Judge Urges ‘Patience’ as Cops in Tyre Nichols’ Death Plead Not Guilty

All five of the former Memphis officers charged with murdering Tyre Nichols—a 29-year-old Black man who’s beating last month was captured on cameras and sent the nation into fury—pleaded not guilty to the charges against them in their first court hearing.

The suspects—Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, and Desmond Mills Jr.—were arrested and indicted in January on felony charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression.

The parents of Tyre Nichols take the stage with their attorney Ben Crump at a news conference in January.

Alyssa Pointer/Reuters

After the suspects made their not-guilty pleas on Friday morning, Judge James Jones asked all parties involved in the case to be patient.

“We understand that there may be some high emotions in this case, but we ask that you continue to be patient with us,” Jones said. “Everyone involved wants this case to be concluded as quickly as possible. But it’s important for you all to understand that the state of Tennessee as well as each one of these defendants have an absolute right to a fair trial.”

Jones said he “will not allow any behavior” that might “jeopardize” the legitimacy of the trial for the five officers.

The second-degree murder charge the group faces carries a sentence of 15 to 60 years in prison.

Nichols died on Jan. 10, three days after he was pulled over for allegedly driving recklessly—an encounter that Nichols fled from after it quickly turned violent, footage released by the police department shows.

After fleeing on foot, a group of officers from the city’s since-disbanded SCORPION unit tracked Nichols down and began mercilessly beating him, video shows. Authorities say it was this assault that killed Nichols.

Footage from both security cameras and officers’ body cameras show that Nichols never attempted to fight back as he was beaten.

The officers involved have been free on bond since their arrest last month.

Bean, Martin III, Haley, Smith, and Mills Jr. were promptly fired and charged after the beating. A sixth officer, Preston Hemphill, was later fired but not criminally charged for his handling of Nichols’ initial traffic stop. Bodycam footage captured him using a taser on Nichols and later declaring, “I hope they stomp his ass.”

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