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Friday’s release of footage showing members of the Memphis Police Department’s Scorpion Unit beating and brutalizing a defenseless Tyre Nichols has revealed more than simply the depraved acts of law enforcement. Comparing the initial police report to the released footage raises questions about the credibility of law enforcement, not just in Tennessee, but across the nation.
Five officers have been fired and charged after kicking, pepper spraying, punching, beating, tasing and taunting a dying, defenseless Tyre Nichols. The gang unit responsible for the attack against the son, father and spirited adventurer, has been disbanded. And calls for police reform have been renewed from Memphis to Minnesota.
Yet the alarming differences between the initial police report and the released footage illustrates the distrust between communities and the law enforcement officers that patrol them.
“You’re gonna see acts that defy humanity. You’re gonna see a disregard for life, duty of care that we’re all sworn to, and a level of physical interaction that is above and beyond what is required in law enforcement,” Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis told CNN’s Don Lemon Friday morning, ahead of the release of body cam and sky cam footage.
Police report misleads public on MPD beating of Tyre Nichols
In its first description of the Jan. 7 encounter, MPD stated it made contact with Fedex worker and skater Nichols due to reckless driving. Yet the released video, which attorney Ben Crump had demanded be released for weeks, fails to show any explicit traffic violation.
“As officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred, and the suspect fled the scene on foot,” a sentence from the police report read. Yet the video clearly showed Nichols obeying commands as officers ordered him to the ground and yelled commands without telling him what he’d done wrong. As officers continued to pepper spray him despite his compliance, he ran for his life.
“Officers pursued the suspect and again attempted to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended,” the report continues.
It left out the fact that both “confrontations” were initiated and escalated by the officers and the fact that once apprehended, officers took turns savagely beating a defenseless young man. The MPD initially portrayed the deadly encounter as a routine detainment that didn’t violate any protocols or constitutional rights.
Police credibility in question
As Nichols lay dying in a hospital from the wounds he suffered in a beating that drew parallels to Rodney King, MPD intentionally mischaracterized the encounter for media outlets who often copy and paste police reports as if they’re gospel.
“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene,” the report adds. Yet it fails to convey the dozens of minutes in which a swarm of officers simply watched and laughed as Tyre Nichols lay slumped, falling in and out of consciousness.
“It’s misleading,” Case Western Reserve Law School professor Ayesha Bell Hardaway said regarding the first police statement about the Nichols arrest, according to the Associated Press.
“It rings of a regular traffic stop, when in fact we know that these were not officers on patrol looking for speeding.”
The misleading police report depicting the gang-style assault against Tyre Nichols draws similarities to the initial report from Minneapolis PD regarding George Floyd. It claimed he “appeared to be suffering medical distress” while leaving out the fact that Derek Chauvin held a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes, depriving his body of oxygen, which ultimately led to his death.
As conversations continue around police reform, no laws have been proposed to discipline police departments that intentionally mislead and lie to the public about the details of their encounters with civilians.