Four former Memphis police officers pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal civil rights charges in the violent beating and death of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop nine months ago.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills and Justin Smith were led by U.S. marshals into a courtroom wearing handcuffs and leg restraints for their first hearing since they were charged Tuesday with using excessive force and conspiring to lie about the January 7 beating of Nichols as he cried out for his mother just steps from his home.
Magistrate Judge Charmiane G. Claxton accepted the not guilty pleas from lawyers for the four officers, who were fired for violations of Memphis Police Department policy after Nichols died, three days the beating. He was punched, kicked and hit with a baton in a pummeling that was caught on police video.
A fifth officer who was also fired and indicted by a federal grand jury, Emmitt Martin, was scheduled to make his first appearance Thursday. All five were charged with deprivation of rights under the color of law through excessive force and failure to intervene, and through deliberate indifference; conspiracy to witness tampering; and obstruction of justice through witness tampering.
The five officers also have been charged in state court with second-degree murder and other alleged offenses in the beating death of Nichols, which is one of several violent encounters between police and Black people that have sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S.
The five former officers, all Black like Nichols, have pleaded not guilty to the state charges as well.
Claxton ordered the release of the four officers who were present in court Wednesday on a $50,000 unsecured bond, which means that they don't have to pay any money unless they fail to appear in court.