Ben Crump says the only known white Memphis police officer relieved of duty in Tyre Nichols' death pulled him from car and hit him with a Taser — yet had his identity protected
Attorneys for Tyre Nichols' family suggested a white cop involved in the victim's arrest got special treatment.
Officer Preston Hemphill was placed on paid leave in connection to the fatal beating of Nichols.
"Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre's death just now coming to light?" the lawyers asked.
Attorneys for the family of Tyre Nichols — the Black man who died after being beaten by police officers in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier this month — suggested on Monday that the only known white officer involved in the victim's arrest was getting special treatment.
The Memphis Police Department confirmed that officer Preston Hemphill, who is white, was "relieved of duty" and put on paid administrative leave "pending the outcome of the investigation."
The announcement came days after five fired Memphis police officers — all of whom are Black — were charged with murder in the 29-year-old Nichols' death.
An attorney for Hemphill told Insider on Monday that his client "was the third officer at the initial stop" of Nichols on January 7 and that "he was never present at the second scene."
Lawyers for the Nichols family said that Hemphill can be seen on body camera footage released by the Memphis Police Department last week "violently pulling Nichols from his car while hitting him on the ground with a Taser, later saying, 'I hope they stomp his ass' after Nichols ran away."
"The news today from Memphis officials that Officer Preston Hemphill was reportedly relieved of duty weeks ago, but not yet terminated or charged is extremely disappointing," Nichols family attorneys Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci said in a joint statement.
They added, "Why is his identity and the role he played in Tyre's death just now coming to light? We have asked from the beginning that the Memphis Police Department be transparent with the family and the community — this news seems to indicate that they haven't risen to the occasion."
"It certainly begs the question why the white officer involved in this brutal attack was shielded and protected from the public eye, and to date, from sufficient discipline and accountability," Crump and Romanucci said.
Crump had previously said the way charges were handled should act as a standard for police accountability.
"We have never seen swift justice like this," Crump said standing next to Nichols' parents at the pulpit of Memphis' Mount Olive CME Church in Memphis on Friday.
"When we look at how these five Black officers, who were caught on camera committing a crime, and when we look at how fast the police chief and the police department terminated them. And we look at how swiftly the district attorney brought charges against them in less than 20 days, then we want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward," Crump said. "We won't accept less going forward."
Hemphill was placed on administrative leave on January 7, according to the Memphis Police Department. A seventh officer, whose identity remains unknown to Insider, was also placed on leave.
Meanwhile, the Shelby County District Attorney's Office said prosecutors could still file more criminal charges in connection to the fatal beating.
"We are looking at all individuals involved in the events leading up to, during, and after the beating of Tyre Nichols," the district attorney's office said in a statement, explaining, "This includes the officer present at the initial encounter who has not — so far — been charged, Memphis Fire Department personnel, and persons who participated in preparing documentation of the incident afterward."
The DA's office said it "worked extraordinarily swiftly but thoroughly to charge those whose offenses were plain and clear and directly contributed to the death of Mr. Nichols, but in no way is this investigation over."
"While we are committed to transparency, we cannot comment on the details of an ongoing investigation or give previews of what charges we may or may not bring," it continued.
Update: January 31, 2023 — This story was updated to add additional information from the Memphis Police Department about the start date of Hemphill's leave and the involvement of a seventh police officer.
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