The Memphis Police Department on Monday said it had suspended a sixth officer when the investigation into beating death of Tyre Nichols opened weeks ago, a disclosure that came days after five other officers were charged with the Black man’s murder.
The suspended officer – identified as Preston Hemphill – was relieved of duty with pay pending a hearing, the Memphis Police Department said. No criminal charges have been announced against Hemphill, who has worked for the department since 2018. A spokesperson declined to comment on why his suspension was not announced earlier.
The five dismissed officers – all of them Black – have been charged with second-degree murder, assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and oppression in the death of Nichols, 29, three days after he was beaten after a traffic stop. Hemphill is white.
On Friday, the department released footage from body-worn cameras and a camera mounted on a utility pole showing officers kicking, punching and striking Nichols with a baton in his mother’s neighborhood after the traffic stop.
Theresa Carlson, a spokesperson for the department, declined to comment on Hemphill’s specific involvement in the events leading up to the fatal beating.
One of four videos included footage from Hemphill’s body camera, the New York Times reported, citing a statement from his attorney, Lee Gerald. Reuters could not immediately reach Gerald for comment.
Gerald told the Times that Hemphill was present for the traffic stop but not at the beating, which took place in a second location after Nichols ran away.
“He was never present at the second scene,” Gerald said, adding that Hemphill was cooperating with the investigation.
In one of the videos, an officer is seen using a Taser on Nichols while other officers held him down on the ground and gave conflicting commands. Hemphill has been identified as the officer who used the Taser on Nichols, according to at least two local TV stations.
Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents the Nichols family, criticized the department for not firing Hemphill nor disclosing his involvement. He also criticized prosecutors for not charging Hemphill.
“The news today from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged, is extremely disappointing,” Crump said on Monday in a statement. “Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?”
Over the weekend, protesters gathered and called for policing reforms in Memphis and other cities, from New York City to Sacramento, California, where Nichols once lived.
The peaceful demonstrations contrasted with sometimes violent scenes that unfolded after a bystander’s video of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis shocked the nation.
The Memphis branch of the NAACP on Sunday called for all officers and first responders involved in Nichols’ death to be held accountable.
Some of the officers involved in the beating were a part of SCORPION, the specialized police unit that the department disbanded on Saturday.
Last week, the Memphis Fire Department said that two employees who responded to the incident were “relieved of duty.”