Judge denies request by three former Memphis officers to have separate trials in Tyre Nichols death

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FILE - The screen at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans honors Tyre Nichols before an NBA basketball game between the Pelicans and Wizards, Jan. 28, 2023. A judge on Monday, Oct. 2, denied requests by three former Memphis officers to have separate trials in the fatal beating of Nichols after a traffic stop. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton, File)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A judge on Monday denied requests by three former Memphis officers to have separate trials in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop.

Lawyers for Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith had filed motions to sever their cases from Demetrius Haley and Emmitt Martin, arguing that they could not receive fair trials if they all face a jury together for the violent beating of Nichols on Jan. 7 that was caught on police video.

Shelby County Judge James Jones Jr. issued an order Monday denying those requests, saying that severing the cases is not required to protect their rights to a “fair determination” of their guilt or innocence.

All five former members of a Memphis Police Department crime-suppression unit have pleaded not guilty to state charges including second-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping in the beating of Nichols, who was punched, kicked and slugged with a police baton after he fled a traffic stop during which he was hit with a stun gun and pepper spray.

Nichols, 29, died in a hospital three days after the beating. An autopsy report showed Nichols died from blows to the head, and the manner of death was homicide. The report described brain injuries, cuts and bruises to the head and other parts of the body.

The five officers, all of whom are Black, were fired shortly after the beating, which was one of several violent encounters between police and Black people that have sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.

In addition to the state charges, the five officers were indicted Sept. 13 on federal civil rights charges alleging they used excessive force and lied about the beating. They have pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.

The five former officers were part of the so-called Scorpion unit, a crime-suppression team that police officials disbanded after Nichols’ beating.

During a Sept. 15 hearing in state court, Jones heard from lawyers from the three former officers who are seeking separate trials.

John Keith Perry, the lawyer for Bean, and Martin Zummach, Smith’s attorney, said neither officer was at the initial traffic stop, when police say Nichols was pulled over on an allegation of reckless driving. Police have since said they have found no evidence that Nichols was actually driving recklessly.

Nichols ran away from officers who tried to restrain him outside of his car, authorities said. He ran toward his nearby home and called out for his mother as he was pummeled just steps from his house.

Nichols was “a helpless victim” as he was hit by Haley, Martin and Mills while being held by Bean and Smith, prosecutors said in a court filing.

The lawyers said Bean and Smith merely responded to a call about a suspect who was running away from police after he had been hit with a stun gun and pepper-sprayed. Bean tackled Nichols, and he and Smith were just doing their job as they tried to get Nichols’ hands behind his back so that he could be handcuffed, the lawyers said.

Prosecutors opposed the requests for separate trials, arguing that the five officers can be treated fairly if tried together.

Deputy District Attorney Paul Hagerman said the five officers were not charged for actions from the traffic stop. Rather, they are responsible for what they did at the second location, where Nichols was beaten and left to struggle with his injuries as he sat slumped against a police car, Hagerman said.

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