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Family members demand answers after young black man dies in Memphis police custody

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The family of a young black man who died in the custody of Memphis, Tennessee, police are outraged and seeking answers — starting with the release of body camera footage that could help explain what happened to Tire Nichols, 29, during a routine traffic stop this month.

Nichols’ family and local activists have planned a series of protests over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in Memphis, the same city where the civil rights leader was killed more than 50 years ago. They demanded the release of the full body camera footage – and revealed a shocking photo of Nichols in a hospital bed after his arrest but before his death. In the photo, he appears to have suffered serious injuries, with the family describing him as “unrecognizable.”

Nichols, a FedEx employee who enjoyed skateboarding and photography, died three days after a traffic stop Jan. 7 for reckless driving.

It’s unclear what happened before Nichols ended up in an ambulance. Officers said he fled from arrest but gave vague information about what happened as they chased him.

“A confrontation ensued and the suspect fled the scene on foot,” police said in a Jan. 8 statement, adding that “another confrontation occurred” before Nichols was arrested.

His family said Nichols was pepper sprayed, tasered and beaten by multiple officers during the arrest.

Nichols complained he was suffering from “shortness of breath at which time an ambulance was called to the scene”, police said. He was taken to hospital and died on January 10. Officials have not released the cause of death, but Nichols’ family said he suffered cardiac arrest and kidney failure.

HuffPost made several attempts to reach the Memphis police but received no response.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is now looking into what happened, while the officers involved have been relieved of their duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

Nichols’ death is just the latest in a series of high-profile incidents that have rocked the city. In 2018, police shot and killed Martavious Banks during a traffic stop after an officer’s body-worn camera failed to work. Three years earlier, police also shot and killed Darrius Stewart, who was unarmed and running from an officer after a check.

None of the officers involved in the deaths of Banks or Stewart have been charged in Memphis, even though police found Jamarcus Jeames, a former officer, in violation of department policy and a former Memphis District Attorney recommended the indictment of ex-officer Connor Schilling. by a grand jury.

Since Nichols’ arrest and death, his family has held four protests and a memorial service in his honor. Activists also clashed with public officials, including the city’s mayor.

On Saturday, Hunter Demster, an activist and organizer in Memphis, obtained the image of Nichols in a hospital bed. In the photo, which is reproduced in this story, his face appeared disfigured, with bruises and swollen eyes.

Members of Nichols’ family gather for a protest outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis following his death in police custody.

The family protested with the graphic photo in front of the Memphis Police Department, demanding justice and accountability.

As Mayor Jim Strickland hosted the annual Memphis Luminary Awards on Monday, protesters broke up the event to demand immediate answers and transparency around Nichols’ death.

Amber Sherman, an organizer with a Black Lives Matter chapter in Memphis, approached Strickland and asked when the city would release more information about the fatal incident.

“Mayor Strickland, do you have anything to say?” Do you have anything to say about the killing of Tire Nichols by the MPD? Sherman asked.

“It’s a very sad situation,” Strickland replied.

Sherman then asked if the mayor would join activists in calling for the footage to be released. Strickland told Sherman his office was “working on it right now,” but when she asked how long it would take, Strickland replied, “I don’t know.”

Sherman argued that releasing the footage should be a priority because “police continue to murder people here”.

“No, they don’t keep murdering people here,” Strickland replied, again calling Nichols’ case a “sad situation.” (Since early December, four other people have been shot by Memphis police, three of whom have died. Nichols was the first person to die in police custody this year.)

Nichols’ family said an officer initially told them not to go to the hospital where he was being treated, according to Sherman, who is also the chairman of the Shelby County Young Democrats.

“We’re not just going to stop. Where is the video? They don’t release anything,” Sherman said. “He was very scared and ran because they were normal-looking people. Just like black people here, someone pulling me in an unmarked vehicle – I’d be scared too.

On Tuesday, Allison Fouche, a spokeswoman for Strickland’s office, told HuffPost that the city plans to release body camera footage of the incident next week, after an internal investigation is complete and officials have gave the family the opportunity to see the video first.

Strickland’s office and city police chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis followed up with a statement Tuesday afternoon after the Luminary Awards event was disrupted.

Nichols is shown in a hospital bed shortly before his death.

Nichols is shown in a hospital bed shortly before his death.

“We understand and agree that transparency around the events surrounding the death of Mr. Tire Nichols is of critical importance, particularly the release of the video footage,” the statement read. He added that city officials plan to meet with Ben Crump, who represents Nichols’ family.

Newly elected Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy also released a statement on Tuesday, saying his office is “committed to transparency” and understands the “reasonable request of the public to view the footage.”

“We are working with the appropriate agencies to determine how quickly we can release the video, and we will do so as soon as possible,” the statement said.

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