MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Former Memphis Police officer Desmond Mills pleaded guilty Thursday morning to federal charges and has agreed to plead guilty to state charges in the death of Tyre Nichols, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office said.

“My use of force was excessive on Mr. Nichols and I did make misleading statements,” Mills said in court.

Both federal and state prosecutors have agreed to a recommended sentence of 15 years. DA Steve Mulroy said the state and federal charges would run concurrently. Mills has also agreed to cooperate with federal and state investigations.

“He is fully cooperating and we expect him to continue fully cooperating, answering all questions truthfully, testifying to his role in the incident and what he saw the other defendants commit at the same incident,” Mulroy said.

Judge Mark Norris will decide on Mills’ sentencing at an upcoming hearing. That date has tentatively been set for May 22. He remains out on bond. 

“For one of the officers to plead guilty today, I never would have expected this,” said Tyre’s stepfather Rodney Wells. “We are very pleased with the outcome of today.”

“I’m hoping that Mr. Mills, it was his conscience that allowed him to make this plea agreement and not because of his lawyers telling him it was the right thing to do,” Tyre’s mother Rowvaugh Wells said.

Desmond Mills (Courtesy: Shelby County Sheriff’s Office)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee said Mills pleaded guilty to using excessive force and failing to intervene in the unlawful assault, and conspiring to cover up his use of unlawful force by omitting material information and by providing false and misleading information to his supervisor and to others. Other admissions in court included:

  • Mills admitted to repeatedly and unjustifiably striking Nichols with a baton and to failing to intervene in other officers’ use of force against Nichols. Mills said he watched another officer repeatedly punch Nichols in the head while two other officers restrained Nichols.
  • Mills admitted that he did not provide any medical aid to Nichols after the beating, though he knew that Nichols had a serious medical need. He did not alert MPD or Memphis Fire Department EMTs that Nichols had been struck in the head and body.
  • In addition, Mills participated in conversations with other officers in which they discussed, using force against Nichols, hitting Nichols to make him fall, and believing they were on the verge of killing Nichols when they saw that Nichols did not fall from the blows.
  • Mills admitted to making false statements in connection with the arrest of Nichols, including telling his supervisor that they had done “everything by the book” and providing false information in his statements to an MPD detective tasked with writing the incident report.
  • Finally, Mills submitted an MPD report that provided a false account of the force used on Nichols, including a claim that Mills saw Nichols “aggressively resisting” officers. Instead of admitting that he had seen an officer repeatedly punch Nichols in the head while Nichols was restrained by two other officers, Mills reported only that “Nichols was eventually put into custody.”

Tyre Nichols videos show what happened in fatal Memphis traffic stop

Attorney Antonio Romanucci, representing Tyre Nichols’ family along with Ben Crump, said Thursday’s plea was a major moment in policing in America.

“Today you are seeing the tide turn. This is a monumental shift in policing,” he said. “That’s what we’re talking about, the precedent that’s being set now where police officers tell the truth, even if that means piercing the blue vail.” 

Tyre Nichols’ stepfather, mother and attorneys speak outside a federal courtroom in Memphis after one of the ex-officers, Desmond Mills, agreed to plead guilty.

Blake Ballin, Mills’ attorney, said Mills has shown remorse for his actions on Jan. 7 since “day one” of the case.

“This is a man who watched this video with me and the first words out of his mouth were, ‘Oh my God, this could’ve been my brother,'” Ballin said. “Today is the first step in publicly taking responsibility.”

Mills, 33, was one of five Memphis Police officers who were criminally charged in the January beating death of Nichols during a traffic stop. The other ex-officers are Emmitt Martin III, 31; Tadarrius Bean, 24; Demetrius Haley, 30; and Justin Smith, 28.

The remaining defendants still face a federal trial scheduled for May 6, 2024.

Crump said he believes the testimony from the remaining office will be “jaw-dropping.”