A sixth Memphis officer was fired Friday after an internal police investigation showed he violated multiple department policies in the violent arrest of Tyre Nichols, including rules surrounding the deployment of a stun gun, officials said.
Preston Hemphill had been suspended as he was investigated for his role in the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died in a hospital three days later. Five Memphis officers have already been fired and charged with second-degree murder in Nichols’ death.
Nichols was beaten after police stopped him for what they said was a traffic violation. Video released after pressure from Nichols’ family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly punching, kicking and striking him with a baton as he screamed for his mother.
The officers who have been fired and charged are Black, as was Nichols. Hemphill is white. One other officer has been suspended, but has not been identified.
Hemphill was the third officer at the traffic stop that preceded the arrest but was not at the location where Nichols was beaten after he ran away.
On body camera footage from the initial stop, Hemphill is heard saying that he used a stun gun against Nichols and declaring, “I hope they stomp his ass.”
Along with breaking rules regarding the use of a stun gun, Hemphill was also fired for violations of personal conduct and truthfulness, police said in a statement.
Police announced Hemphill’s suspension on Jan. 30, but they said Hemphill was actually suspended shortly after the arrest.
Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph has said information about Hemphill’s suspension was not immediately released because Hemphill had not been fired. The department generally gives out information about an officer’s punishment only after a department investigation into misconduct ends, Rudolph said.
After the suspension was announced, lawyers for Nichols’ family questioned why the department did not disclose Hemphill’s discipline earlier.
“We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community – this news seems to indicate that they haven’t risen to the occasion,” attorneys Ben Crump and Anthony Romanucci said in a statement. “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.”
Also Friday, a Tennessee board suspended the emergency medical technician licenses of two former Memphis Fire Department employees for failing to render critical care.
The suspensions of EMT Robert Long and advanced EMT JaMichael Sandridge build on efforts by authorities to hold officers and other first responders accountable for the violence against Nichols. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights probe into the attack that was captured on video.
Three fire department employees were fired after Nichols died. Former fire department Lt. Michelle Whitaker was the third employee let go, but her license was not considered for suspension Friday. The department has said she remained in the engine with the driver during the response to Nichols’ beating.
Emergency Medical Services Board member Jeff Beaman said during Friday’s emergency meeting that there may have been other licensed personnel on scene – including a supervisor – who could have prevented the situation that led to the death of Nichols. Beaman said he hopes the board addresses those in the future.
Matt Gibbs, an attorney for the state Department of Health, said the two suspensions were “not final disposition of this entire matter.”
Board members watched 19 minutes of surveillance video that showed Long and Sandridge as they failed to care for Nichols, who couldn’t stay seated upright against the side of the vehicle, laying prone on the ground multiple times. They also considered an affidavit by the Memphis Fire Department’s EMS deputy chief.
“The (state) Department (of Health) alleges that neither Mr. Sandridge nor Mr. Long engaged in emergency care and treatment to patient T.N., who was clearly in distress during the 19 minute period,” Gibbs said.
Board member Sullivan Smith said it was “obvious to even a lay person” that Nichols “was in terrible distress and needed help.”
“And they failed to provide that help,” Smith said. “They were his best shot, and they failed to help.”
Fire Chief Gina Sweat has said the department received a call from police after someone was pepper-sprayed. When the workers arrived at 8:41 p.m., Nichols was handcuffed on the ground and slumped against a squad car, the statement said.
Long and Sandridge, based on the nature of the call and information they were told by police, “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols,” the statement said.
There was no immediate response to a voicemail seeking comment left at a number listed for Long. A person who answered a phone call to a number listed for Sandridge declined to comment on the board’s decision.
An ambulance was called, and it arrived at 8:55 p.m., the statement said. An emergency unit cared for Nichols and left for a hospital with him at 9:08 p.m., which was 27 minutes after Long, Sandridge and Whitaker arrived, officials said.
An investigation determined that all three violated multiple policies and protocols, the statement said, adding that “their actions or inactions on the scene that night do not meet the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department.”
The fired officers involved were part of the so-called Scorpion unit, which targeted violent criminals in high-crime areas. Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said after the video’s release that the unit has been disbanded.
Mayor Jim Strickland said Friday that the city has ordered up a review of its police department – including special units and use-of-force policies – through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, through the Collaborative Reform Initial Technical Assistant Center program, and the International Association of Police Chiefs. The COPS group is also aiding a review of the law enforcement response to the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
The killing led to renewed public discussion of how police forces can treat Black residents with excessive violence, regardless of the race of both the police officers and those being policed.
At Nichols’ funeral on Wednesday, calls for reform and justice were interwoven with grief over the loss of a man remembered as a son, a sibling, a father and a passionate photographer and skateboarder.