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Opposing Attorneys Debate Allowable Evidence for Trial of Ex-MPD Officers in Tyre Nichols Case

Screen Shot from Body Camera Footage Released by the City of Memphis
Body camera footage from the night of Tyre Nichols' arrest.

Attorneys for four former Memphis police officers accused in the death of Tyre Nichols were in federal court Tuesday to debate pre-trial questions.

The officers, who are also separately charged with second degree murder in state court, are slated to go to trial in September for federal civil rights violations including an excessive use of force.

Before then, a judge will need to settle a disagreement between the defense and prosecution over what evidence a jury can hear.

Defense lawyers want to introduce a list of items that were allegedly found in Nichols car after his violent arrest. Documents related to the issue are now sealed by the court, so attorneys did not specifically name the items during Tuesday's hearing in front of Judge Mark Norris.

However, a previous court document filed in October said that the car contained a hallucinogenic drug and stolen credit cards.

Prosecutors did not address the specifics of a car’s content either but said this type of evidence is irrelevant and thus inadmissible because officers had no knowledge of what was in the vehicle at the time they’re accused of using excessive force against Nichols.

The evidence, prosecutors argue, unfairly attacks Nichols’ character.

In contrast, attorneys for the officers contend that it’s vital for their defense for a jury to consider it. Michael Stengel, who represents Demetrius Haley, says the evidence helps explain and inform the “totality of circumstances” from the night of Nichols’ arrest.

He says it corroborates officers’ version of Nichol’s actions and how they perceived his behavior, noting how Nichols allegedly didn’t immediately pull over when officers attempted to stop him for what they said was reckless driving.

Body camera and other surveillance footage showed five officers, who were later fired, kicking, punching and restraining Nichols as they chased him down after he fled the traffic stop in January of last year. He died from his injuries three days later.

An official autopsy found blunt force trauma to his head caused his death.

One of the five officers initially charged for his death, Desmond Mills Jr., has pleaded guilty to federal crimes and intends to also plead guilty in state court.

At least one of the four officers who maintain their innocence is also asking Judge Norris to separate his trial from his fellow defendants.

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org