A black motorist who died after being beaten by police in Memphis, Tennessee, pleaded with officers, asking: “What did I do?” his family claimed.
Tyre Nichols (29) was said to have been hit for three minutes like a “human pinata” – a decorated figure of an animal containing toys and sweets broken open with sticks by children as part of a Latin American celebration.
The last words heard on police bodycam footage of the incident were Mr Nichols calling for his mother three times.
After privately viewing the video of the incident, representatives for his family compared it to the infamous police beating of Rodney King responsible for the 1991 Los Angeles riots.
Five police officers have been dismissed for using excessive force.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Mr Nichols’s family, said it was irrelevant that the officers were black. He said it showed black motorists were treated differently, regardless of the race of the officers.
Mr Crump added: “What we can tell you about the video is that it is appalling, it is deplorable, it is heinous, violent. This is evidence of what happens to black and brown people from simple traffic stops. You should not be killed because of a simple traffic stop.”
He added: “Regrettably, it reminded us of (the) Rodney King video. Regrettably, unlike Rodney King, Tyre didn’t survive.”
Mr Nichols, who worked for the FedEX delivery service, was pulled over for reckless driving near his home on January 7. His family said he was returning from taking photos of the sunset.
His family accused the police of beating Mr Nichols and causing him to suffer a heart attack and kidney failure
After the incident, police issued a statement saying there had been a “confrontation” as officers approached the vehicle, and that Mr Nichols ran away.
It added the officers had caught him up and there was “another confrontation” as he was taken into custody.
Mr Nichols complained of shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital, according to the statement. He died there three days later.
His family accused the police of beating Mr Nichols and causing him to suffer a heart attack and kidney failure.
After viewing the bodycam footage on Monday, Tony Romanucci, another lawyer for the Nichols family, called the incident “savage”, adding: “He was defenceless the entire time. He was a human pinata for those police officers. It was an unadulterated, unabashed, non-stop beating of this young boy for three minutes. That is what we saw in that video.”
Rodney Nichols, his stepfather, who said the family was hopeful of bringing a murder charge, added: “He ran because he was scared for his life. You see [in the video] why he was scared for his life.”
The footage will be released publicly.
RowVaughn Wells, his mother, said: “He was less than 80 yards away [from home] when they murdered him. Yes, I say murder.
“My son didn’t do no drugs. He didn’t carry no guns. He didn’t like confrontation. That’s why this is so hard. We’re going to get justice for Tyre.” (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2023)
Telegraph Media Group Limited