said Wells.
Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells described seeing her son in the hospital following the beating by the MPD.
“When my husband and I got to the hospital and I saw my son, he was already gone,” she said. “They had beat him to a pulp. He had bruises all over him. His head was swollen like a watermelon. His neck was busting because of the swelling. They broke his neck. My son’s nose looked like a S. They actually just beat the crap out of him. And so when I saw that, I knew my son was gone, the end. Even if he did live, he would have been a vegetable.”
The Martin Luther King Jr. Center called for justice following the video’s release.
“We call for justice, which is a component of true peace. Justice not only includes accountability for the officers who beat and killed #TyreNichols but must also entail accountability for the system which consistently perpetuates this violence.”
It remains unclear if Hemphill will be fired or charged in connection with Nichols’ death.