MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As their son lay bleeding from mortal injuries, the family of Tyre Nichols said Friday not only did police fail to render aid — at least one officer smoked a cigarette in the moments following the fatal beatdown.
The family’s comments came hours before police were set to release body camera footage of the Jan. 7 arrest, described as “heinous, reckless and inhumane,” by Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis.
A grand jury on Friday indicted five former Memphis police officers, charging them with second-degree murder, in connection to Nichols’ death.
Family attorney Ben Crump and the victim’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, viewed police video of the confrontation, ahead of Friday night’s public disclosure.
Crump and Wells said they were stunned by the nonchalant actions of police following the beating.
“That was almost the worst part of it,” Wells told NBC News. “Not only were they hanging out smoking cigarettes, but no one was attending to my (injured) son.”
After Nichols was beaten near Castlegate Lane, videos of the encounter released by the Memphis Police Department on Friday night showed an officer wearing a “police” hoodie who could be seen stepping away from colleagues and lighting up a cigarette.
Nichols, 29, was hospitalized in critical condition after the encounter and died three days later.
“It’s almost as if the failure to render aid was just as offensive as the brutality itself,” Crump said.
The attorney accused police of treating the violence, shown on footage, as a disturbingly routine part of their jobs.
“They’re talking about it as if this is business as usual,” the attorney said. ” ‘Man I was hitting him with straight haymakers,’ that’s what he said.”
The police footage showed Nichols repeatedly calling out for his mother and moaning in agony following the beating.
But Nichols’ cries were probably more literal and less a dying man’s wish to see mom, loved ones said, as the beating took place a short distance away from his parents’ home.
“He was hoping that we heard him so we could come out to help him,” Wells said.
Police initially said Nichols ran after being stopped for reckless driving, but Davis told MSNBC on Friday that a review of camera footage could not “substantiate” the reckless driving claim.
Nichols’ death has sparked widespread outrage, with law enforcement agencies across the nation bracing for protests after the police bodycam video is released.
The five officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were charged Thursday, with Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy saying their actions resulted in Nichols’ death.
They were booked in the Shelby County Jail on charges of second-degree murder, two counts of official misconduct, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, one count of official oppression and one count of aggravated assault, prosecutors announced Thursday.
All five were out on bond as of Friday morning, jail records show.
Preliminary findings of an autopsy conducted by a forensic pathologist for Nichols’ family show he was severely beaten before he died, the family’s attorneys have said. The Shelby County medical examiner’s office hasn’t released an official cause of death.
Nichols’ case is being investigated by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Justice Department, which launched a civil rights inquiry into the traffic stop.
The victim’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, said she was moved by a third-grade classmate of her son’s who reached out to her after Nichols’ death. The man recounted how he was often bullied and teased in school, but that Nichols always stood up for him.
“That was my son. He was just a light,” Wells said. “He was a beautiful soul. He touched everyone who was around.”
Wells said she’s wishes to have had one more moment with her son while he was conscious.
“That I love him very much and that mommy’s going to miss him,” she said. “That’s all I would have said.”
Marlene Lenthang and David K. Li contributed.