MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Memphis police officer who hit Tyre Nichols with a stun gun during a traffic stop that preceded Nichols’ brutal beating by other officers had a prior record of minor infractions before he was fired, records released Monday showed.
Preston Hemphill was terminated Feb. 3 after an internal Memphis Police Department investigation showed he violated multiple department policies for his role in the Jan. 7 arrest of Nichols, who died in a hospital three days later.
Nichols was beaten after police stopped him for what they said was a traffic violation and he fled the stop. Video released after pressure from Nichols’ family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly punching, kicking and striking him with a baton as he screamed for his mother.
Nichols’ death at the hands of police is the latest to prompt nationwide protests and an intense public conversation about how police treat Black people.
Hemphill, who is white, was the third officer at the traffic stop that preceded the arrest but was not at the location where Nichols was beaten after he ran away.
On body camera footage from the initial stop, Hemphill is heard saying that he used a stun gun against Nichols and declaring, “I hope they stomp his ass.”
Personnel files for Hemphill, released after a public records request by The Associated Press, showed a negative report on an evaluation; a written reprimand issued after he broke his assigned ticket printer; and another written reprimand issued after he crashed a police car.
Records showed the negative “observed behavior report” was cited in a 2021 evaluation of Hemphill, who was hired in 2018 and was a member of the Scorpion unit, which has been disbanded by the department in the aftermath of Nichols’ death. The evaluation said Hemphill mishandled a call related to parental custodial issues, but no further details of the call were provided in the documents.
Hemphill was reprimanded for rough or careless handling of equipment after he left his ticket printer on the trunk of his car and drove away after a June 2019 traffic stop. Hemphill returned to the scene and found the broken printer, the records showed.
Hemphill crashed a police car into a ditch and caused minor damage to the vehicle in January 2022, records showed. He received a written reprimand and was ordered to complete eight hours of defensive driving class.
In a statement noted on the evaluation, one of Hemphill’s supervisors said he was a top performer on his shift who should take advantage of more training classes and could eventually provide leadership for junior officers.
A lawyer for Hemphill declined to comment Monday.
Five Memphis officers, all of whom are Black and were also were members of the Scorpion unit, have already been fired and charged with second-degree murder in Nichols’ death. One other officer has been suspended, but has not been identified.
Hemphill’s own body camera showed that from the very beginning of the traffic stop he and two other officers approached Nichols with force that was disproportionate for the alleged offense of reckless driving, according to a statement from the disciplinary hearing that took place before he was fired.
Along with breaking rules regarding the use of a stun gun, Hemphill was also fired for violations of personal conduct and truthfulness, police said in a statement.
The department is still seeking to have Hemphill stripped of his police certification so that he can’t work in law enforcement again.
Nichols’ family, their lawyers, community leaders and activists have called for changes within the Memphis Police Department concerning issues related to traffic stops, use of force, improving transparency and other policies.