USA: Federal authorities launch civil rights investigation into the death of Tyre Nichols

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

Federal officials confirmed last Wednesday that they are conducting a civil rights inquiry into the acts of Memphis police officers following the death of a 29-year-old Black man three days after a traffic encounter.

Tyre Nichols was detained on January 7 after cops stopped him for careless driving, according to Memphis police. According to authorities, a conflict erupted when cops approached Nichols, and he then fled the area. Another “confrontation” between Nichols and cops was also mentioned by police before he was apprehended and detained.

Sierra Rogers, holding her daughter Khloe Rogers, wipes away tears as she speaks during a memorial service for her friend Tyre Nichols on Tuesday. Photo: Mark Weber/AP

“Afterward, the suspect complained of shortness of breath, at which point an ambulance was called,” police said, adding that Nichols was brought to a hospital in critical condition. He “succumbed to his injuries” on January 10, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation stated last week, without elaborating on the nature of those injuries.

This past weekend, protests were held in response to Nichols’ death and the United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, Kevin G. Ritz, stated on Wednesday that a federal civil rights inquiry into the event has begun.

“Last week, Tyre Nichols tragically died, a few days after he was involved in an incident where Memphis Police Department officers used force during his arrest,” Ritz said in a statement. “State authorities have publicly announced that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating. In addition, the United States Attorney’s Office, in coordination with the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, has opened a civil rights investigation.”

Meanwhile, the Memphis Police Agency is conducting its own internal administrative inquiry into alleged policy violations by the officers who detained Nichols, and the department expects that process to be finished by the end of this week, according to a news release issued on Sunday.

“After evaluating numerous sources of information pertaining to this occurrence, I have determined that prompt and proper action is required,” Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said in a statement. “Today, the department served notice of the forthcoming administrative actions against the officers implicated.”

Nichols’ family has hired human rights attorney Ben Crump, and they have asked that the body camera footage and any additional surveillance evidence from the stop be made public.

“Nobody should ever die as a result of a routine traffic stop – the tape is the only way to determine the real story of why and how that occurred to Tyre,” Crump said in a statement.

On Tuesday 17th, Nichols’ friends and family attended a memorial ceremony for him, remembering him as a “goofy” youngster who grew up to be a kind man.

“From the first day that I met Tyre, I was Pops. I was Dad,” Wells said at the service. “He embraced me. The first Father’s Day, he brought me a Father’s Day present, and he was so happy. … Tyre is a great person.”

Nichols was recalled as a baby by LaToya Yiza, whose mother was Nichols’ godmother. She grew up walking to school with Nichols when she was in high school and she was in elementary school.

“He was just a happy kid, just so goofy,” Yiza said, getting emotional. “You’d walk in and he’d just be saying the craziest thing. … I’m gonna miss him. To see the man he turned out to be — he was a good man. He did not deserve this.”

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Dr. Florence Akano

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