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Today, Memphis to Release Video Showing Police Beating of Nichols; Memphis Police Chief Gives First Interview Since Nichols Beating. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2023 - 07:00   ET




I'm live in Memphis. Kaitlan is in Washington, D.C. Poppy is off.

We're going to take through what is going to happen here in Memphis today. I'm right now at the police department, and I'll tell you why in just moments. But you saw what happened last night, that vigil, the family pleading for everyone to be calm if they are going to protest. Those five officers have now been charged, they were arrested, some of them have been released. we're going to go through it.

The family's attorney, Ben Crump, describing what happened on this tape that's going to be released after 7:00 P.M. Eastern time today, comparing to what happened with Rodney King. We'll talk about that, but listen to what he said.


BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY: It is going to remind you of Rodney King in many regards, assaulted, battered, punched, kicked, tased, pepper sprayed. It is very troubling when you think about Tyre only weighs, as his family say, at most, 150 pounds. Calling for his mother, he yells out to her three times and then you never hear Tyre Nichols say another word anymore on that video. You see him up against the car sitting down in handcuffs and you see his body fall to the right.


LEMON: And you can see now I'm joined live now by the Memphis police chief, C.J. Davis. Thank you, Chief, for joining us. I really appreciate. I'm going to wear my glasses because I have very specific things I want to ask you about, the charges. These five officers have now been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols. What's your reaction to these very serious charges?

CHIEF CERELYN DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, I expected serious charges. I really did. Actually, the charges that were placed or at least the administrative charges were probably the most severe that I've seen in my career but they were absolutely appropriate. And I knew that the next step would be in the hands of the D.A.'s office, so I am not surprised.

LEMON: These were pretty extraordinary measures, I must say, in all the times that I've been covering these types of incidents, to fire the officers and to charge them so quickly. Does that speak to what we're going to see on that videotape when it's released after 7:00 P.M. Eastern?

DAVIS: Absolutely. I think that it also speaks to the fact that over the last several years we have all talked about police legitimacy and police reform. And I think it's really important that, in instances like this, when they are serious, when they do arise to that level, where a person's constitutional rights have been violated, their civil rights have been violated, that we act and we act swiftly.

LEMON: When did you first learn about this incident, Chief?

DAVIS: It was probably about 4:00 in the morning, the previous day, 8:00 at night, 9:00, the incident occurred. About 4:00 in the morning, I learned of the incident and it was just a strange summary of what occurred on a traffic stop. And I decided to go in the office and meet with the individuals that had information that I could take a look at it, even though at that time, Tyre was in the hospital. But still because he had injuries that just -- I just didn't understand. It was incomprehensible to me. We came in the office and decided to take a look that Sunday morning and it was alarming.

LEMON: That's when you -- Sunday morning is when you first saw the video?

DAVIS: Yes, absolutely right.

LEMON: And then when you saw it, what was your reaction?

DAVIS: I was -- I was outraged. I was -- it was incomprehensible to me. It was unconscionable. And I felt that I needed to do something and do something quickly. I don't think I witnessed anything of that nature my entire career.

LEMON: Really?

DAVIS: Really.

LEMON: That bad?

DAVIS: It was that bad.

LEMON: And what are we going to see then?

DAVIS: You're going to see acts that defy humanity. You're going to see a disregard for life, duty of care that we're all sworn to and a level of physical interaction that is above and beyond what is required in law enforcement. And I'm sure that, you know, as I said before, that individuals watching will feel what the family felt. And if you don't, then you're not a human being. And we all are human beings. And I think there will be a measure of sadness as well.


LEMON: How long do these incidents go on? We heard from the district attorney yesterday and from the head of the TBI that there were two separate incidents, right?


LEMON: How long do they go on and when -- what was the worst part of it? Because it has been said that the officers became charged during the second incident, that they got more riled up.

DAVIS: Well, from the very beginning, to me, they were riled up. I don't think they were as amped up as they were at the second scene but just the stop, the nature of the stop, very aggressive, loud, you know, communication. And it was -- it just rose from there. It escalated from there.

Mr. Nichols was able to get away from these officers and they found him again at another location. And at that point, there was an amount of aggression that is unexplainable. You know, in any instance where you're apprehending someone, even in the worst situations where there is resistance, officers still have the responsibility to exercise care and regard for any individual that's in custody or they're attempting to apprehend, and they're trained to do that.

LEMON: And to de-escalate?

DAVIS: And to de-escalate. That's the piece, I think, that is in question. But I think the escalation was there from the officers before training even needed to come in as it relates to de-escalate. The escalation was already at a high level.

LEMON: So, you're saying they did everything wrong, nothing that -- you think this was outside of their training, everything?

DAVIS: Absolutely.

LEMON: So, you mentioned, you said the nature of the stop.


LEMON: Can we talk about the nature of the stop?


LEMON: Why -- what was the nature? Why was he stopped?

DAVIS: Well, I'm going to be honest with you about the stop itself. What was said was that there was witnessing of what was considered reckless driving. We've looked at cameras. We've looked at body-worn cameras. And even if something occurred prior to the stop, we've been unable to substantiate that at this time.

LEMON: You have haven't been able to substantiate --

DAVIS: The reckless driving. LEMON: -- reckless driving at all?

DAVIS: No, we have not been able to substantiate the reckless driving.

LEMON: And that was why he was supposedly stopped?

DAVIS: That was why he was supposedly stopped in the very beginning. And that was a concern. So, of course, in an investigation we begin to look at what was the probable cause for the stop, where were the cameras, was there some evidence on the body camera, on other along those cameras on those thoroughfares? And we've taken a pretty extensive look to determine what that probable cause was and he have not been able to substantiate that.

It doesn't mean that something didn't happen --

LEMON: That the cameras --

DAVIS: -- but there's no proof.

LEMON: That the cameras didn't pick up?

DAVIS: The cameras didn't pick up.

LEMON: So, before the incident, you're looking at other cameras, other surveillance cameras around the city?

DAVIS: That's right, around the city other thoroughfares, even business cameras. Any video footage that we could potentially pick up to see what occurred prior to the stop. The information that we have right now of -- based on what we could observe is the stop itself and the first officer exiting his vehicle, and you'll see that on the body worn camera. And at that time, the officers were already aggressive and amped up.

LEMON: And amped up. And so you haven't found anything that substantiate the probable cause for reckless driving?

DAVIS: Not at this time.

LEMON: And this was just within a couple of hundred feet of his home?

DAVIS: That's right, a few blocks away.

LEMON: Okay. He was apprehended by the Scorpion unit, which was launched under your leadership in 2021.


LEMON: Were they part of a street crimes unit? There was no -- were they looking for some other crime other than reckless driving from Tyre Nichols?

DAVIS: Absolutely. Well, the Scorpion unit, the acronyms, Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods. The whole concept was based on the fact that we had an outcry because of three years of violence in the city. Numbers of violent crimes, robberies, homicides, aggravated assaults.

And this is one of three teams whose primary responsibility is to reduce gun violence, to be visible in communities, and to also impact the rise in the crime basically out of an outcry from the community.


We had record numbers in 2021, 346 homicides.

So, this unit was put together and they had great success, believe it or not, last year. It was the first year in a long time that we had --

LEMON: Is this an indication of a failure in that unit?

DAVIS: This is an indication that there is a gap somewhere in that unit. My observation is that, you know, we have several contributing factors. We train and we re-train these officers, just like specialized units around the country. These officers in working in specialized units, you always need to make sure that the supervision is there and present.

LEMON: Do you fear they have done anything like this in the past? Do you have any evidence of that?

DAVIS: Well, we don't have evidence at this particular time and looking at their disciplinary packages, however, we're taking a deeper dive into previous arrests, previous video camera footage. We also reached out to the IACP, who will work with the Department of Justice. We've asked the IACP and the Department of Justice to come in and look at our specialized units. We don't want any gaps in any of our units.

LEMON: I've heard about you from every single person that I've spoken to that said the buck stops with you.


LEMON: Do you feel that you have any responsibility in the failure in this unit?

DAVIS: Well, I can't remove myself from responsibility. And, of course, we can't always be with our officers but it's incumbent upon us to act and have checks and balances in place. But we have to rely on those individuals that are also in supervisory positions and commanders' positions but the accountability is throughout the police department all the way up to the chief.

LEMON: Did you have any interaction with any other people in this unit, any of the officers in this unit?

DAVIS: I've met them just one-on-one and had an opportunity to see them out, you know? Some of them in some of the other units have received recognitions and awards because of the reductions in crime, but this particular unit, even though you meet the officers, you don't know them as personally. LEMON: Your impressions of them?

DAVIS: My impressions of them, you really -- they acted just like any other normal officer, you know, respectful when they see you, but what I saw on this video was more of a group-think sort of mentality, you know, a group-think. And no one took a step to intercept or intervene. And that's why the charges are as severe as they are.

LEMON: Does this speak to better training for the officers? You said it's a group-think.


LEMON: That means there's something with the training, there's something within the department or police departments where the group- think can cause something like this to happen?

DAVIS: They have good training in that regard. I think one of the gaps that, you know, I have observed since being here is that we need more supervisors in our department. We have a span of control issue, and as we have eliminated a hiring in the police department to create more supervisors.

LEMON: Let's talk about the video.


LEMON: It has been said that it is reminiscent, perhaps worse than the Rodney King video. Is that your assessment?

DAVIS: That was my assessment. I was in law enforcement during the Rodney King incident and it's very much aligned with that same type of behavior.

LEMON: But it's worse?

DAVIS: Sort of group-think -- I would say it's about the same, if not worse.

LEMON: If not worse?

DAVIS: If not worse.

LEMON: So, take us through the video tonight when it is released. It has been said there's over an hour, there's the pole cam, they said the sky cam and there's body-worn camera video. What are we going and how is it going to be distributed? Are you going to put it on social media? Are you sending it to the media? How is this going to be distributed?

DAVIS: Actually, we plan to put it on a YouTube link so that it can be accessible to just about anybody who wants to access that video. And we'll be pushing that out later on this evening. The video is broken into four different sort of fragmented pieces but they're all very relative to this incident, the initial stop, the stop near Tyre's home and also body worn camera of individuals that were at that scene. LEMON: Is it -- was it released later on a Friday, after 6:30, Central Time, 7:00 Eastern Time, was that -- we are told -- I don't know if you can confirm this -- it was so that the officers could leave the building safely --



LEMON: -- in case there were protests? No?

DAVIS: No, not at all.

LEMON: Then why?

DAVIS: Well, we think about the entire public, to tell you the truth. We thought about schools, we thought about business, and we felt like Friday afternoon, if there were individuals that decided they wanted to peacefully protest, at least other individuals would have gone home, schools would be out, and it wouldn't be as disruptive as it would have been if we released it on a Wednesday afternoon.

LEMON: In this video, it is said that Tyre Nichols cries for his mother. Did you hear that?

DAVIS: I did. I heard him call out for his mother, for his mom. I did.


DAVIS: That's why this incident -- not just that, but just the disregard for humanity, as I mentioned before, I think that's what really just pulls at your heart strings and makes you wonder why was a sense of care and concern for this individual just absent from this situation by all who went to the scene.

LEMON: Speaking of the people who went to the scene, did you speak to any of the officers after --

DAVIS: I have not.

LEMON: You have not?

DAVIS: I have not.

LEMON: Have you spoke to the family of Tyre Nichols?

DAVIS: I have. I think I was just as emotional as they were. And you can't help but feel their pain. You can't help but even take ownership of what they are going through. And I've extended and availed myself to the family in the days to come, not just as a police chief but as a mother, as someone who felt the pain of Ms. Wells and her loss, and the sense of responsibility to do whatever I could, especially in the first steps of justice, you know, to terminate these officers and hopefully the rest of this process towards justice will be swift.

LEMON: In just moments, I am going to speak to her and the stepfather. What do you say to them?

DAVIS: I continue to let them know that we pray for them and that I am still available. I extend heartfelt condolences, and I think they know that. And we're going to be with them for the long haul.

LEMON: Why not speak to the officers after?

DAVIS: There's not much you can say.

LEMON: Got it.

DAVIS: There's not much you can say.

LEMON: The policy for the Memphis Police Department requires officers to intervene, stop excessive force and report these incidents immediately. Did anyone on that video -- will we see that? did anyone do that or will we see that on the video at all?

DAVIS: You will not see that on the video.

LEMON: There are two members of the fire department who were involved. What do you know about them and who are they?

DAVIS: I don't know them specifically. I know there are two officers -- or two firefighters that were paramedics. And I believe the fire chief quickly started an administrative investigation into their actions or inactions at that scene as well.

LEMON: What's their involvement? Did they fail to render proper care?

DAVIS: Based on the video, they failed to render proper care.

LEMON: Did they just stand by?

DAVIS: Based on my assessment, yes. They just stood by.

LEMON: And didn't render care?

DAVIS: They began to render care and concern, but it was long after -- several minutes and -- which was, you know, concerning for all of us that we see a number of failures where individuals did not exercise the amount of care that we are responsible for, you know? No matter what the cause is, we're responsible for exercising care.

LEMON: I want to go back just real quickly and ask you. So, do we know what sparked the confrontation at the initial stop?

DAVIS: I think that's the piece that is just unknown.

LEMON: No one knows?

DAVIS: No one knows. And it's obvious when you see this video that it begins at a high level. Typically, when we have traffic stops, something sparks or at least you're able to see what sparks this amount of aggression and physical, you know, activity with the driver. We cannot tell based on video what that was about. LEMON: Well, when did the beating start? Was it initially or was it when he tried to run away?

DAVIS: There is physical interaction between Mr. Nichols and the driver at the very beginning as the officers are trying to get him out the car. But it's still unknown what the original reason was for the stop in the first place.


LEMON: I have to ask you, it's five black officers, you're a black police chief in a black community. What do you make of the race of the officers and what that says to the community and to the country about the policing, the care?

DAVIS: Well, I think it does -- it takes off the table that issues and problems in law enforcement is about race, and it is not. It's about human dignity, integrity, accountability and the duty to protect our community. And as this video will show you, it doesn't matter who's wearing the uniform, that we all have that same responsibility. So, it takes race off the table but it does indicate to me that bias might be a factor also, you know, and the manner in which we engage the community.

LEMON: You've given -- I'm so -- I am -- I appreciate -- I shouldn't say happy because there's nothing happy about this, but I appreciate that you have taken the time to be so candid and give us so much time. Is there anything that I missed, anything that you would like to say to the community, to the family, to the country really about what you're dealing with here?

DAVIS: So, as someone who's been involved in the whole police reform conversation, you know, going before the Senate, it's just important for me as a leader to not just talk about police reform but to take swift action and also to represent other law enforcement leaders who have also reached out, who also believe that the way he handle these types of things, and, unfortunately, a man had to die for us to get to a point where we could actually exercise what justice looks like.

But it's important for us to prove to the community that no matter, we're going to do the right thing. And that we're going to work on our agencies, we're going to take a deeper dive and not just assume the officers are doing what they're supposed to do.

LEMON: So, before I let you go, do you need help from Washington? There's a George Floyd Policing Act in Washington that has -- just sitting there.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

LEMON: What do you say to our leaders?

DAVIS: The George Floyd Policing Act, some of the recommendations I was able to be part of, and actually that was part of my testimony, the duty to intervene, ensuring chokeholds are banned, ensuring that there are national registries for officers, when they do bad, they can't move to other agencies. We want those laws passed.

Those laws were put on the table and pushed to the side under the previous administration. Some of those laws need to be passed so that agencies around the country will have consistency in the manner in which we deal with our community.

LEMON: I really appreciate you giving us the first interview.

DAVIS: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate your candor --

DAVIS: Thank you.

LEMON: -- and the way you're dealing with this. Thank you so much and best of luck to you. We will be here throughout the day and let's hope it works out and there's no violence.

DAVIS: Absolutely. Thank you, Don.

LEMON: I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

So, there you heard from the police chief of Memphis, C.J. Davis, speaking out about what was going on, her first interview happening here on CNN.

And I want to bring in now my colleague, Sara Sidner, to talk about some of this. Sara, it's very interesting that the chief discussed during the initial stop, they still can't figure out exactly what led to violence and to, as she said, the officers being so amped up. They had a duty to de-escalate, that did not happen. So, again, what they're saying -- that videotape, what they've been saying all along, the charges speak to what happened on that videotape but, we're going to see it, but we're not sure we're going to get any answers about what led up to all of this.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, my God, listening to your interview with the police chief and how candid she was, the things that stood out to me were the level of aggression, not on Tyre Nichols' part, but on these professional supposed officers' part, was unexplainable, that stood out to me, that they were immediately aggressive instead of de-escalating when the stop first happened.

The second thing that stood out to me from your interview is that she cannot, on any of the video, and there are lots of video cameras, they call them sky cams, or sky cop, that are on the poles along the streets, she cannot corroborate what the officers said happened for the reason for the stop, which was, they claimed, aggressive driving. She has looked at several different cameras and was unable to see any kind of aggressive driving.

The third thing that stood out, Don, was that she said that this, very much like what we heard from the attorneys for the family, that Tyre Nichols was beaten very similarly in a similar manner to what happened in 1992 in Los Angeles with the police beating of Rodney King. [07:25:011]

She said it is if not the same, worse. Those are the things.

What it leads to me to ask is did the officers lie when they put forward why they stopped him and what exactly happened. Did they put that down on a police report? And is that part of why they are charged with some of the charges that they now face for official misconduct?

LEMON: And I think it's important as well. She said, I cannot remove myself out of this whole idea of responsibility. Obviously, she's not out there with the officers. They are grown people, adults, professionals, but she says there needs to be better training. Obviously, something went wrong. This goes beyond training. She spoke to the -- you know, nationally what they need from the federal government, the type of reform that they need in order to fix these situations.

And I also thought it was important, she talked about race as well, being a black police chief and black officers serving a black community. She said it takes for her race off of the table and this is more about being a human being, about acting in a humane way rather than an inhumane way.

Sara, thank you. We're going to continue to report this throughout the hour. We'll get back to my colleague, Sara Sidner, here in Memphis as well. She's been covering and speaking to members of the community.

She also -- the chief also spoke in this interview about the family of Tyre Nichols, the mother and the stepfather. And in just moments, I'm going to speak with them live as well here on CNN.

So, back to my colleague, Kaitlan Collins, who's in this Washington D.C. Kaitlan, she talked about the need for reform and the help from folks in Washington. And, quite frankly, I hope they were listening to this interview and that they will act.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that was a really consequential interview there, Don. I mean, and just to hear her say that everything that they've observed that those officers did was outside their training is a stunning statement from the police chief. I mean, it will be fascinating to see how lawmakers here on Capitol Hill respond to that, how the White House responds to it, because they've been weighing in as well.

I'm going to be joined by the White House's John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, there next, how federal officials are preparing for possible civil unrest. We're going to discuss that, the latest on Ukraine aid and the tanks that are now being sent there. This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.