Former Memphis police officer accused in death of Tyre Nichols pleads guilty

Former Memphis police officer accused in death of Tyre Nichols pleads guilty

One of the five former Memphis police officers accused in the January death of Tyre Nichols pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges and agreed to plead guilty to related state charges as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.

Desmond Mills Jr., 33, pleaded guilty to two of the four federal charges he was facing, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee. He also agreed to plead guilty in state court at an upcoming hearing on charges related to Nichols’ death, according to the Shelby County district attorney.

Mills pleaded guilty to civil rights and conspiracy charges, which included using excessive force and failing to intervene, as well as conspiring to cover up his use of unlawful force, the US attorney’s office said.

As part of the agreement, he will be called to testify against the other defendants, according to prosecutors. He has also agreed to fully cooperate in the federal civil rights investigation into patterns and practices of the Memphis Police Department.

Mills agreed to have both his state and federal cases resolved in exchange for his cooperation in the cases of four fellow ex-officers: Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III and Demetrius Haley. They have all pleaded not guilty.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said in a news conference that state and federal prosecutors will recommend to a judge that Mills serve 15 years in prison, though the decision is ultimately up to the judge.

Mulroy said prosecutors consulted with the Nichols family and their legal counsel and that they are fully in support of the deal.

“His cooperation will help us bring to justice all those criminally responsible while also identifying needs for systemic reform within the police department,” Mulroy said in a statement.

“This plea today ratifies that this is the start of (the family) getting full justice,” said Ben Crump, an attorney for Nichols’ family.

The hearing came about 10 months after Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was violently beaten by Memphis police officers and died in the hospital from his injuries.

The interaction began when members of Memphis Police’s specialized SCORPION team conducted a traffic stop for suspected reckless driving on Nichols, who fled the scene on foot. The officers ran after and caught up to Nichols, repeatedly punched and kicked him while he was already restrained and then left him slumped against a car for critical minutes, video of the incident shows.

The beating and Nichols’ ensuing death led to protests and vigils in Memphis and other major US cities, reigniting the contentious debate over policing and the ways that law enforcement treat Black people.

Demonstrators march during a protest on Jan. 28, 2023, in Atlanta, over the death of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police. - Alex Slitz/AP
Demonstrators march during a protest on Jan. 28, 2023, in Atlanta, over the death of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police. - Alex Slitz/AP

After an internal investigation, Memphis police identified and fired five officers involved in the traffic stop due to their violation of multiple department policies, including failing in their “excessive use of force, duty to intervene, and duty to render aid,” the department said in a statement.

The city of Memphis released body camera and surveillance video of the traffic stop and police confrontation that showed the officers repeatedly beating Nichols without provocation. The video also undermined key parts of the police version of events.

According to a statement of facts included in the plea agreement, Mills arrived at the scene and chased after Nichols, deployed his pepper spray and hit Nichols with a baton repeatedly. Afterward, he failed to render aid to Nichols or tell paramedics about the beating, falsely told his supervisor they had done “everything by the book,” and filed a false and misleading account of the force used in a police report, the statement says.

The five officers were charged in Tennessee state court with counts of murder, assault and kidnapping related to Nichols’ death.

In addition, the officers were charged in September in a federal indictment with four criminal counts, including civil rights, conspiracy and obstruction offenses resulting in Nichols’ death. Two of the counts carried a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The indictment accused the officers of using unreasonable force, failing to render medical aid, conspiring to cover up their use of unlawful force and intentionally providing false and misleading information in an arrest report.

Mills initially pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and was released on bond. A jury trial was set for May 2024, according to court records.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz and Emma Tucker contributed to this report.

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