Dyer Nichols’ family sues city of Memphis, police over brutal beating

Attorneys for Dyer Nichols’ family filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning against the city of Memphis, its police department, Police Chief Cheryl Davis and the officers involved in the brutal beating of the 29-year-old after a traffic stop in January. Nichols died three days later.

The 139-page complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, describes “unconstitutional policies, practices, practices and the foreseeable result of the willful negligence of the City of Memphis and Chief Davis.”

The lawsuit draws comparisons to the 1955 slaying of Emmitt and describes the officers involved as a “modern-day lynch mob.”

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney representing the family, announced plans to discuss the case at a news conference later Wednesday this week. The complaint did not specify a dollar amount for the damages sought.

Nichols’ death sparked widespread outrage, fueled by the brutal nature of her injuries and graphic video footage from police body cameras and surveillance cameras. Five officers directly involved in the beating were quickly fired and charged with second-degree murder and other crimes.

Joanna C. Schwartz, UCLA School of Law professor and author of “Shielded: How the Police Became Untouchable.” Schwartz said the lawsuit filed Wednesday stands out from most police misconduct cases because of the media attention the attack has received; Clear and detailed video evidence later released by the city; And immediate condemnation of the actions of the municipal authorities.

“There are a lot of people who have been killed by police and the public’s attention has not been focused on what happened to them, so the case is a public introduction to the case,” Schwartz said. “But this is a case that has already been prosecuted in some way on the international stage, and there is widespread agreement that what the authorities did was wrong — even criminal.

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“I would be surprised if the case isn’t resolved relatively quickly.”

Payouts for high-profile police misconduct cases have increased across the country in recent years, studies show. Minneapolis settled a lawsuit filed by George Floyd’s family in 2021 for $27 million, and the city of Louisville settled a lawsuit filed by Briona Taylor’s family in 2020 for $12 million. Smaller settlements often fly under the radar, but cities spend a lot of money. According to a 2022 Washington Post analysis of police misconduct.

The City of Memphis earmarked $1.25 million in its police budget for 2023; Any settlement in the Nichols case would be significantly larger, experts said.

Video shows Dyer Nichols being brutally beaten by Memphis police

The fired Memphis officers told department officials they pulled Nichols over for reckless driving on Jan. 7, an allegation Davis said was clearly unproven in the following days. After officers attempted to physically restrain Nichols, he fled the stop on foot and was arrested minutes later. Body camera and surveillance footage depicts officers punching, kicking and batting Nichols during the arrest. He died on January 10 at a Memphis hospital.

The officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith — pleaded not guilty in February to murder charges and other counts. They are due back in court on May 1.

Since the beating, the Justice Department has announced an investigation into the Memphis Police Department, and the City Council has passed an ordinance — Tire Nicholls Driver Equality Act – It prohibits traffic stops for what the council described as “secondary violations,” such as expired tags or broken taillights. Civil rights activists are pushing for similar legislation in Shelby County, where Memphis is located, that would apply to the sheriff’s office.

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Amber Sherman, president of the Shelby County Young Democrats, said, “I feel really good about the progress we’ve made so far. I think the key here is accountability and making sure these ordinances are actually enforced and there’s oversight.”

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This is a growing story. It will be updated.

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