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Another Memphis police officer relieved of duty over death of Tyre Nichols

Tyre Nichols (Courtesy of the Nichols family via AP)
Tyre Nichols (Courtesy of the Nichols family via AP)

Memphis Police Department has disciplined an officer involved in the arrest, beating and death of Tyre Nichols, widening the circle of punishment for a killing that has already led to the murder indictment of five officers.

Officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, was relieved of duty shortly after Mr Nichols’s January 7 arrest, the department said on Monday.

Five black officers were fired and charged last week with second-degree murder and other offences.

Memphis Police Force Investigation
Officers Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr and Justin Smith (Memphis Police Department/AP)

Also on Monday, Fire Department officials announced the firing of emergency medical technicians Robert Long and JaMicheal Sandridge and fire Lieutenant Michelle Whitaker in connection with Mr Nichols’s death.

Fire Chief Gina Sweat said in a statement that the department received a call from police to respond to a report of a person who had been pepper-sprayed, and the workers arrived as Mr Nichols was handcuffed and leaning against a squad car.

Mr Long and Mr 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. Ms Whitaker and the driver remained in the engine.

An investigation determined that all three violated “multiple” policies and protocols, the statement said.

The killing of Mr Nichols, who was also black, has led to days of public discussion of how police forces treat black citizens with excessive violence, regardless of the race of the officers involved.

On body camera footage from the initial stop, Officer Hemphill is heard saying that he had tasered Mr Nichols and declaring: “I hope they stomp his ass.”

The death was the latest example in a string of early police accounts regarding use of force that were later shown to have minimised or ignored violent and sometimes deadly encounters.

Memphis Police Force Investigation
Video of police officers on the night of the incident (City of Memphis/AP)

Memphis Police Department officers used a stun gun, a baton and their fists as they beat Mr Nichols during the night-time arrest.

Footage shows him running away from officers towards his house after he was pulled over on suspicion of reckless driving.

Mr Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was heard calling for his mother and seen struggling with his injuries as he sat helpless on the pavement, video footage released on Friday showed.

The five officers chatted and milled about for several minutes as he remained in the ground, but there were other authorities on the scene.

Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies have been relieved of duty without pay while their conduct is investigated.

The police department is responsible for internal disciplinary measures, such as firings, while the Shelby County’s district attorney handles criminal investigations.

Officer Hemphill was the third officer at a traffic stop that preceded the violent arrest but was not at the scene where Mr Nichols was beaten, his lawyer Lee Gerald said.

Memphis Police Force Investigation
RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Lawyers for the Nichols family questioned on Monday why the department did not disclose Officer Hemphill’s discipline earlier and why he has not been fired or charged.

“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,” said the statement from Ben Crump and Anthony Romanucci.

“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.”

Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph said information on disciplinary action taken against Officer Hemphill was not immediately released because he was not fired.

Calls for more officers to be fired or charged have been loud and persistent from the Nichols family, their lawyers, and community activists who have peacefully protested in Memphis since the video was released.

The video was evocative of the arrest of George Floyd in 2020 and officers’ failure to intervene.

On Saturday, Mr Nichols’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, told the Associated Press that the family was going to “continue to seek justice and get some more officers arrested”.