EMTs Fired, Two More Police Officers Relieved From Duty After Death of Tyre Nichols

Memphis Fire Department says EMTs violated protocols; Memphis Police Department says its investigation is ongoing

Three Memphis, Tenn., emergency medical technicians were fired Monday and two additional police officers have been relieved from duty as officials continue investigations into the death of Tyre Nichols.

The three EMTs were let go after an internal investigation into their actions at the scene of Mr. Nichols’s Jan. 7 encounter with police following a traffic stop, the Memphis Fire Department said in a statement. 

The review showed they “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols,” the department said.  

The Memphis Police Department, meanwhile, said Officer Preston Hemphill and a second unnamed officer were relieved from duty. The two officers’ actions and inaction continue to be the subject of an internal investigation, it said.

Police said Officer Hemphill and the unnamed officer were relieved from duty at the beginning of the investigation, on the same date that five other officers, who have now been charged in Mr. Nichols’s death, were suspended. 

Officer Hemphill, who participated in the initial traffic stop and the use of a Taser, will remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of its investigation, the department said. The department declined to say whether Officer Hemphill, who has been on the force since 2018, is being paid.

News of the disciplinary actions comes after the release of footage of the 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.

The Memphis Fire Department said Monday its investigation showed the three fired EMTs found Mr. Nichols handcuffed on the ground and leaning against a police vehicle. 

EMTs Robert Long and JaMichael Sandridge and Lt. Michelle Whitaker “violated numerous MFD policies and protocols” in responding to the medical call, the department said.  

“Their actions or inactions on the scene that night do not meet the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department and are not reflective of the outstanding service the men and women of the Memphis Fire Department provide daily in our community,” Fire Chief Gina Sweat said in a statement.  

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 earlier this month. The men, all of whom are Black, have been charged with second-degree murder, among other offenses, for Mr. Nichols’s death. Mr. Nichols was also Black. 

Lee Gerald, a lawyer for Officer Hemphill, said his client was the third officer at the initial stop of Mr. Nichols. Officer Hemphill’s body-camera footage from that part of the encounter was included in the footage that was released, he said.  

Officer Hemphill was never present at the second scene, Mr. Gerald said. He is cooperating with officials in the investigation, he said. 

Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, lawyers for Mr. Nichols’s family, said the Memphis Police Department owes the public answers regarding Officer Hemphill. 

“Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre’s death just now coming to light?” the lawyers 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.”

The Shelby County District Attorney’s office said Monday more charges may be forthcoming in the case. This includes members of the Memphis Fire Department, a police officer who was present during the initial encounter, and those “who participated in preparing documentation of the incident afterward,” the office said in a statement.

“We are looking at all individuals involved in the events leading up to, during, and after the beating of Tyre Nichols,” the statement said. 

Two Shelby County Sheriff’s deputies who arrived after Memphis police had subdued Mr. Nichols were relieved of their duties pending an investigation by the Sheriff’s Office. 

The Memphis Police Department, meanwhile, has said it is shutting down the specialized Scorpion street-crime unit whose members included former officers charged in the death of Mr. Nichols.

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