Memphis police chief, city oppose effort to delay lawsuit in Tyre Nichols case

The three officers have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges including second-degree murder in the Jan. 7 beating of Nichols after a traffic stop — and his death three days later. 

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Criminal charges should not delay a lawsuit against former Memphis officers accused in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, the city and its police chief argued in court filings.

Former officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley and Emmitt Martin III asked a federal judge in June to put on hold the $550 million lawsuit filed by Nichols’ mother that blames them for his death and accuses police chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis of allowing a special unit’s aggressive tactics to go unchecked despite warning signs.

The three officers have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges including second-degree murder in the Jan. 7 beating of Nichols after a traffic stop — and his death three days later. Caught on police video, the beating of the 29-year-old Nichols was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.

Nichols died of blows to his head, and the manner of death was homicide, an autopsy report released May 4 showed. The report described brain injuries, cuts and bruises to his head and other parts of his body.

Bean, Haley and Martin were fired after the beating. Two other officers, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, also have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges. They were also fired, but have not asked for a delay.

FILE – Mourners arrive to the funeral service for Tyre Nichols, at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. A Tennessee judge on Friday, May 19, continued to temporarily block the release of more video footage and records in the investigation into Nichols’ death, but said he does want to make public as much information as possible that would not interfere with the rights to a fair trial for five Memphis police officers facing charges. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

The five officers charged in the case are Black. So was Nichols.

Bean, Haley and Martin argue that the civil case could be prejudicial to the criminal case. The officers want to pause depositions, mediation efforts, the exchange of evidence and documents, and other aspects of the lawsuit.

Haley’s attorney said it would be difficult for the officers to defend themselves in civil court while the criminal case proceeds.

“Even filing an answer to the civil complaint could result in statements that could be used against the defendant in the criminal case,” Haley’s motion read.

A response motion filed June 30 by lawyers for the city and Davis argued that the U.S. Constitution does not require civil action to be delayed in the face of a pending or impending criminal case. They cited a previous case that said the court “must also consider whether granting the stay will further the interest in economical use of judicial time and resources.”

The city and police chief said a delay was needless.

“It could be literally years before the Indicted Defendants go to trial,” but a partial stay, like delaying sworn testimony by the officers, could be possible, they said in a motion.

Two other former officers, Preston Hemphill and Dewayne Smith, also are defendants in the lawsuit and both are seeking to pause it. They have not been charged, but Hemphill was fired and Smith was allowed to retire before he could be fired.

The city and police chief argue that the request from Hemphill and Smith should not be granted because they do not face criminal charges or a possible trial “to overlap with this civil action.”

Filed in April, the federal suit from Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, seeks a jury trial and financial damages.

This combo of images provided by the Memphis Police Department shows, from top row from left, officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, bottom row, from left, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith. The five former Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the arrest and death of Tyre Nichols, a Black motorist who died three days after a confrontation with the officers during a traffic stop, records showed Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. (Memphis Police Department via AP)

The lawsuit argues the SCORPION crime suppression unit launched by Davis used “extreme intimidation, humiliation, and violence” and “disproportionately focused on and targeted young Black men.” It says that the department permitted this aggressive approach and ignored complaints by others targeted before Nichols’ death.

The five officers charged with beating Nichols were members of the unit, which has since been disbanded and some of its officers moved to other units.

The city and the police department have declined comment on the accusations in the lawsuit.

Three Memphis Fire Department emergency medical technicians who were fired for failing to render aid to Nichols as he struggled with his injuries also are defendants in the lawsuit. They also oppose a pause in the civil case.

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