UPDATE, FEB. 3: Preston Hemphill has been fired after an MPD investigation. Story here.
Hemphill, hired in 2018, is the sixth officer implicated in the fatal beating of Nichols. Five other officers were fired and have been charged with second-degree murder.
According to MPD, Hemphill has been relieved of duty since the beginning of the investigation. He has not, at this point, been charged with anything.
Last week, Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis told WREG they were looking at the involvement of other officers.
“The most egregious actions were by the five officers, but there were other officers at the beginning, other officers that showed up at the scene. So, we’re looking at everybody’s actions and there will be more administrative actions taken,” Davis said.
MPD has not disclosed Hemphill’s role in the incident. Audio recordings of police radio traffic indicate Hemphill was one of the first officers in the initial traffic stop that led to the confrontation with Nichols.
The department says the investigation is ongoing, and they will release additional information once it becomes available.
In addition to Hemphill, Memphis Police said Monday that a seventh officer had been relieved of duty since Jan. 8 pending an investigation. That seventh officer was not named by MPD, and their role in the Nichols case was not specified.
The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office said charges against more officers and first responders are possible as the office continues its investigation. They referenced Hemphill in their statement, though not by name.
“The DA’s Office worked extraordinarily swiftly but thoroughly to charge those whose offenses were plain and clear and directly contributed to the death of Mr. Nichols, but in no way is this investigation over.
“While we are committed to transparency, we cannot comment on the details of an ongoing investigation or give previews of what charges we may or may not bring,” District Attorney Steve Mulroy said.
The Memphis Fire Department also announced Monday that two EMTs and a fire lieutenant who responded to Nichols’ aid Jan. 7 have been terminated for violating policy and protocol.
Attorneys Ben Crump and Anthony Romanucci issued the following statement after the sixth officer’s arrest:
“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. Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light? 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 haven’t risen to the occasion. It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability. The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center also commented on the Tyre Nichols’ case and the impact it has had on a national scale.
The horrific, deadly beating of Tyre Nichols by police is another searing example of the deep legacy of anti-Black racism in law enforcement. While the Memphis Police Department quickly fired the officers involved and the Shelby County district attorney promptly charged the officers with second-degree murder, the fact that this police-led execution happened in the first place – despite departmental reforms – shows how this violent legacy lives on in our nation’s system of policing.
This is an agonizing moment – a moment that no person, no family, no community and no nation should ever be forced to relive. Even amid a national movement demanding an end to police violence against Black people, our leaders have failed to take the transformative action necessary to save Black lives. Enough.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has repeatedly called for a complete reimagining of policing in this country, and we will continue to do so. We will also continue to act in solidarity with impacted communities, partners and movement leaders to liberate ourselves from the brutality of state-sponsored violence against Black people and other communities pushed to the margins.
Leaders at every level must take urgent action to end the culture of anti-Blackness in policing, keep all communities safe and demand accountability until equal justice is a reality for all.
Records show Justin Smith, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Demetrius Haley and Tadarrius Bean, who were fired along with one other officer after Nichols’ death, were released on bond after they were booked into the Shelby County Jail last Thursday morning.
All five officers were charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of official misconduct, and official oppression.
They were members of MPD’s SCORPION Unit, a special force that focused on repeat offenders and saturating high-crime areas that was disbanded by MPD after video of the confrontation with Nichols was released.
Nichols, 29, died on Jan. 10, three days after a traffic stop by Memphis Police that ended with Nichols being severely injured in a hospital. His funeral is set for Wednesday.
Video shows Nichols left bloody and bruised in the street after he was pepper-sprayed and beaten by police yards away from his parent’s home in Hickory Hill.
Two Shelby County deputies have also been relieved of duty during the investigation.
“Two of the deputies came walking up and I was concerned as to why they were there and to get some answers. So, we’ve relieved them of duty administratively and will launch an administrative investigation,” said Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner.
The Memphis Fire Department has also said it has pulled two EMTs from duty in response to the case as internal investigations expand.
“We wanted to demonstrate to the community that we’re going to do the right thing. We won’t have people on our rolls who’ve committed heinous crimes,” Chief Davis said.