Former Memphis officer pleads guilty to federal charges in death of Tire Nichols | ET REALITY


Desmond Mills Jr., one of five former Memphis police officers charged in connection with the brutal beating and death of Tire Nichols, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to two felony counts of obstruction of justice and force. excessive.

He is the first of five officers indicted on federal charges by a grand jury in September to plead guilty. As part of a deal with federal prosecutors, he must cooperate fully with a separate state case against the officers that includes charges of second-degree murder. His cooperation is expected to include pleading guilty to at least some of the state charges and potentially testifying against the other officers.

Prosecutors recommended that Mills serve a 15-year prison sentence. The four remaining officers have pleaded not guilty to federal and state charges.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was driving home from work on Jan. 7 when he was stopped by police, died days after the violent encounter. Five black officers from the department’s elite Scorpion unit, including Mr. Mills, were soon fired for their role in the beating.

And while street and body camera footage of the encounter horrified the nation, Memphis officials quickly fired and disciplined many other police and emergency personnel and disbanded the specialized police force, which had a history of excessive use of force and intimidation.

Mr. Mills was charged with two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law, offenses that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison and which a grand jury found stemmed from unlawfully assaulting Mr. Nichols and failing to ensure that he received medical assistance. The remaining two charges, both related to obstruction and witness tampering, are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

In a Memphis courtroom Thursday, Mills showed little emotion as he pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law after using excessive force and failing to intervene and to one count of witness tampering after conspiring with the other agents to lie about the violence. He is expected to be sentenced in May.

“Mr. Mills is someone who understands that he has done something wrong and takes responsibility for it,” said Blake Ballin, Mr. Mills’ attorney. “This is Step 1. The next step is to continue cooperating with the state and federal government.” “.

Steve Mulroy, the Shelby County district attorney, said at a press conference that, as part of the deal, he expected Mills to cooperate with all open investigations, suggesting he could help outline systemic problems within the Memphis Police Department.

Mr. Mills has been banned from working in Tennessee law enforcement. He also faces a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by Nichols’ family against the officers, the city of Memphis and the Memphis police chief, among others.

“This is the first domino to fall,” said Ben Crump, an attorney representing the Nichols family. He added: “We think we’ll see other dominoes fall.”

“This was really the first time I heard someone tell and say what they really did to my son,” RowVaughn Wells, Mr. Nichols’ mother, said after the hearing. She cried in the courtroom as a prosecutor recounted how Mills sprayed his son with pepper spray and hit him repeatedly with a baton.

“I hope it’s his conscience telling him what to do, rather than his lawyers,” he said of Mr. Mills. “That said, we still have more to do.”

Street and body camera footage, some of it captured on a camera worn by Mills and analyzed by The New York Times, showed how the encounter with Nichols quickly turned violent, although it is unclear why he was initially detained. Nichols, who did not resist the initial group of officers and received a series of threats and conflicting orders, eventually broke away and ran toward his family’s home.

“There are different levels of responsibility among the five defendants,” Mulroy said, adding that he believed Mills “was not the worst of the five.”

Mills was among the officers who responded to calls for backup and caught up with Nichols, a FedEx worker, about 600 yards from the initial stop.

Prosecutors said Mills, who also pepper-sprayed himself while aiming at Nichols, did not intervene when the other officers continued punching and punching Nichols. He also did not provide medical assistance and joined the other officers in claiming that Mr. Nichols was high on drugs and resisted arrest.

When the officers began discussing the violence they had inflicted, Mills removed his body camera, prosecutors said, and then told his supervisor that they had handled “everything by the book.” And despite riding with Nichols and one of the other officers to the hospital, Mills did not inform medical staff that Nichols had been struck with a baton and struck in the head.

Mills also lied in official police reports, prosecutors said in court documents. He “understood from his experience working with the Scorpion Team One officers” and from conversations with the other four officers “that no one was going to admit that illegal force had been used.”

The federal criminal trial is scheduled to begin in May, according to court documents. Lawyers for the Justice Department and some of the accused officers recently sparred over a request to review the contents of Mr. Nichols’s cellphone.

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