After Tyre Nichols’ death, Memphis City Council passes police reform laws

The Memphis City Council passed several major police reform ordinances Wednesday, two months after the beating death of Tyre Nichols rocked the city and spurred national outrage.

Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died after a Jan. 7 traffic stop, and five Memphis police officers have been charged with second-degree murder in his death. Almost a dozen other police and fire officials also face charges.

Under the new laws, Memphis police will be banned from conducting routine traffic stops with unmarked vehicles and plainclothes officers, though the department will be able to use unmarked cars under “exigent circumstances” when someone is driving recklessly, speeding or may have committed a felony.

The council mandated that police regularly report data on traffic stops, arrests and complaints. If there is a use-of-force complaint against police, the new law requires an independent investigation. It also gives the local civilian review board the ability to audit the police department.

The votes came after heated debate during the meeting. Most speakers were in favor of the reforms, though speakers were largely divided along racial lines; every speaker against the unmarked car ordinance, for example, was white.

In January, Republicans in the statehouse introduced legislation that would get rid of civilian oversight boards across the state — potentially endangering a key part of the reforms.

But city officials were not dissuaded from pushing ahead. “If someone is going to kill [the review board], it should not be the Memphis City Council,” Councilman JB Smiley Jr. said.

Additionally, the council voted to establish independent review processes for Memphis police in cases of unnecessary or excessive force.

The new law goes into effect once signed by the City Council president and delivered to the mayor’s office.

Last year, Philadelphia became the first major city to prohibit police from pulling over drivers for minor infractions, such as a missing brake light or an expired inspection sticker.

Nichols, who was unarmed at the time of his death, attempted to flee a police traffic stop on foot but was caught by officers 800 feet away from his parents’ home. Surveillance video and police body-camera footage showed at least five officers beating Nichols. He was hospitalized in critical condition and died three days later.

Officers initially said Nichols was stopped for reckless driving, but the department later said there was no evidence he was driving recklessly.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said an investigation continues into other officers who may have been involved in Nichols’ arrest.

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