The speed of firing five Memphis police officers after the traffic stop of a man who later died in a hospital is unusual but could become more common, say those studying police and criminal justice issues. The officers were fired Friday, less than two weeks after the Jan. 7 arrest of Tyre Nichols, 29, Officials said the five were dismissed for excessive use of force, failure to intervene and failure to render aid, the Associated Press reports. It’s rare for a police department to act so quickly, said David Thomas, a professor of forensic studies at Florida Gulf Coast University. Investigations can go on for up to a year, he said. All five officers -- Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills, Jr. and Justin Smith – are Black, as was Nichols. The decision to fire the officers followed a police department probe. Nichols died three days after the traffic stop.
The U.S. Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also is looking into the force used in the arrest. One turning point has been the advent of police body cameras, which can be quickly reviewed, along with cellphone video taken by passersby, said Thomas, who served 20 years as a police officer in Michigan and Florida. In the old days, you’d have mainly the officer’s word. If the victim was still alive, you’d have their testimony, If someone had died, you’d have the medical examiner’s report. All of that would play a role,” he said. “With body cameras, the evidence is right there.” Nichols was arrested after officers stopped him for reckless driving, police said. There was a confrontation when officers approached Nichols, and he ran before he was confronted again and arrested, authorities said. He complained of shortness of breath and was hospitalized. Relatives have accused police of beating Nichols and causing him to have a heart attack. Relatives have pushed for the release of police body camera footage and called for officers to be charged.