MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Federal investigators said Wednesday a civil rights investigation has been opened into the death of a 29-year-old man who died three days after being stopped by Memphis police.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Justice Department’s civil rights division, announced the investigation into the officers involved in the traffic stop that ended with Tyre Nichols in critical condition at a hospital.
Details about what happened during the Jan. 7 stop and how Nichols was injured are sparse and come mainly from the Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
What happened to Tyre Nichols?
Nichols, of Memphis, died Jan. 10 after two “confrontations” with police on Jan. 7, which left him hospitalized, according to police. Officials said a cause of death has not yet been determined.
According to police, officers pulled Nichols over for reckless driving at about 8:30 p.m.
“As officers approached the driver of the vehicle, a confrontation occurred and the suspect fled the scene on foot,” police said in a statement. Officers attempted to take Nichols into custody when “another confrontation occurred,” the statement said.
Police said Nichols “complained of having a shortness of breath,” and an ambulance was called. Nichols was taken to the hospital, where he was listed in critical condition.
Police have not described what happened during either “confrontation.”
Family members of Nichols said he suffered a number of injuries, including brain swelling and kidney failure. He was hooked up to a dialysis machine prior to his death.
An image of Nichols shared with the public shortly after his death put a finer point on his described injuries. In the image, Nichols is intubated, his face disfigured from a combination of significant welts and his nose bent. Blood was seen on his intubation tube and on his hospital sheets.
Video to be released, city says
The city of Memphis said Tuesday it will release footage related to the Nichols’ death after the Memphis Police Department finishes its own internal investigation.
“The video will be released publicly after the completion of the internal investigation into the actions of the officers and after the family of Mr. Nichols has had the opportunity to review the video privately,” Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said in a joint statement.
The officers involved in the traffic stop were placed on administrative leave after the incident, and the city and police department opened an internal investigation. Memphis city officials said Sunday the officers would face “administrative action.”
The Memphis Police Association declined to comment Wednesday on the announcement, citing the ongoing investigation.
Family, friends gather in protest
Family, friends and protesters gathered outside a police precinct Saturday to call for action against the officers involved in Nichols’ death. The protest during the day included a balloon release. “He was a very loving kid,” said Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells.
At a memorial service Tuesday, Nichols was remembered by friends and family as someone who would “light up the room.” Angelina Paxton, a long-time friend of Nichols, called the way he died “a dark way” for someone who had “this much light.”
“All I can say is may God find forgiveness for (the officers) because I don’t think I can,” she said.
The Nichols family on Monday retained civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who called on Memphis police to release any body camera video captured by the officers involved.
“Nobody should ever die from a simple traffic stop – the footage is the only way to discern the true narrative of why and how that happened to Tyre,” Crump said in a statement on Twitter.
Contributing: Grace Hauck, USA TODAY