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Experts draw comparisons from case against former Memphis officers to murder of George Floyd

Almost three years after the murder of George Floyd, the Memphis Police Department is the latest to face accusations of excessive force.

MINNEAPOLIS — The five former Memphis Police officers accused of killing 29-year-old Tyre Nichols earlier this month have been charged with seven felonies each, including second-degree murder, in a case that has drawn comparisons to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

David Rausch, the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, denounced the actions of Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean in a news conference held Thursday with top law enforcement officials. 

"In a word," Rausch said, "it's absolutely appalling."

Credit: NBC News
Tyre Nichols died Jan. 10, three days after his arrest by Memphis Police.

Police have said that the beating of Nichols occurred during an arrest on the evening of Jan. 7, when officers pulled him over for reckless driving and then chased him after he ran from them. Nichols died from his injuries on Jan. 10.

Shelby County District Attorney Steven Mulroy said video of the incident will be released Friday after 6 p.m.

"The most obvious question is, what the heck happened? And why?" said Rick Petry, an adjunct professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. "Was this person handcuffed? Was he restrained, perhaps unconscious, and notwithstanding that the officers continued to do whatever they were doing?"

In their decision to fire the five officers last week, Memphis Police cited excessive force, failure of duty to intervene, and failure of duty to render aid. 

Those accusations reminded many in the Twin Cities, including Petry, of the accusations lodged against the four Minneapolis Police officers implicated in George Floyd's murder.

"As a Black man who has to live with that reality," Petry said, "it's troubling. It's troubling. Three years post-George Floyd, I wish I could say that George Floyd was this beacon of, 'oh my god, I can't believe it happened.' But it's not. And it's not even that situation here."

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara, who was hired largely because of his track record of police reform, issued a statement about the Memphis case on Thursday.

"My heart breaks for the unimaginable loss that the family of Tyre Nichols has suffered. No statement, no criminal charge, no verdict will ever heal the pain Mr. Nichols's family is feeling. I fully support Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis and her quick and decisive actions to terminate the officers involved in this terrible incident. While I honor and commend the men and women in uniform who serve all people every day with respect, I condemn any criminal behavior by police," O'Hara said. "The privilege to protect with courage and serve with compassion is sacred.  Violent abuses of authority, such as displayed in this incident, have absolutely no place in our profession."

Unlike the Minneapolis case — where only Chauvin faced an actual murder charge — all five former Memphis officers are facing that charge along with aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.

"One thing on the surface that jumps out, is that now there seems to be a real appetite for prosecutors and police departments to hold police accountable when they've exceeded the bounds of the law," Petry said. "We can't have that. We just can't have that. This has to stop."

On Friday, the St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry released the following statement after the release of body camera video from the Memphis Police Department:

On behalf of the Saint Paul Police Department, I want to extend our condolences to the family and community of Tyre Nichols. We have no words that could even begin to address how community members in Memphis, and all over our country, are feeling at this time. We also feel a deep sorrow. As a community, we must come together to decry these acts and create a better future. It is a sacred honor to be entrusted to serve and protect your community. We also know that when this trust is violated and broken it is a betrayal of the highest order. No one is above the law, particularly those of us who have been entrusted to represent and enforce it.

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