Sixth Memphis Police Officer Fired After Death of Tyre Nichols

Preston Hemphill participated in the initial traffic stop and use of a Taser; two EMTs have their licenses revoked

By Talal Ansari and Suryatapa Bhattacharya

Updated Feb. 3, 2023 8:42 pm ET

A sixth police officer was fired and two emergency medical technicians had their licenses revoked for failure of duty in the death of Tyre Nichols following a traffic stop in Memphis, Tenn.

The Memphis Police Department said Friday Preston Hemphill was terminated for numerous violations of department policy, including personal conduct and truthfulness. 

Mr. Hemphill, who is white, participated in the initial traffic stop and the use of a Taser. He was placed on administrative leave in January pending the outcome of an internal investigation, the department said earlier this week. 

His firing comes a week after the release of footage of the Jan. 7 traffic stop that led to the death of Mr. Nichols, a 29-year-old FedEx worker and father. The footage showed Memphis police officers pulling Mr. Nichols over and forcing him from his car. Though Mr. Nichols appears to be subdued at one point, an officer deploys a Taser on him and a commotion ensues. Mr. Nichols breaks free and runs off. After officers catch up to him, several policemen repeatedly hit and kick Mr. Nichols, including while he is lying on the ground and appears defenseless.

Mr. Nichols died three days after the encounter. His family said Mr. Nichols was fatally beaten beyond recognition. The Shelby County medical examiner’s office hasn’t released autopsy results.

Police officials fired five officers in January. The men, all of whom are Black, were charged with second-degree murder, among other offenses, for Mr. Nichols’s death. Mr. Nichols was also Black. 

Lee Gerald, a lawyer for Mr. Hemphill, said Monday his client was the third officer at the initial stop of Mr. Nichols and was never present at the second scene. Mr. Hemphill’s body-camera footage from that part of the encounter was included in the footage that was released, he said. Mr. Hemphill is cooperating with officials in the investigation, he also said. 

Mr. Gerald didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Lawyers for Mr. Nichols’s family have said the Memphis Police Department owes the public answers regarding Mr. Hemphill.

“Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?” lawyers Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a joint statement Monday. “It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability.”

Mr. Crump didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Separately Friday, a Tennessee Health Department board voted to suspend the licenses of two former Memphis Fire Department EMTs who were at the scene of Mr. Nichols’s encounter with police. Robert Long and JaMichael Sandridge were fired by the fire department last week after an internal investigation showed they failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols.

The board agreed. “Their patient was in obvious distress. It’s obvious to even a layperson that he was in terrible distress and needed help and they failed to provide that help,” said Board member Sullivan Smith. “They were his best shot and they failed to help.”

A third EMT, Lt. Michelle Whitaker, was fired last week but her license hasn’t been revoked.

At Mr. Nichols’s funeral Wednesday in a packed Memphis church, his family and others made passionate pleas for justice and national reform.

“In the city where the dreamer laid down and shed his blood, you have the unmitigated gall to beat your brother,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, who delivered the eulogy, said of the police officers involved. “How dare you.”

Memphis police said Friday their investigation into Mr. Nichols’s death is ongoing, and multiple officers are under investigation for departmental policy violations. The Shelby County district attorney’s office said Monday more charges may be forthcoming in the case. There is also a separate federal civil-rights investigation.

The police department has also said it is disbanding the specialized street-crime unit whose members included former officers charged in Mr. Nichols’s death.

This piece was republished from The Wall Street Journal

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