Former Memphis officer charged in Tyre Nichols’ death had some violations in prior prison guard job

Demetrius Haley is charged with murder alongside four other former Memphis police officers in Nichols' beating death in January

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Before a former Memphis Police officer joined in a deadly beating on Tyre Nichols, prompting murder charges against him and four colleagues, Demetrius Haley incurred some policy violations in a prior prison guard job and faced accusations of excessive force that his department deemed unfounded or unsubstantiated, according to newly unsealed personnel records.

Demetrius Haley worked for the prison operated by the Shelby County Division of Corrections as a correctional officer from January 2015 until July 2020, when he resigned to join the Memphis Police Department.

While working as a corrections officer, Haley was accused of excessive force for using a chemical spray on inmate Cordarlrius Sledge in 2015, but an investigation found no violations of the department’s use of force policies and the allegations were unsubstantiated. The records showed that Sledge was treated for a fractured right temporal bone and perforated ear drum and the incident prompted 34 inmates — the entire cellblock — to sign a letter to the corrections director asking for a response to the alleged abuse.

Former Memphis Police Officers Demetrius Haley, back left, and Tadarrius Bean, back right, appear in Judge James Jones’ courtroom on Monday Nov. 6, 2023. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian via AP)

Sledge later filed a lawsuit against Haley and two other correctional officers, accusing Haley and another officer of punching him, and a third of slamming his head into the floor. The lawsuit was dismissed in federal court when a judge ruled in a summary judgment in favor of the officers over procedural issues.

Haley was found in violation of the department’s professionalism, ethics and conduct policy in 2015. According to the records, Haley gave confidential information to an inmate when he should not have and did not report when an inmate told him of his intent to smuggle in contraband. He was given a written reprimand and was recommended to get refresher training on the policies.

Haley was also investigated and cleared of wrongdoing after an inmate accused him of using unnecessary force during a contraband search. Haley took the inmate to the ground to restrain him after the inmate put contraband in his mouth and hit Haley in the shoulder with his elbow, the documents show. The inmate received an injury to his head, but investigators found that the use of force was justified. Haley told investigators he did not intend to hurt the inmate.

Haley’s attorney declined to comment on the newly released records.

Haley’s Shelby County personnel file was part of a cache of documents that a judge in February blocked from public view concerning the officers charged in Nichols’ death and the incident itself. The Associated Press and other media outlets intervened in the criminal case against the officers in March to argue the documents should be made public. Early last month, the judge allowed the files to be released.

Most of the documents are held by the city of Memphis, where officials have said they are still making redactions under the court’s order so the files can be made public.

Back in March, the city announced plans to release about 20 more hours of video and audio in the incident, in addition to administrative investigation findings for police and other departments, when the court stepped in to prohibit it.

A filing in May by Haley’s attorney suggested that the judge keep the county personnel file sealed through the trial, arguing that media reports on the documents could spur bias in potential jurors.

Haley, Emmitt Martin, Tadarrius Bean and Justin Smith have pleaded not guilty to charges in Nichols’ death in both federal and Tennessee court, where they face second-degree murder and other state charges. A fifth former officer charged in the case, Desmond Mills Jr., pleaded guilty last month to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice.

Caught on police video, the beating of Nichols in January was one in a string of violent encounters between police and Black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and the need for police reform in the U.S. The five former officers who were charged also are Black.

The officers were caught on camera punching, kicking and beating Nichols on Jan. 7. He died three days later.

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