The five former Memphis, Tennessee, police officers accused in the death of Tyre Nichols have pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith appeared in court Friday with their attorneys, who entered the not guilty pleas on their behalf.
The officers were fired Jan. 20 and charged with second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, and stepfather, Rodney Wells, were also present in court with their attorney Ben Crump.
At a news conference after the hearing, Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said that the officers didn’t have the courage to look her in the eye during the hearing, but that “they’re going to see me at every court date — every one — until we get justice for my son.”
“I feel very numb right now,” Wells said. “And I’m waiting for this nightmare basically that I’m going through right now, I’m waiting for somebody to wake me up. I know that’s not going to happen.”
During the appearance, Judge James Jones Jr. asked for patience as “this case may take some time” and “there may be some high emotions.”
“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, and I will not allow any behavior that could jeopardize that right,” he said.
Addressing reporters outside the courtroom, Blake Ballin, an attorney for Desmond Mills Jr., said that “justice for Mr. Nichols will not be achieved at the expense of justice for Mr. Mills.”
“I want to remind everyone that the resolution of this indictment, to which Mr. Mills has pleaded not guilty, must be carried out without sympathy or prejudice, that it must be based on the facts and the law, and not the raw emotions that our country is currently experiencing,” he said.
The officers’ next court date is set for May 1.
Last month, Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis said the officers were “directly responsible” for Nichols’ “physical abuse.”
An administrative investigation by the Memphis police found that the officers allegedly violated multiple policies, including use of excessive force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid in the Jan. 7 traffic stop of Nichols, Davis said.
Nichols was pulled over by the officers and aggressively yanked out of his car, officers shouting a confusing barrage of commands at him, video released by the city shows.
Nichols managed to run to his mother’s neighborhood and was about 80 yards from her house when video captured multiple officers assaulting him as he repeatedly shouted “Mom!”
Police had said that Nichols was supposedly stopped for reckless driving but, according to Davis, an investigation and review of available camera footage had found “no proof” of that.
Nichols, 29, who was an amateur photographer and skateboarder, was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days after the traffic stop.
The youngest of four children, Nichols was the father of a 4-year-old son. He was visiting his family in Memphis from his home in Sacramento, California, when the pandemic started, so he stayed in Memphis and got a job working the overnight shift at FedEx.
“Nobody’s perfect, OK, but he was damn near,” RowVaughn Wells said about her son.
A sixth officer has since been fired and another relieved of duty and two Shelby County deputies were suspended in connection with Nichols’ death.
The Associated Press contributed.