Statements issued after body camera footage widely shared

Several local officials have issued statements condemning the actions of five former Memphis police officers who allegedly beat a man to death after a traffic stop.

Wayne County Sheriff Randy Retter called Tyre Nichols’ death “horrific and indefensible.” Richmond’s Chief of Police Mike Britt callled it “unacceptable and repulsive.” And Richmond Common Council member Dr. Lucinda Wright said the officers’ behavior was “totally heinous, deplorable and inhumane.”

On Friday, Jan. 27, a grand jury indicted the former officers on charges of second-degree murder.

Police initially said 29-year-old Tyre Nichols had been stopped on Jan. 7 on suspicion of reckless driving, but that has not been substantiated, according to the BBC.

Nichols was hospitalized and died Jan. 10. Family members told the BBC that Nichols worked for FedEx and had a 4-year-old child.

Retter’s statement

“Body-worn-camera and additional video footage has now been released by the Memphis, Tennessee Police displaying the brutal, and ultimately fatal, beating of Mr. Tyre Nichols. The death of Mr. Nichols at the hands of police officers is horrific and indefensible. This senseless death and the officers who failed to intervene leave all of us, who wear our badge with pride, with indescribable feelings of disgust and anger.

I, and those under my charge, will remain committed to protect and defend the safety of those we took an oath for. Tens of thousands of officers across the nation and in uniforms of all colors, risk their lives and personally sacrifice every day to uphold that oath. The former officers depicted in the video clearly acted outside of our professional boundaries and are a disgrace to law enforcement. These despicable actions are not a representation of the overwhelming majority of law enforcement contacts that occur daily, but of a small group of rogue people acting independently under the cloak of law enforcement.

The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office is committed to protecting the citizens of this community and their rights as provided by the U.S. and Indiana Constitutions. I stand behind the decision made by Memphis, Tennessee Police Department to ultimately terminate those officers who were then, and justifiably, criminal charged. It is now time for the criminal justice system to take its course.

I share my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Tyre Nichols. I stand in solidarity with those working diligently for a positive change. As president of the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association, and as your sheriff, I am committed to do more. I am committed to represent our community and work together to preserve life and to build a future that ensures respect, safety, and justice for all. A future that is absent of any tragedy like this.”

Britt’s statement

“The events in Memphis, Tennessee, on Jan. 7, 2023, which led to the death of Tyre Nichols at the hands of police officers, is seen by all officers of the Richmond Police Department as absolutely unacceptable and repulsive. The actions of these officers are viewed as illegal and perpetrated by officers that did not have this citizen’s safety in mind (or any other core value). We, as a department, do not support these officers in Memphis who betrayed the public trust, in any way, shape or form.

The Richmond Police Department holds its officers to a higher standard and as part of its mission, to ensure citizen safety. The actions of these five officers in Memphis do not reflect the professionalism that the Richmond Police Department strives to adhere to and is not indicative of our chosen profession as well as the thousands of professional, well trained law enforcement officers across our great nation who do a great job and are dedicated to protecting and serving their communities with their core values, respect for their citizens and their duty in mind to guide their conduct.

May the spirit of unity in our community comfort us all as we navigate through yet another test of our communities’ strength. Join us in trusting that justice will be done! I commend the courage of their police chief and criminal court system in acting swiftly to eradicate this threat from their community.”

Wright’s comments

Wright said she’s still processing what she saw in the video and appreciates the quick denouncements from Britt, Retter and other police departments.

“No human being with a conscience could treat a human being in that manner,” Wright said.

As a mother of two adult sons, she calls the Memphis police actions frightening. “It could have been anybody’s child down there,” she said.

She agrees with nationally known civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who called Memphis police chief’s swift actions to hold the officers accountable and dismantle their unit a blueprint for how other agencies should deal with similar situations in the future.

Wright said when she was young, parents would tell their children that police were their friends and to seek officers help when needed. There are some exceptional officers and there needs to be more so that kids, teens and adults aren’t scared to ask for help, she said.

Wright sees a need for what she calls “true diversity training” that officers can’t get from textbooks, and more positive community involvement from state and local law enforcement departments across the country.

As board president of Townsend Community Center Inc., Wright said she’s always pleased to see local firefighters and police spontaneously stop by to visit with after-school program participants. She believes those interactions build stronger relationships between kids, parents and first responders.

Wright remains proud of how Richmond came together to rally around RPD K-9 Officer Seara Burton last year and mourn her loss. “It needs to be that way every day, not just when something happens,” Wright said.

She said law enforcement, residents and city governments across the country need to be proactive rather than reactive.

Wright hurts for Nichols’ family and community, and said she hopes people will lift both in prayer.

“Anytime someone is treated as less than human, it’s a tragedy for us all,” she said.

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Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.