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5 ex-Memphis officers are indicted on federal charges for death of Tyre Nichols

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Five former Memphis police officers have been indicted on federal charges related to the death of Tyre Nichols. Twenty-nine-year-old Nichols died in January days after being brutally beaten by the officers. Katie Riordan from member station WKNO is in Memphis and is following this story. Katie, thanks for being here. Good morning.

KATIE RIORDAN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So just to be clear, these are new charges against these five former officers.

RIORDAN: Yes. That's right. Earlier this year, all five officers were dismissed from the police force and charged with second-degree murder in state court.

FADEL: OK.

RIORDAN: They've all pleaded not guilty. But yesterday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced these separate federal civil rights violations from the night of Nichols' arrest. Among other things, the officers are accused of using excessive force. Prosecutors also say the officers did not take action to address Nichols' medical needs after beating him and taking them into custody. That's even as it was clear Nichols' condition was worsening. It's also alleged the officers attempted to cover up these crimes by giving misleading and false statements. Here's Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark with the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, speaking at a press conference.

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KRISTEN CLARKE: When some officers violate the Constitution, when they use excessive force, when they ignore serious injuries inflicted on people they arrest, their actions erode the public's trust.

RIORDAN: I did reach out to some of the attorneys for these former officers. One said that the officer he represents maintains his innocence and that he will continue to defend himself against all allegations.

FADEL: So these officers were already facing serious charges - second-degree murder in state court. What prompts these additional charges?

RIORDAN: Federal prosecutors said they're prioritizing accountability and want to send a strong message that no one is above the law. This is not the only place that they're stepping in to make that point. During the press conference, Clarke noted that since January 2021, the DOJ has charged more than 100 cases of rights violations by law enforcement across the country.

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CLARKE: In that same period, we obtained more than 86 convictions. We will never stop working to fulfill our duty to protect Americans from unlawful acts of police violence.

RIORDAN: There's also a broader federal effort to scrutinize all policing in Memphis. In July, the Department of Justice announced the opening of something called a pattern or practice investigation of the Memphis Police Department. That allows them to determine if there are systemic problems with things like excessive use of force.

FADEL: And you also heard from the Nichols family and their attorney. What did they say?

RIORDAN: That's right. The family is represented by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump. At their separate press conference yesterday, Crump stressed that the DOJ under the Biden administration is putting police departments and officers on notice that misconduct will not be tolerated. We also heard directly from Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells.

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ROWVAUGHN WELLS: This is something that I'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my life that I will not have my son. But if my son had to leave this Earth in this manner, I'm hoping it was for the greater good.

RIORDAN: She's often talked about this greater good, referring to meaningful police reforms.

FADEL: Wow. Katie Riordan from member station WKNO in Memphis. Thank you for your reporting, Katie.

RIORDAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Katie Riordan
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