Civil rights attorney Ben Crump applauded Friday the Memphis police chief and county prosicutors for quickly taking action against the five former officers accused of murdering Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man.
“We look at how swiftly the district attorney brought charges against them in less than 20 days,” Crump said in a news conference. “We want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward for anytime any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable. No longer can you tell us we’ve got to wait six months to a year.”
Officers pulled Nichols over in a traffic stop Jan. 7. He was hospitalized in critical condition and died Jan. 10. Federal investigators opened a civil rights investigation Jan. 18. The officers were fired Jan. 20 and charged with murder and other related crimes Thursday.
‘Remarkably swift and unusual’
Crump noted the discrepancy in how quickly charges were brought against the Black officers in this case, compared to the length of time that passed in other police killings involving white officers, such as in the 2014 murder of Black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a white Chicago police officer.
“In similar cases involving white officers, a lengthy investigation typically ensues before a determination is made on charges,” said Jason Williams, assistant professor of Justice Studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “Thus, the immediate reaction these officers are receiving is on par with the African American experience of navigating the criminal legal system.”
A Washington Post database of fatal police shootings since 2015 has found officers fatally shoot more than 1,000 people annually, including a disproportionate number of Black Americans.
Information on subsequent accountability isn’t “widely tracked,” said Jorge Camacho, policy director of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School in Connecticut. He called the charges in Nichols’ death “remarkably swift and unusual,” noting the closest example would be the charging of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin days after murdering of George Floyd.
“Part of the speediness of the process against these five officers has to do both with the availability of video evidence and the fact that Mr. Nichols died,” Camacho said. In most cases of alleged police brutality, the victim does not die, and the officer’s account “tends to hold more weight,” especially in the absence of video evidence.
Camacho cautioned that accountability for the Memphis officers alone is “insufficient” and called on the public to hold the wider department accountable, too.
Here’s a list of recent high-profile police killings of Black Americans and how long it took departments and prosecutors to take action – if any.
Daunte Wright, 20, was fatally shot by Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer Kimberly Potter on April 11, 2021. The city released a medical examiner’s report and some video the next day. Potter and the police chief resigned April 13. Potter was charged April 14 and convicted of manslaughter that December.
Rayshard Brooks, 27, was fatally shot by Atlanta police officer Garrett Rolfe on June 12, 2020. The next day, the police chief resigned, Rolfe was fired, and another officer involved was placed on administrative leave. Rolfe was later reinstated, and prosecutors in August announced that both officers would no longer face charges.
George Floyd, 46, was killed by Minneapolis police officers during an arrest on May 25, 2020. Video of the incident quickly circulated online. The four officers involved were fired the next day, and one, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and charged May 29. The other officers were charged days later. Chauvin was convicted of murder in April 2021. He also pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges that December. The other officers involved were convicted of violating Floyd’s civil rights in February. On state charges, two officers pleaded guilty, and one chose to let a judge decide his fate.
Breonna Taylor, 26, was fatally shot by Louisville police in March 2020. The department fired one of the officers, Brett Hankison, in June. A state grand jury indicted Hankison in September on three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment, but he was acquitted in 2022. Taylor was not considered the victim in those charges. The Justice Department charged four of the officers in August, and one pleaded guilty to some of the charges.
Freddie Gray, 25, was fatally injured by Baltimore police officers during an arrest April 12, 2015. He died April 19, and six officers were suspended that day. Prosecutors charged the officers on May 1. On May 21, a grand jury indicted the officers on most charges. The trial of one of the officers ended in a mistrial, three were acquitted, and charges against the others were dropped. In September 2017, the Justice Department declined to bring federal charges.