Five former Memphis officers plead not guilty in death of Tyre Nichols
Five former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty to charges that they murdered Tyre Nichols, an unarmed black man who died after being beaten by officers during a traffic stop last month, their lawyers said.
Videos of the encounter showed the officers, who are also black, repeatedly kicking and punching Mr Nichols during a traffic stop on February 7. Mr Nichols died in hospital three days later.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith have been fired by the Memphis police department. Lawyers representing the five men entered the pleas on their behalf. The next hearing was set for May 1.
Ben Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer representing Mr Nichols’s family, previously described the fatal encounter as a “lynching”. Mr Crump attended Friday’s hearing along with RowVaughn Wells, Mr Nichols’s mother, and Rodney Wells, his stepfather.
The killing of Mr Nichols renewed debate in the country over police brutality, particularly against black men.
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,” Mr 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.”
A lawyer for Mr Bean told reporters the former officer was only doing his job and “never touched” Mr Nichols, though video footage does not corroborate that claim.
A lawyer for Mr Mills said the trial should be “based on the facts and the law, and not the raw emotions that our country is experiencing”.
Memphis police officers first stopped Mr Nichols for suspected reckless driving, though there is no evidence of a breach of traffic laws. Officers then pulled Mr Nichols out of his car and struck him with a stun gun before he ran towards his nearby home.
A separate group of officers caught up to Mr Nichols and repeatedly punched, kicked and struck him with a baton as he yelled for his mother.
Video footage released by the city of Memphis showed Mr Nichols slumped against a police car as the officers talked among themselves. He was not taken to hospital until 27 minutes after medical personnel arrived at the scene.
The Associated Press contributed to this report