A federal grand jury returned the four-count indictment Tuesday, Sept. 12. It accuses the five defendants of depriving Nichols’ rights through unreasonable force and failure to intervene, as well as deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The officers are also charged with conspiring to cover up their use of unlawful force and committing obstruction.
The first two counts, unreasonable force and deliberate indifference, carry maximum penalties of life in prison. The other two counts each carry maximum penalties of 20 years.
The civil rights charges come as the five defendants — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith — all face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and official misconduct and oppression. They have all pleaded not guilty to those charges.
In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “The country watched in horror as Tyre Nichols was kicked, punched, tased, and pepper sprayed, and we all heard Mr. Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home.’ Officers who violate the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect undermine public safety, which depends on the community’s trust in law enforcement. They dishonor their fellow officers who do their work with integrity every day. The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable officers who betray their oath.”
In a statement shared with Rolling Stone, Mills’ lawyer, Blake Ballin, said, “We have been expecting this federal indictment and it does not change Mr. Mills’s position. As in the state case, Mr. Mills maintains his innocence. He will turn himself in on the federal indictment and continue to defend himself against all allegations in both the state and federal court systems.”
An attorney for Martin, William Massey, said, “I intend to enter a plea of not guilty to each count in the indictment on behalf of Mr. Martin. We will then move forward with the discovery process. Included in the multitude of materials sought will be a particularized request for a complete set of SkyCop videos from the Real Time Crime Center — one that specifically shows the events that led to the initial stop of Mr. Nichols. The entire story should be told. There is much to do.”
Lawyers for the other three defendants did not immediately return requests for comment.