DOJ opens civil rights inquiry after Black man dies following Tenn. traffic stop

The Department of Justice and FBI on Wednesday announced a civil rights inquiry into a traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, that preceded the death of a Black man.

Tyre Nichols, 29, died three days after being taken to a hospital in critical condition following the Jan. 7 stop. The Memphis Police Department said the case was referred to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation the next day, and an internal investigation was opened into the incident.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Tennessee announced Wednesday that the FBI’s Memphis field office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice have also begun looking into the Nichols’ death.

“As this is an open investigation, we are not able to provide additional comment or release further information at this time,” Kevin G. Ritz, U.S. attorney for the district, said.

Nichols’ family has retained civil rights attorney Ben Crump and have demanded the public release of body camera and any other surveillance footage from the stop.

Family members and local activists hold a rally Monday for Tyre Nichols at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.Mark Weber / Daily Memphian via AP

“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 Monday.

Crump did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment regarding the civil rights investigation Wednesday.

Memphis officials, including police Chief C.J. Davis and Mayor Jim Strickland, said Tuesday the footage would be released after the conclusion of the internal investigation. The police department said it anticipates that happening by the end of the week.

Neither the mayor’s office or police department immediately responded to a request for comment from NBC News Wednesday.

Police said a “confrontation” between Nichols and the officers occurred when they approached his car on Jan. 7. He ran away, and the officers pursued, police said.

“While attempting to take the suspect into custody, another confrontation occurred; however, the suspect was ultimately apprehended,” the police department said in the statement Jan. 8. “Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene.”

Police gave no details about the confrontation. A photo provided by his stepfather, Rodney Wells, showed Nichols in the hospital with blood on his face and what appeared to be a swollen eye.

Wells has also told NBC affiliate WMC of Memphis that Nichols was placed on a dialysis machine at the hospital.

The police department said in its initial statement the district attorney’s office had been contacted and the state’s bureau of investigation had been asked to investigate. The officers, who were not publicly identified, were relieved of duty pending the outcome, a routine practice.

Sierra Rogers, holding her daughter Khloe Rogers, 1, wipes away tears as she speaks during a memorial service for her friend Tyre Nichols on Jan. 17, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. Sierra Rogers, holding her daughter Khloe Rogers, wipes away tears as she speaks during a memorial service for her friend Tyre Nichols on Tuesday. Mark Weber / Daily Memphian via AP

Nichols’ friends and family held a memorial service for him on Tuesday, sharing memories of the 29-year-old as a “goofy” boy who grew up into a caring man.

“From the first day that I met Tyre, I was Pops. I was Dad,” Wells said at the service. “He embraced me. The first Father’s Day, he brought me a Father’s Day present, and he was so happy. … Tyre is a great person.”

LaToya Yiza, whose mother was Nichols’ godmother, remembered Nichols as a baby. She said they grew up like siblings, walking to school together when she was in high school and Nichols was in elementary school.

“He was just a happy kid, just so goofy,” Yiza said, getting emotional. “You’d walk in and he’d just be saying the craziest thing. … I’m gonna miss him. To see the man he turned out to be — he was a good man. He did not deserve this.”

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