Transparency Troubles Dog Memphis Police Department Again in Tyre Nichols Case

On January 15, the Memphis Police Department issued a statement on its “internal investigation” into the death of Tyre Nichols — five days after the 29-year-old black man died. MPD said it “was important to take swift and deliberate action to maintain transparency, accountability, public trust, and legitimacy amongst our community.”

But the troubled police department has had a host of transparency troubles surrounding the brutal beating of Nichols at the hands of five black police officers  – and a history of closed government offenses.

Some have applauded Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis swiftly firing the officers, who were subsequently charged with second-degree murder and other felonies related to the fatal assault on Nichols. But Davis and the department are being scrutinized for a series of actions seemingly defying open government and leading to questions of coverup.

Claims made in the initial police report filed within hours of Nichols’ Jan. 7 traffic stop have been contradicted by subsequent video of the encounter.

As CNN reported, the report claimed Nichols “started to fight” with the officers, at one point grabbing one of their guns. Those claims were not substantiated by the video released on Friday.

Also missing from the report — but not from the shocking video — is the fact that the officers repeatedly punched and kicked Nichols, who days later died from the extensive injuries he suffered.

The initial report also claimed Nichols was pulled over after the officers observed him driving recklessly. Police video appears to contradict those claims, too.

MPD has not released the report, but the New York Times has reported on its contents.

Shelby County District Attorney spokeswoman Erica Williams told CNN “the DA does have a report that has that same account of events.”

A Memphis Police spokeswoman did not return a call from The Star News Network seeking comment.

The timing of the department’s release of information about other officers involved in the Nichols stop is also raising questions. MPD on Monday said Officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, and another unidentified officer were relieved of their duty a day after the incident, more than three weeks ago.

Hemphill used a Taser during the encounter. He is seen in his own body camera chasing Nichols down the road, but was not involved in the beating of Nichols.

“I hope they stomp his ass,” Hemphill is heard saying on the body cam’s audio.

“As per departmental regulations Officer Hemphill activated his bodycam,” his attorney Lee Gerald said earlier in a statement. “He was never present at the second scene. He is cooperating with officials in this investigation.”

Nichols family attorney Ben Crump said the family questioned why Hemphill hasn’t been charged, and why it took three weeks for the PD to release the details.

“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,” Crump wrote in a statement. “The Memphis Police Department owes us all answers.”

The police department has a history of transparency trouble. Concerns about secrecy over misconduct is what pushed the city to demand the creation of a public dashboard on the Memphis PD Reimagine Policing site. It provides statistical data on use of force and other misconduct allegations.

Memphis Councilman JB Smiley Jr. introduced a transparency resolution in June 2020 after reading a report by the Institute for Public Service Reporting Memphis and The Daily Memphian on how Mayor Jim Strickland’s Public Records Office wanted $6,000 to release excessive force complaints filed against MPD officers over a five-year period.

Though the news organizations later reviewed more than 100 of those reports without paying a fee, scores of reports still hadn’t been released, the institute reported in March 2021.

Smiley and several other Memphis City Council members did not return The Star News Network’s requests for comment.

The city has faced several lawsuits in recent years alleging a failure to follow Tennessee’s open record laws. For instance, in 2020, journalist Marc Perrusquia filed a public records request seeking body camera footage from three separate incidents of alleged use of excessive force by city police officer Colin Berryhill.

The city denied Perrusquia’s request, stating that “no responsive records exist at this time due to an Administrative investigation,” despite the fact that the city said in a publicly released case summary that the investigation had, in fact, been closed, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Memphis’ transparency problems remain — as a stunning police brutality case has the nation watching its every move. 

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Memphis Police Department” by Memphis Police Department est.1827.


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2 Thoughts to “Transparency Troubles Dog Memphis Police Department Again in Tyre Nichols Case”

  1. Walter Luffman

    One important step in fixing MPD’s “bad cop” problem is to improve conditions for its officers. This would attract more (and better) men and women to join the force. Better pay is important, but so is more supports for officers from local government. Only when the MPD is fully staffed with good cops will the community at large have faith in its officers again … and bad guys will have the fear of police they should have.

    Meanwhile gun stores, ranges and concealed carry courses are getting lots of business. — including mine.

  2. Phyllis West

    Re: Memphis Police
    “Reimagining Police” is a Woke BLM solution to making law enforcement fail. The Mayor hired a Black woman as Chief of Police who had been fired from the Atlanta Police Dept, but she checked most of the DEI/ Woke requirements. She is incompetent & shares part of the responsibility for this failure. I’m withholding judgement on the 5 officers, bc Derek Chauvin I. Minneapolis was tried & convicted by BLM & Woke media. In a stroke of luck, I saw the ME report on G F, which was quickly taken down from every media. The ME report stated that G F did not die from any obstruction to his air supply. He died from drowning in fluids in his lungs as a result of several drugs in his system which he was reacting to in an overdose.
    Everyone was intimidated by the BLM/ANTIFA RIOTS. Innocent people died, cities were looted & burned.
    I’m not defending anyone, but I’d like more facts like the ME REPORT & what occurred prior to the STOP. It loo I Ed like a Felony STOP. So what facts are missing.
    It would be great if some one would investigate the organization of the professional rioters who travel from around the country to incite violence on Demand. These face covered anarchists are never arrested & convicted. Who is the puppet master? My guess is a very wealthy Marxist who lives in a Mansion on Martha’s Vineyard.