Preston Hemphill is the 6th Memphis police officer relieved of duty over Tyre Nichols' death. But he's still being paid.
- Officer Preston Hemphill was placed on paid leave over the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols.
- He is the sixth Memphis police officer to be taken off the force following Nichols' death.
An officer involved in the arrest of Tyre Nichols — a Black man who was severely beaten by police in Memphis, Tennessee, and later died — has been "relieved of duty," authorities said on Monday.
Officer Preston Hemphill is on paid administrative leave "pending the outcome of the investigation," a spokesman for the Memphis Police Department told Insider.
Hemphill, who is white, joined the Memphis Police Department in 2018.
Lee Gerald, an attorney representing Hemphill, told Insider that his client "was the third officer at the initial stop of Mr. Nichols."
"As per departmental regulations Officer Hemphill activated his bodycam," and the footage was later released by police, according to Gerald, who added that Hemphill "was never present at the second scene."
"He is cooperating with officials in this investigation," Gerald said.
Lawyers representing Nichols' family suggested Monday that Hemphill, the only known white officer in the interaction, was receiving special treatment. In a joint statement, attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said it was "disappointing" that Hemphill had not yet been fired.
"Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre's death just now coming to light? 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," they said. "It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability."
Crump had previously said that the way charges were handled should act as a standard for police accountability.
"We have never seen swift justice like this," Crump said at a press conference in Memphis' Mount Olive CME Church on Friday. "We want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward for any time any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable."
Authorities say 29-year-old Nichols was brutally beaten by five now-fired Black Memphis Police Department police officers during a traffic stop on January 7. While the MPD initially said that Nichols had been pulled over for "reckless driving," Chief Cerelyn Davis said on Thursday that officers had no proof to pull Nichols over, and called the video "heinous, reckless, and inhumane."
Nichols, a father, was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days later.
The five other police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith, and Desmond Mills Jr. — were fired and indicted last week on second-degree murder and other charges in connection with Nichols' death.
Two firefighters who treated Nichols after the beating were also relieved from duty and the city said it's actively reviewing if any additional charges will be filed against them.
On Friday, officials released multiple videos of Nichols' arrest, starting from a traffic stop and ending in him slumped over next to a police cruiser in handcuffs.
In one of the videos, an officer approaching Nichols' car tells him to "get the fuck out of the fucking car." Nichols responds that he didn't do anything, and the officer pulls him out of the car and throws him to the ground, saying "I'm gonna tase your ass." After Nichols stands up and struggles with the officer, the officer deploys his Taser, and Nichols runs away. An officer can be heard saying, "I hope they stomp his ass."
Another video, taken from the street, shows officers brutally beating Nichols, who was just steps away from home.
The officers involved in Nichols' arrest were members of the MPD's SCORPION unit, a specialized unit formed in 2021 to fight violent street crime. On Saturday, in the wake of protests against Nichols' death, the SCORPION unit was disbanded.
Nichols' death has sparked outrage in Memphis and across the country. The city braced for violent demonstrations after the footage of the incident was released on Friday, but the protests remained largely peaceful. Protests in other cities also remained overwhelmingly peaceful. In New York and Los Angeles — where police stood guard in riot gear — there were some clashes.
But the scenes were nothing like those after the murder of George Floyd in police custody, which set off protests that at times escalated into looting and arson.
The Memphis Police Department said Sunday its cops hadn't arrested a single demonstrator.
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