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City of Memphis releases final batch of records related to Tyre Nichols’s fatal beating

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  1. Freedom of Information
A media coalition, represented by an RCFP attorney, successfully challenged court orders prohibiting their disclosure.
RCFP Local Legal Initiative Attorney Paul McAdoo argues in court on behalf of a media coalition seeking access to records related to the fatal police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.
RCFP Local Legal Initiative Attorney Paul McAdoo, right, discusses with a judge the rights of media organizations to receive video and documents tied to the investigation of five officers charged in the death of Tyre Nichols on Friday, May 19, 2023, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

The city of Memphis recently released a final batch of records related to last year’s fatal beating of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols, providing the public with a substantial amount of previously undisclosed information, including documents that reveal discrepancies between officer statements and police body-worn camera footage.

The release of roughly 1,300 pages of records culminates a successful fight for transparency that began nearly one year ago, when a news media coalition — represented by an attorney from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — challenged two court orders prohibiting the city of Memphis and Shelby County from disclosing public records they provided to the district attorney in the prosecutions of five former Memphis police officers charged with Nichols’s murder.

The records were released on Feb. 14 after a judge lifted the closure order against the city of Memphis and Shelby County last November. The latest release follows earlier disclosures made by the city and county, including the city’s January release of 21 hours of audio and video recordings that provided context to recordings released last year showing police officers punching and kicking Nichols while he pleaded for them to stop. As the Reporters Committee previously wrote in a blog post summarizing news coverage of those videos, some of the recordings showed police officers appearing confused about why they pulled Nichols over and offering conflicting accounts about how Nichols responded to the officers’ orders.

The newly released documents shed even more light on initial investigations into what happened the night Nichols was brutally beaten. According to news reports, one of the police officers told an internal investigator who initially investigated the beating that Nichols resisted arrest and tried to grab an officer’s gun. But the investigator’s report found that the officer’s statement contradicted what he saw on bodycam footage, which showed Nichols complying with officers’ orders and appearing “non-violent.” None of the video footage released to date shows Nichols resisting arrest or reaching for a weapon.

The latest disclosure also included police personnel files and disciplinary records. News outlets, for example, reported that one of the supervising officers on scene the night of Nichols’s beating had previously been disciplined after he was the subject of a domestic violence complaint and an unnecessary violence complaint. An attorney for the now-retired officer told the news media that “those two disciplinary issues do not represent his public service or have anything to do with Nichols’ killing.”

According to news reports, the newly released records include a wide range of other information, including details about previously unknown internal reprimands against police officers, termination letters for Memphis Fire Department personnel, and statements from a witness who thought Nichols was dead at the scene.

“The disclosure of these records is an important step toward greater government transparency and police accountability,” said Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Tennessee, who represented the news media coalition. “The context they provide demonstrates the importance of upholding the right of access to public records, which is why we challenged the court’s closure orders that initially prevented the city and county from releasing this information.”

To learn more about what’s included in the final batch of records, check out coverage from the Associated Press, The Daily Memphian, The Commercial Appeal, WREG-TV, WMC-TV, and WATN-TV. You can also visit the city’s website to access all of the newly released records.

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