Memphis judge blocks release of 20 hours of video, documents related to Tyre Nichols investigation

Written by on March 8, 2023

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Memphis judge ruled nearly 20 hours of additional footage and internal documents related to the city’s investigation into the death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols cannot be released until the lawyers for the five former Memphis police officers charged in his death have seen the new video.  

Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Jones Jr.  signed a court order blocking the release which was filed Wednesday by Blake Ballin – the attorney representing Desmond Mills, Jr. – and signed on to by the other four former officers.

“The court orders that the release of videos, audio, reports, and personnel files of City of Memphis employees related to this indictment and investigation (to include administrative hearings, records and related files) shall be delayed until such time as the state and the defendants have reviewed this information,” the court order read. “The release of this information shall be subject to further orders of this court and, in the public interest, will be ordered as soon as possible.”

Body camera footage released last month showed multiple officers beating, pepper spraying and using a stun gun on Nichols after a traffic stop and sparked protests in Memphis and around the country. Nichols, an avid skateboarder and FedEx worker, died three days after the beating on Jan. 10.

It’s unclear what the additional video will show or when it will be released, but it may answer one looming question about the night Nichols was beaten: Why did police pull Nichols over to begin with? Memphis police Chief Cerelyn Davis has said the department hasn’t been able to substantiate its initial statement that Nichols engaged in reckless driving necessitating a traffic stop.

DOJ investigating Memphis police policies, specialized units

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday it will review policies and practices related to the Memphis Police Department’s use of force, de-escalation and specialized units at the request of local leadership. The DOJ also will conduct a broader review examining the use of specialized units within law enforcement.

The five former officers charged in Nichols’ death were members of the SCORPION Unit which was disbanded after Nichols’ death. Like SCORPION, or Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, specialized police units across the country have drawn scrutiny over scandals that date back to the 1990s.

Opinion:How do we stop police from killing Black Americans? We must meet in the ‘messy middle.’

Opinion:Police keep killing Black people. Civilian watchdogs need more authority to make it stop.

Has Memphis passed police reform since Nichols’ death?

After dozens of public comments and hours of discussion by council members, five public safety ordinances were passed Tuesday related to data transparency, traffic stops and police oversight. 

It’s possible those ordinances will change because council attorney Allan Wade proposed a “consolidated” ordinance that would repeal and replace some of those passed Tuesday. Another ordinance that would add a new section to the Memphis Code titled “Achieving Driving Equality” will be considered in two weeks.

What did the initial footage show?

On Jan. 27, the city released four videos captured by body cameras and a pole-mounted surveillance camera that showed:

  • Officers roughly pulled Nichols out of a car and pushed him to the ground. The officers can be heard yelling commands and expletives at Nichols. After a brief scuffle, Nichols can be seen running away while an officer deploys a stun gun.
  • Officers caught Nichols at a second location where they punched, kicked, pepper sprayed and struck him with a baton while he was restrained and calling out for his mother. 
  • Officers then propped him up him against a police car where he sat moaning in pain. Medical aid was not given to Nichols until more than 20 minutes after the beating, according to the footage.
  • After the stop, officers can be heard making claims about Nichols’ behavior that the videos do not appear to show. They claim Nichols was reaching for one of their guns during the struggle and was “swerving” and nearly hit a police vehicle before stopping at a red light.

Documents:Former Memphis police officer took photos of Tyre Nichols after beating

Which officers are facing charges?

Five former Memphis police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley and Desmond Mills Jr. — were charged with murder and other crimes in connection with Nichols’ death. They appeared in court in February and pleaded not guilty. The former officers are expected to return to court in early May. 

More:Ex-Memphis police officer said he used proper training, tactics in handling Tyre Nichols

The former Memphis police officers accused of murder in the death of Tyre Nichols appear with their attorneys at an indictment hearing at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. The former police officers pleaded not guilty Friday to second-degree murder and other charges in the violent arrest and death of Nichols.

What happened to others who were investigated?

In total, 13 officers from the Memphis Police Department were investigated: Seven were fired, three were suspended and two had their internal charges dismissed. One officer retired, but the recommendation for that person was termination. Four Memphis Fire Department employees were also investigated. Three were fired and the fourth was suspended and ordered to attend remedial training.

Dig deeper

Contributing: Lucas Finton, Katherine Burgess, Memphis Commercial Appeal

Contact Breaking News Reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg at or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg

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