MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — One year ago, Memphis police officers pulled over Tyre Nichols and brutally beat him. Days later, he died in the hospital.
Since then, his family, loved ones, and the city have tried to heal.
“Tyre was a beautiful person. For this to happen to him is just unimaginable,” RowVaughn Wells said at her son’s funeral.
A mother’s pain was forced into the nation’s spotlight as she grieved her son’s death.
Tyre Nichols was pulled over on January 7, 2023. Police said he was recklessly driving, although they’ve shown no proof.
The situation quickly escalated and was all caught on camera. It ended with a group of officers in black clothing surrounding Nichols.
Video of the incident showed Nichols was handcuffed as they used pepper spray and a stun gun, kicking and beating him. Nichols was heard calling for his mother. Her home was blocks away.
He was taken to the hospital where he died, three days later.
“You just beat him like a dog in the street,” Wells said in an interview days later.
Nichols’ family hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
Meanwhile, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to investigate. Soon after, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice said they were investigating the incident as well.
On January 20, 2023, the Memphis Police Department announced it terminated five police officers involved. Indictments then followed.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills, Emmitt Martin, and Justin Smith were charged with second-degree murder, among other charges.
“The world is watching us, and we need to show them what lessons can be learned,” DA Mulroy said.
The world continued to watch as part of the body camera and video footage of the brutal beating was released the next day. Outcry, pain, and emotions felt near and far.
“I want each and every one of you to protest in peace,” Wells told protesters.
Thousands across Memphis and the country united to call for change.
It was clear Memphis reignited a larger, nationwide debate of what police reform should look like.
“How can we make some progress?” President Joe Biden asked as he called on lawmakers to once again discuss the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. It would ban things like no-knock warrants and make it easier for the federal government to successfully prosecute police misconduct.
While the bill didn’t make it past the Senate, there was action locally.
The Memphis City Council passed an ordinance in April preventing police from stopping drivers for minor traffic infractions. It also required MPD to make more of its traffic stop data public — data that has yet to be published.
Some activists said they want more.
“This has been a long-standing narrative and historical trajectory of the department,” activist and pastor Earle Fisher said.
Others argue the council’s reform prevents police from doing their job to keep the city safe. One state lawmaker will try to pass a law this session reversing the council’s actions.
In the weeks and months following Nichols’ death, three Memphis firefighters were fired, two Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies were relieved of duty pending an investigation, and at least two more Memphis officers were terminated.
Seven officers were placed under internal review, and we found out that the supervising police lieutenant that night resigned before he could be disciplined.
“It’s going to be important for us to demonstrate to the community that we can be trusted,” Chief C.J. Davis said after the five officers were terminated.
Davis has since said officers are getting more training and supervision, and she disbanded the specialized unit the officers were assigned to. It was known as the SCORPION unit, and it was created in 2021 to focus on crime suppression, auto theft and gang activity.
Through the Tennessee Records Act, WREG Investigators requested the unit’s directives, but that request remains in limbo. In fact, most of the requests by Nexstar’s WREG pertaining to the unit, like complaints made and officers’ disciplinary files, haven’t been provided.
Despite a judge issuing an order last fall granting permission for the city to release additional video and employment files, that hasn’t happened. At last check, the city said it was working to release the rest of the footage and employment files but there were a lot of redactions required by the court.
What has happened? Misconduct complaints have since surfaced surrounding the SCORPION Unit and the now-former officers, and more lawsuits were filed.
The DA’s office says it dropped more than 30 cases since they all depended on testimony and reports from the five now-former officers. A dozen more sentences in cases were reduced.
The DOJ has also launched an investigation into the pattern of practice investigation within MPD over the summer.
In September, the former officers were federally charged, and two months after that, Mills pleaded guilty to two felony charges in federal court as part of a plea agreement, which includes pleading guilty to some of the state charges.
“This is one of many that I hope will come in our favor,” Wells said.
Nichols’ mother says it was the first time someone admitted to what they did to her 29-year-old son. The person who one year ago she was expecting to come home.