Memphis officer charged in Tyre Nichols death to change plea

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – One of the five former Memphis police officers charged in the death of Black motorist Tyre Nichols has asked a U.S. District Court judge to change his plea of not guilty in the federal civil rights case, court records showed on Wednesday.

Desmond Mills Jr., who previously pleaded not guilty along with the four other defendants, has a change of plea hearing scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. CDT (1500 GMT) before Judge Mark Norris in the Western District of Tennessee, the court file shows.

Mills is one of five officers, all Black, who face four federal counts including excessive force and deliberate indifference, both civil rights offenses, and two witness tampering counts stemming from the beating of Nichols, 29, on Jan. 7. He died in the hospital three days later.

In one of a series of cases raising the national debate about racism and police brutality in the U.S., police video showed the officers kicked, punched and pepper-sprayed Nichols and whacked him with a baton.

At one point officers held his hands behind his back so another could punch him in the face, while at other times Nichols cried out for his mother, who lived nearby.

Police at the scene alleged he was driving erratically and evaded arrest.

Mills’ defense attorney, Blake Ballin, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on whether Mills planned to testify against any of the other defendants.

The Daily Memphian, citing an interview with Ballin, said the plea would affect the state case against him.

“There would be no reason to enter into an agreement with the (federal) government and not with the state,” the newspaper quoted Ballin as saying, adding that a state plea change would come at a later time.

The officers also face a federal civil suit filed by civil rights lawyer Ben Crump on behalf of the family. Crump’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The other officers charged in the case are Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Justin Smith and Tadarrius Bean.

The Memphis Police Department fired two other officers involved in the incident, suspended three more, and a ninth retired while facing a recommendation for termination, according to city officials.

In addition, four employees from the Memphis Fire Department were disciplined for failing to provide proper medical care for Nichols as he sat against a patrol car with his hands cuffed behind his back.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Berkrot)