The death of a man after a confrontation with Memphis police officers during a traffic stop has sparked community protest and a call from local prosecutors for a state police investigation.
Tyre D. Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was arrested on Jan. 7 after police officers stopped him for reckless driving, according to the Memphis Police Department.Police said Nichols fled the vehicle on foot after “a confrontation occurred.”
Officers then pursued Nichols on foot and apprehended him after another confrontation, according to police, who provided scant details.
“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called to the scene,” the Memphis Police Department said.
Nichols was then taken to a hospital with respiratory issues and was listed under critical condition. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said Nichols died on Jan. 10.
In a statement on Jan. 8, Memphis police did not clarify what officer actions would have caused respiratory issues for Nichols. It is still unclear what the “confrontation” consisted of and the cause and manner of death for Nichols are still pending.
Memphis police are now under investigation for “use of force,” according to authorities.
Shelby County District Attorney General Steve Mulroy called on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the incident “because of the severity of injuries to the suspect,” the district attorney’s office said.
In a statement Monday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he is representing Nichols’ family. Crump called for Memphis police to release body camera and surveillance footage from the traffic stop.
“This kind of in-custody death destroys community trust if agencies are not swiftly transparent,” Crump said.
In honor of Nichols, community members released balloons Saturday and protested outside a police station near the site of the traffic stop. It also marked the first time Nichols’ family addressed the public.
“If he did run, it was because he was scared,” Nichols’ older sister Keyana Dixon said. “A traffic stop is supposed to be a traffic stop for anybody, and they were in an unmarked vehicle, so I already knew what he thought. We just found that out. They weren’t even in a Memphis Police car, it was an unmarked vehicle, with hoodies on.”
The events described by the family could not be independently confirmed, and authorities could not confirm due to the ongoing investigation.
In December, Memphis police were already involved in four investigations by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations concerning officer-involved shootings. Three of the shootings were fatal.
Contributing: The Associated Press