The footage released of Tyre Nichols’ fatal traffic stop on Jan. 7 — where Memphis police officers doused him with pepper spray and beat him while he cried out for his mother, leading to his death on Jan. 10 — showed the 29-year-old skateboarder and father had little recourse in meeting the officers’ confusing demands.
As a New York Times analysis of the footage uncovered, in around 13 minutes, the cops had issued at least 71 commands before radioing that Nichols was in custody. In that short period, they gave Nichols impossible-to-meet instructions: from asking him to show his hands even while they were restraining him, to get on the ground even though he was already on the ground, to telling him to reposition himself, even when he did not have the ability to do so because they had control of his movements.
Police are ostensibly trained nowadays, according to The Times report, to have a single officer deliver specific commands rather than the barrage of directives that were lobbed at Nichols during that fateful traffic stop. Officers are also expected to respond in a professional manner regardless of perceived defiance. In the past, it was commonly known that when it came to policing that civilians would be punished if officers perceived disobedience.
Per the report, the tapes released on Friday do not depict any of the cops looking to diffuse aggressive use of force. In fact, it looks the opposite, with one officer uttering, “I hope they stomp his ass” when Nichols tried to escape the violence.
The impossible orders from the police appear to come from the get-go. After Nichols’ car was boxed in by authorities, he’s told by three officers to get “on the ground.” He abides and is sitting on the ground, but the screams to “get on the ground” continue, with one cop saying, “I’m gonna tase your ass.” It appears, according to the analysis, that the officers also want him to be lying down. He does so. “You guys are really doing a lot right now,” he says. “I’m just trying to go home.”
As officers pin down his arms and press a taser against his leg while making verbal threats, Nichols says: “I am on the ground.” Another officer says, “On your stomach.” It’s met three seconds later with a cop shooting pepper spray into Nichols’ face.
Later after he flees, he is on the ground. Officers demand he give them his hands, but other officers each have a hold of his left and right arm. He’s met with being punched in the face and then sprayed with pepper spray. When a new officer commands that he give him his hands, and Nichols is prevented from following the directive, he is sprayed with pepper spray for a third time.
After being peppered sprayed three times and while he looks barely coherent, an officer kicks Nichols in the face. He has been tased, kicked in the head twice, and repeatedly punched. He is easily handcuffed.
Despite him already being restrained, the officers continue to lob commands at Nichols while continuing to beat him. He’s beaten with a baton, he is punched in the face. While one officer has Nichols’ handcuffed arms pinned behind him and another punches his face, a different officer screams, “Give me your fucking hands” — it is literally impossible for Nichols to comply. He calls out for his mother. The officers continue to beat him.
Five Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and official misconduct and oppression for their alleged roles in the death of Nichols. The Scorpion Unit, of which the officers were members, has been disbanded as rallies were held around the U.S. over the weekend and the community and family call for sweeping police reform.