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A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted five former Memphis police officers with federal civil rights conspiracy and obstruction charges connected to the murder of Tyre Nichols earlier this year.
“Tyre Nichols should be alive today,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a news release. “It is tragic to see a life cut short at 29, with so many milestones unmet, so many words unsaid, so much potential unfulfilled.”
Emmitt Martin, Tadarrius Bean, Desmond Mills, Justin Smith, and Demetrius Haley — the ex-cops named in the indictment — face four charges each, including excessive force and failure to intervene, deliberate indifference, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice through witness tampering in federal court, according to the Justice Department.
Mike Stengel, a Memphis lawyer representing Haley, told The Wall Street Journal that his client would plead not guilty.
Blake Ballin, a lawyer for Mills, told The New York Times in a statement that his client “maintains his innocence.”
William Massey, a lawyer for Martin, told the outlet that his client would plead not guilty and attempt to release more footage about what led to the initial stop.
Lawyers for the other defendants have not made public comments.
Nichols, a black 29-year-old FedEx worker, died on January 10, three days after a brutal beating captured on camera showed the former officers kicking, punching, and tasing him that stemmed from an attempted arrest during a traffic stop for suspected reckless driving.
Nichols was subdued, but then he fled before being recaptured minutes later, and police allegedly kicked and punched him multiple times. Nichols later died at a hospital, and his death was later reported as a homicide due to blunt-force trauma, according to a medical examiner’s report reviewed by Nichols’ family through their attorneys, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, Fox News reported.
The five officers were fired and subsequently charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, and other charges in a separate case in Tennessee. The defendants pleaded not guilty in February to second-degree murder and additional charges in connection to Nichols’ death.
All five former officers were members of a so-called crime-fighting unit with the Memphis Police Department. Although the officers charged in Nichols’ death were all black, and their special unit was disbanded, activists have taken to blaming “systemic racism.”
If convicted on the federal indictment, the former police officers could face up to life in prison for the first two counts and 20 years in prison for counts three and four, according to the Justice Department.
Attorneys for Nichols’ family told NBC News in a statement that the federal indictment “gives his family hope as they continue to grieve his loss and inspire change in his honor.”
The federal indictment comes after the Justice Department announced two months ago that the federal agency would launch a civil rights investigation into the Memphis Police Department after more reports emerged of officers using excessive force.
Daniel Chaitin contributed to this report.