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Judge considers which records to release in case against ex-officers accused of killing Tyre Nichols

The judge in the case has shown willingness to release records in the case, while defense attorneys have objected to the idea

tyre nichols
Mourners leave after the funeral service for Tyre Nichols at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, on February 1, 2023, in Memphis, Tennessee.Jeff Roberson (AP)

Five former Memphis police officers charged in the beating death of Tyre Nichols appeared in court Friday as a judge considered which records should be released to the public as part of the highly-publicized case that intensified calls for police reform in the U.S.

The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith — stood before Shelby County Criminal Court Judge James Jr. with their lawyers. They have pleaded not guilty to charges including second-degree murder in the beating of the 29-year-old Nichols during a Jan. 7 traffic stop and his death three days later in a hospital.

Defense attorneys said they were still receiving evidence from state prosecutors as part of the investigation into the beating, which was caught on video and resulted in the firings of the five officers charged in the case. Two other officers were fired but not charged, and another officer retired before he could be fired.

Jones also said he would look at filings from defense attorneys about their objections to the public release of certain documents related to the officers’ personnel records and other information tied to the case, including additional video and audio footage. The judge set an Aug. 18 hearing to discuss the records release.

Jones had asked prosecutors to outline the information they think should and should not be released to the public, and then give the list to defense attorneys. Prosecutor Paul Hagerman said he has given the list to defense lawyers, and they have filed their objections with the judge.

The judge also has not ruled on requests by two of the officers, Smith and Bean, to be tried separately.

Police video already released Jan. 27 showed five officers belonging to the Scorpion crime suppression unit punching, kicking and hitting Nichols with a baton as he yelled for his mother after a traffic stop.

Nichols’ death sparked outrage around the world and intensified calls for police reform.

The five officers are Black. So was Nichols.

The city had planned to release on March 8 about 20 hours of additional video, audio and documents related to the arrest.

But the release was put on hold the next day after Jones granted a motion to delay from defense attorneys. The judge ordered that any release of video, audio, reports and city of Memphis employees’ personnel files related to the Nichols investigation must wait “until such time as the state and the defendants have reviewed this information.”

A coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed a motion to have the records released publicly. The coalition argued that the judge’s order blocking the records release was unwarranted and went against “the First Amendment’s protections for newsgathering and publication, particularly in the context of criminal proceedings.”

Lawyers for the officers have argued that the former officers’ rights to a fair trial must be recognized and protected pending trial.

Defense attorneys have objected to the release of any information that is part of the ongoing investigation. That includes audio from body cameras that may contain statements made by officers that could be used against them.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed that most police personnel records that pre-dated Nichols’ beating can be released. But they both also agreed that the media must not get so-called Garrity statements, which stem from investigative interviews given by the officers to Memphis Police Department administrators after Nichols’ beating.

Garrity statements are not allowed to be used at trial against defendants.

Police have said Nichols had been suspected of reckless driving, but no verified evidence of a traffic violation has emerged in public documents or in video footage. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis has said she has seen no evidence justifying the stop or the officers’ response. She disbanded the Scorpion unit after Nichols’ death, but some officers from that team have been assigned to other units.

Nichols died of blows to the head, and the manner of death was homicide, an autopsy report released May 4 showed. The report described brain injuries, cuts and bruises to the head and other parts of the body.

Nichols’ mother has sued the city, the officers and the police chief in federal court. The U.S. Justice Department also is reviewing the Memphis Police Department’s policies on the use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialized units in response to the fatal beating.

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