MEMPHIS — The Memphis Police Department confirmed on Monday that two additional officers had been taken off duty in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols, saying little except that the two were under investigation as city officials and prosecutors worked to determine who beyond the five officers already charged with second-degree murder should be held responsible.
Those investigations also led to the firing on Monday of two medics and a lieutenant by the Memphis Fire Department for failing to follow protocols, including properly assessing Mr. Nichols’s condition while he was slouched on the ground against a police vehicle, officials said. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department is conducting its own investigation into the actions of two of its deputies at the scene; both have been relieved of duty pending the inquiry’s findings.
Officials said that all seven police officers had been placed on leave on Jan. 8, the day after Mr. Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was stopped by officers and kicked, pepper-sprayed and punched after he ran off.
One of the officers, Preston Hemphill, arrived just before another officer had pulled Mr. Nichols from his car while it was stopped near an intersection on the evening of Jan. 7 in southeast Memphis. The identity and involvement of the other officer who has been suspended have not been disclosed.
Officer Hemphill’s lawyer, Lee Gerald, said in a statement that one of the four videos of the encounter that were released by the city on Friday, labeled Video 1, had come from Officer Hemphill’s body camera.
“He was never present at the second scene,” where officers caught up with Mr. Nichols after a brief foot chase and beat him severely, Mr. Gerald said of Officer Hemphill. He added that his client “is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”
In the body camera footage, Officer Hemphill can be seen firing a stun gun at Mr. Nichols as Mr. Nichols runs away.
“Taser was deployed,” he said to a dispatcher, telling another officer later, “One of the prongs hit the bastard.”
Officer Hemphill, 26, was part of the specialized Scorpion unit that was created to patrol high-crime areas of the city, as were the five officers who have been charged with murder and other offenses. (Officer Hemphill is white, and the other five officers are Black.)
Officer Hemphill, who joined the Police Department in 2020, had been with the unit since October 2022.
The Police Department said on Saturday that it had disbanded the Scorpion unit. In a statement, police officials said that the “heinous actions of a few” had cast a cloud of dishonor on the unit. “It is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department, take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted,” the statement said.
Lawyers for Mr. Nichols’s family said that it was “extremely disappointing” to learn that Officer Hemphill had been relieved of duty but not fired or charged.
“Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?” the lawyers, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, said in a statement on Monday. “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.”
The Police Department would not answer questions Monday about the seventh officer. A spokesman said only that “we will update our social media when additional information is available.”
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