Memphis Police Department Officers Demetrius Haley, Tadarrius Bean, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, and Justin Smith were terminated on Jan. 18 for their role in the arrest of deceased Tyre Nichols. (Memphis Police Department)
The five formers Memphis, Tennessee police officers charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the death of Tyre Nichols pleaded not guilty Friday.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III, and Justin Smith made their first court appearances with their lawyers before a judge in Shelby County Criminal Court.
The officers were fired after an internal police investigation into the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died in a hospital three days later. Footage released of the arrest showed the officers beating the 29-year-old Nichols.
The officers pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression. They are all out on bond. Their next hearing has been scheduled for May 1.
Addressing the courtroom, Judge James Jones Jr. asked for everyone’s “continued patience” and “continued civility,” stressing that “this case can take some time.”
“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.”
Bean’s attorney, John Keith Perry, spoke with reporters afterward, saying Bean was doing his job at that time and “never touched” Nichols.
Blake Ballin, the attorney for Mills, said the process must be “based on the facts and the law, and not the raw emotions that our country is experiencing.” The public should be patient and cautious in judging his client, he said.
Five former Memphis police officers appeared Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in a Tennessee courtroom and pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in the death of Tyre Nichols (Fox News)
“Justice for Mr. Nichols will not be achieved at the expense of justice for Mr. Mills,” Ballin said.
Ballin also said the nation’s grief over Nichols’ death “absolutely should be channeled into demanding change in the way that we police our communities.”
“It’s also vital that we extend these demands to the way that we treat minorities and people of lower incomes in our criminal justice system,” Ballin said. “Let’s not forget that my client is a Black man in a courtroom in America.”
At the end of January, the Memphis Police Department released footage from the deadly traffic stop.
Betsy Brantner Smith, a retired police sergeant and trainer and the spokesperson for the National Police Association, said the video showed clear violations of proper training.
“Nobody teaches baton strikes above the shoulders, nobody teaches kicks to the head, nobody teaches the denial of medical aid,” she told Fox News Digital. “These men were street fighting, they were not acting as police officers.”
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Nichols ran from officers after a traffic stop. Police caught up with him again less than a half-mile away and allegedly beat him for three minutes straight, sending him to the hospital with critical injuries.
One other white officer who was involved in the initial traffic stop has been fired. An additional officer who has not been identified has been suspended.
Three Memphis Fire Department employees who were present at the site of the arrest have been fired, but they are appealing their terminations. Two Shelby County sheriff’s deputies who also were there have been suspended without pay for violations including failing to keep their body cameras on.
Nichols’ family, their lawyers, community leaders, and activists have called for changes within the Police Department on issues related to traffic stops, use of force, transparency, and other policies.
Fox News’ Michael Ruiz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.