MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A former Shelby County Commissioner and well-known civil rights attorney is commending Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis after firing five Memphis police officers in the wake of the death of Tyre Nichols.

Tyre Nichols videos show what happened in fatal Memphis traffic stop beating

Former longtime Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey Jr. has been a big part of Memphis history. He’s worked to fight injustice in the community and as an attorney has worked on several landmark civil rights cases. 

This week, he sent a letter to Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis commending her response. He said in part, “I would be remiss if I did not openly extend my deepest thanks and appreciation for your exceptional professional administrative skill, wisdom, and courage.”

He went on to say, “Sadly, too often I have seen situations where decent police officers succumb to ‘group dynamics’ that cause them to become cowardly susceptible to the most heinous conduct.”

It’s conduct that makes him think back to the death of 17-year-old Elton Hayes in 1971.

Hayes had been severely beaten in a ditch by Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies and Memphis police officers. The incident was initially covered up. The public was told Hayes died from trauma in a car crash. 

“I remember how horrible, how horrendous it was and how devastating. What a blow it was to the whole system of justice,” Bailey said. “Fifty-two years ago and the police department at that time was not nearly as honest and forthright and responsive.”

Rage and rioting erupted throughout the city. Eventually, the officers were charged and tried but were acquitted.

“But nevertheless at least they were tried. They had to account for their heinous behavior,” Bailey said.

As for the death of Nichols, Bailey said the abuse of authority is disturbing.

“It riles me up. It disturbs me immensely to see abuse of authority in that regard by police officers,” he said.

Bailey said the officer’s firing sends a message their behavior is intolerable and there are consequences and accountability. He also said they should now face criminal charges. 

“Oh absolutely, on the face of it from what we’ve seen so far,” he said. “Police officers have to understand that they’re not above the law, that they’re not immunized from accountability when things get out of control and they misbehave.”

It’s unclear when we will learn if those fired officers will face criminal charges.