18 March 2023

Officer on scene of Tyre Nichols’ death retired day before dismissal hearing

18 March 2023

The Memphis police supervisor on the scene when Tyre Nichols was beaten to death by officers retired with his benefits the day before a hearing to sack him, according to documents filed to revoke his law enforcement certification.

Lt DeWayne Smith was identified in records obtained by media outlets as the officer that officials said earlier this month had retired before his termination hearing.

Some Memphis City Council members were upset an officer was allowed to retire before steps could be taken to fire them, including the council’s vice-chairman JB Smiley Jr, who said it did not seem fair that the then-unidentified officer could keep their pension and other benefits.

“I just don’t like the fact that his parents are paying this officer to go on and live and that’s troubling,” Mr Smiley said.

The lawyer for Mr Nichols’ family said the department should not have let Lt Smith “cowardly sidestep the consequences of his actions” and retire after 25 years.

“We call for Memphis police and officials to do everything in their power to hold Lt Smith and all of those involved fully accountable,” lawyer Ben Crump said.

Seven other Memphis officers were fired after Mr Nichols died following a traffic stop on January 7 and five of them are charged with second-degree murder. Lt Smith is not charged over Mr Nichols’ death.

Mr Nichols, 29, was pulled roughly from his car as an officer threatened to shock him with a Taser. He ran, but was chased. Video showed five officers held him down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots and batons as he screamed for his mother.

The decertification documents against Lt Smith reveal additional details about his actions that night.

Lt Smith heard Mr Nichols say “I can’t breathe” as he was propped up against a squad car, but failed to get him medical care or remove his handcuffs, according to the report.

Lt Smith also did not get reports from other officers about using force and told Mr Nichols’ family he was driving under the influence even though there was no information to support a charge, the documents said.

Investigators said Lt Smith decided without evidence that Mr Nichols was on drugs or drunk and video captured him telling Mr Nichols “you done took something” when he arrived at the scene.

Additionally, Lt Smith did not wear his body camera — violating police department policy. His actions were captured on the body cameras of other officers, documents said.

The US Department of Justice is currently reviewing the Memphis Police Department policies on the use of force, de-escalation strategies and specialised units in response to Mr Nichols’ death.

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