One of five fired cops who killed Tyre Nichols pleads guilty

Tyre Nichols case update: Memphis cop Desmond Mills pleads guilty and faces up to 15 years in prison for beating caught on video

  • One of the five fired Memphis police officers seen beating Tyre Nichols to death on a horrifying video pleaded guilty and now faces up to 15 years in prison
  • Mills pleaded guilty to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice and agreed to plead guilty to related state charges. 
  • He is the first of five to plead guilty in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols . It’s unclear if the other officers will follow suit

One of the five fired Memphis police officers seen beating Tyre Nichols to death on a horrifying video pleaded guilty and now faces up to 15 years in prison. 

Desmond Mills Jr. entered his guilty plea during a hearing at the Memphis federal courthouse on Thursday as part of a larger agreement to settle charges in state court.

Mills pleaded guilty to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice and agreed to plead guilty to related state charges. 

Mills =agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in other cases. The final sentencing decision rests with the judge. Mills remains free on bail ahead of his May 22 sentencing hearing.

He is the first of five to plead guilty in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols. It’s unclear if the other officers will follow suit.

Tyre Nichols, 29, died in hospital on January 10, three days after a traffic stop that ended with him being severely injured

Charged with second degree murder were (top, left to right) Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, and (bottom, left to right) Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith. Mills Jr. entered his guilty plea during a hearing at the Memphis federal courthouse on Thursday 

The five – Mills, Emmitt Martin, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley and Justin Smith – initially pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in state court. Mills is the first to agree to plead guilty.

Attorneys for three of the officers declined to comment and William Massey, the lawyer for Martin, said in an email to the Associated Press, that they ‘will stay the course’ with the former officer´s criminal defense.

Nichols´ mother, RowVaughn Wells, shook as she described hearing how five large men beat her skinny son.

‘This one today was very difficult for me because this was really the first time I actually heard somebody tell and say what they actually did to my son,’ she told reporters outside the courthouse.

‘So, this was very difficult. But I´m hoping that Mr. Mills, it was his conscience that allowed him to make this plea agreement, and not because of his lawyers telling him it was the right thing to do.’

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 to for police reform in the U.S.  The five former officers who were charged also are Black.

The video released in January shows Nichols, 29, crying out for his mother multiple times during the brutal January 7 assault, which took place just 80 yards from his home.

‘Mom! Mom!’ Nichols screams as he is pinned to the ground by multiple officers, pepper sprayed in the face, kicked and punched in the head, while struck with a metal baton.

The shadow of the officer wearing this bodycam is seen as he raises his arm holding a metal telescopic baton, after saying ‘I’m gonna baton the f*** out of him!’

The violent incident begins with a traffic stop, where multiple unmarked cop cars surround Nichols’ vehicle and officers drag him from the driver’s seat as one yells, ‘Get the f*** out of the f****** car.’

‘D**n, I didn’t do anything … I am just trying to go home,’ responds Nichols.

‘On the ground, on the ground,’ an officer says as cops force Nichols to the ground, order him to lay on his stomach and squirt him in the face with pepper spray.

‘Alright, I’m on the ground,’ Nichols can be heard saying, with a cop responding profanely: ‘B***h, put your hands behind your back before I …. I’m going to knock your ass the f*** out.’

‘Get on the f****** ground. I’m going to tase you,’ one cop says.

‘You guys are really doing a lot right now. I’m just trying to go home,’ says Nichols.

Several cops begin kicking Nichols as he lies on the ground. Nichols then breaks free, scrambles to his feet and sprints away down a road with officers chasing him on foot.

One officer fires a taser at Nichols, but later remarks that only one prong struck him, meaning the circuit was not completed and the electric shock was not delivered.

After running for roughly half a mile, Nichols is tackled and held down by two other officers involved in the pursuit, who repeatedly shout ‘give me your hands!’

Other cops are seen arriving on foot as Nichols is being pinned down. One sprays pepper spray at Nichols, also hitting himself in the face.

Nichols is pictured in hospital after the incident. The 29-year-old from Memphis died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure, three days after he was pulled over for reckless driving by police in unmarked cars

Family Attorney Ben Crump spoke at a press conference on Friday, ahead of the graphic body cam footage of Tyre being beaten to death by the officers

President Joe Biden urged for calm before the video release, saying: ‘Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice’

Two officers hold Nichols to the ground as he moves about, then the third appears to kick him in the head.

Nichols slumps more fully onto the pavement with all three officers surrounding him. The same officer kicks him again.

The officer who used the pepper spray then extends a telescoping metal baton, shouting, ‘I’m gonna baton the f*** out of him!’ before striking Nichols three times in the back.

Several officers are seen propping Nichols up on his feet as one and punches his face. Nichols stumbles and turns, still held up by two officers.

The cop who punched him then walks around to Nichols’ front and punches him three more times. Then Nichols collapses.

After Nichols is handcuffed, he appears to be unresponsive and unable to sit upright.

As the minutes tick by, cops are heard cursing, wisecracking and ordering him to sit up as he slumps over onto the pavement.

One cop is seen leaning down and tying his own shoe as Nichols slumps nearby.

Even after paramedics arrive on the scene, they do not appear to render immediate aid.

Nichols is seen lying on the pavement for more than 19 minutes as at least eight cops mill around the scene, flushing pepper spray out of their own eyes.

Nearly half an hour after the assault, an ambulance finally pulls up and a stretcher is unloaded to transport Nichols.

The videos released consists of more than an hour of footage, including video from three body-worn cameras and one surveillance camera mounted on a utility pole.

Nichols died in hospital on January 10, three days after being beaten by the officers.

The footage raised questions about the paramedics and other law enforcement officers who arrived after Nichols was in handcuffs.

Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said in a statement at the time: ‘Having watched the videotape for the first time tonight, I have concerns about two deputies who arrived on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols.’

Bonner said he had launched an internal investigation into the two deputies, adding that they had been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the probe.

Nichols’ mother and her husband said the possibility of 15 years in prison for Mills is ‘a start.’ Nichols´ stepfather, Rodney Wells, noted that Mills has a family, with three children 6 years old and younger.

‘Fifteen years is a long time with no parole,’ Rodney Wells said at the news conference. ‘That´s going to affect his family, that´s going to affect him.’

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said Mills´ cooperation ‘probably would incentivize’ the other officers to consider plea deals too. Mills will also cooperate in the U.S. Department of Justice´s investigation in the Memphis Police Department, which Mulroy said should lead to systemic reform.

Mulroy said the defendants hold ‘different levels of responsibility’ in Nichols´ death and that Mills ‘is not the worst of the five’ officers charged.

The plea agreement sets out Mills’ role in the fatal beating, detailing how he pepper-sprayed Nichols three times before pulling out a baton and yelling, ‘I´m about to baton the (expletive) out of you.’ 

He repeatedly struck Nichols, who was on the ground and surrounded by officers, never giving him an opportunity to comply with the command, ‘give us your hands!’

After the beating, Mills and the other officers failed to tell the responding medics that they had beaten Nichols, instead saying he was on drugs. Meanwhile, among themselves they discussed ‘taking turns hitting Nichols, hitting Nichols with straight haymakers, and everybody rocking Nichols. 

During these conversations, the officers discussed hitting Nichols to make him fall and observed that when Nichols did not fall from these blows, they believed they were ‘about to kill’ him,’ according to the plea agreement.

Martin used hand signals to indicate to Mills that his body camera was still recording. Mills removed the camera and placed it on the back of a patrol car.

Crump speaks at a news conference with the family of Tyre Nichols on Thursday

Protesters hold signs on Friday night in Memphis, as as they gathered with authorities set to release police video depicting five Memphis officers beating Tyre Nichols

The window of a police car was completely smashed as a protestor climbed onto the vehicle

Mills told supervisors at the scene that he knew Nichols was in bad shape and he ‘expressed concerns about Nichols’ survival,’ according to the agreement. When the five officers spoke later, they discussed what the body camera recording might show and conspired to mislead investigators. 

That included agreeing not to report that Martin had repeatedly struck Nichols in the head.

After Nichols’ death, all five officers were fired from the department and the crime-suppression team they were part of was disbanded. 

The four remaining officers have a May 6 trial date in federal court. A trial has not yet been set in state court.

The officers said they pulled Nichols over because he was driving recklessly, but Police Chief Cerelyn ‘CJ´ Davis said no evidence was found to support that allegation. Nichols ran from officers, who tried to restrain him. He pleaded for his mother as he was pummeled just steps from his home.

An autopsy report showed Nichols died from blows to the head, and that the manner of death was homicide. The report described brain injuries, cuts and bruises to the head and other parts of the body.

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