Memphis Officers in Nichols Case Were Disciplined in the Past, Records Show

Washington Post photo by Joshua Lott
Demonstrators protest the killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis on Jan. 28.

MEMPHIS – Memphis police files released this week showed that four of the five officers charged in Tyre Nichols’s death had received past discipline from the department, including for failing to properly file paperwork regarding use of force.

These files shed some light on the professional histories of the officers involved in the case, which has spawned local, state and federal investigations. Five Memphis police officers have been fired in connection with Nichols’s beating, which was captured on camera, and were charged with second-degree murder and other counts. Nichols, a 29-year-old, was stopped by the Memphis police on Jan. 7, was brutally beaten and died three days later.

The five former officers charged in the case are Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean. The officers were part of a specialized law enforcement unit named Scorpion, created in late 2021 with the goal of saturating high-crime neighborhoods with police presence. At least two other officers have also been relieved of duty but not fired.

The records show disciplinary issues for the first four officers, but none for Bean.

In 2019, Mills was accused of using force during a traffic stop but not filling out the necessary paperwork. During the stop, the records state, other officers were trying to detain a woman and Mills “used physical force to take” a woman “to the ground so that she could be handcuffed.” The allegation was sustained, the records show, and he was given a written reprimand.

Another time, the records show, he dropped a city-issued digital device, and it was run over by a vehicle, so he was given a written reprimand for carelessly handling equipment. A lawyer for Mills declined to comment on the released records.

In 2019, the records show, Martin was driving in a car with a partner and never checked the back seat; neither realized there was a loaded revolver there.

During their shift, the officers detained two people after traffic stops and put them in the back seat with the gun, raising the possibility of “a serious officer safety incident,” the records show. Martin was given a three-day suspension without pay in June 2019, according to the records.

The following year, the records show, Martin responded to a domestic disturbance but did not take a report. A summary of his disciplinary hearing said that he admitted not doing this, saying he did not believe it was necessary. The allegation was sustained and he was given a one-day suspension without pay in February 2021, the records show. A lawyer for Martin did not respond to a request for comment.

One of the officers, Smith, was given a two-day suspension in 2021 after he was found to have been driving too fast, bumping into another vehicle, causing it to spin and hit yet another one. Smith was injured, the records show, as were people in the other two cars, the records show.

Some of the records showed the officers failing to comply with Memphis police regulations. Haley was given a written reprimand in 2021 after he was found to have failed to comply with regulations requiring that he submit specific paperwork after using force.

The Memphis Police Association did not respond to a request for comment.