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Memphis Police to Release Video of Arrest of Trye Nichols Who Later Died; The Parents of Trye Nichols Interviewed on Charges Brought against Officers Who Arrested Their Son; Tyre Nichols' Mom On Son Crying Out For Her During Beating; Parents Of Tyre Nichols' Speak Out Ahead Of Beating Video Release. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 27, 2023 - 08:00   ET





CHIEF CERELYN "CJ" DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: 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 in my entire career.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Don Lemon live in Memphis, Tennessee, where in just moments we're going to speak with the parents of Tyre Nichols. You heard there the police chief of Memphis talking about what she saw on that videotape, what we're going to see a little bit later on this evening, 6:00 central time, 7:00 -- after 6:00 central, after 7:00 eastern time, when that video is released.

The police chief saying what she saw doesn't really explain why Tyre Nichols was stopped in the first place. And it speaks to just how horrific this videotape is, saying that it is reminiscent, if not worse, than what we saw with Rodney king. Take a listen.


LEMON: Can we talk about the nature of the stop? Why -- what was the nature? Why was he stopped?

CHIEF CERELYN "CJ" DAVIS, MEMPHIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, I'm going to be honest with you about the stop itself. What was said is that there was a 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 this stop, we've been unable to substantiate that at this time.

LEMON: So you haven't been able to substantiate --

DAVIS: The reckless -- LEMON: The 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: We've taken a pretty extensive look to determine what that probable cause was. And we have not been able to substantiate that. It doesn't mean that something, something didn't happen, but there's no proof.

LEMON: There's no proof -- that the camera didn't pick up.

DAVIS: That the camera didn't pick up.

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

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

LEMON: It's worse?

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

LEMON: If not worse.

DAVIS: If not worse.


LEMON: So I am joined now by RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the parents of Mr. Nichols here, of Tyre Nichols, and also Benjamin Crump, the family attorney. I thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you. I don't know how you're holding up and able to do this under these circumstances, but we're certainly grateful that you're here.


LEMON: How are you doing?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I'm doing as well as can be expected. It's very difficult right now. I'm still trying to understand all of this and trying to wrap my head around all of this. It's still like a nightmare right now. So --

LEMON: Just to be honest, listen, just conducting this interview, I'm a mama's boy. I was also a skater, a skateboarder growing up. And so I just can't imagine my mother dealing with this. When you walked in, you said, don, I'm not very good at this, and I said, I've got you. Who do you mean, you're not very -- who would be good at this?


LEMON: Who would be good at this?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I don't know, because this is very difficult. This is very difficult.



LEMON: How are you doing, dad?

RODNEY WELLS, TYRE NICHOLS' STEPFATHER: I'm hanging in there. You know, I have to be strong for the family. So, we have other siblings that we have to be strong for also.

LEMON: Did you hear the chief?


LEMON: What'd you think?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I respected what she said. She's doing an excellent job, I feel. She's moving things along. And I just, I like what she's doing.

LEMON: She said that there has been nothing, that no evidence that they have found so far to substantiate why the officers stopped Tyre Nichols, no evidence so far. What did you make of that?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY: I think it's telling, because there's so much videotape America's about to see, over an hour long, video from a poll camera that catches a lot of the tragedy. All this body cam footage. If Tyre was driving reckless, we should see it. We're not saying that they're lying, but we should see it. And the fact that they can't show it to us further underscores why this was so unnecessary, so unnecessary.


I have to say this, because like Miss Wells said, how swiftly they moved in Memphis, and how swiftly the district attorney brought charges against these five black police officers. This is now the blueprint for America. When you see officers committing crimes on video, then you can't tell us that you've got to go six months, you've got to go a year. No, it was these black officers, we saw it move swiftly. And so, think about all the ones we covered, Don. I mean, the Tamir Rice, the Michael Browns, Ahmaud, all of these cases took so long, Philando Castile, for them to charge. But here in Memphis, we have the blueprint that it can be done swiftly and efficiently.

LEMON: You're shaking your head in agreement. You're saying "Yes." Why?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Yes. Because just the way they moved so fast, I don't understand why they couldn't do that in other cases. But, just to know that they moved as fast as they did lets us know that it can be done.

LEMON: You wanted first-degree murder charges.


LEMON: You didn't get that?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: No. The charges that were filed against those officers are good charges. Those are the charges that I feel will stick. And so, I'm happy with the charges that the district attorney has set forth.

LEMON: Twenty days since this happened.


LEMON: Without your baby.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Yes. Yes. This is hard. No, I don't have my baby. I'll never have my baby again. But I do know that he was a good person and that all this, all the good in Tyre will come out. And so that's what keeps me going, because I just feel like my son was sent here on assignment from God, and his assignment was over. It's over. And he was sent back home, and God is not going to let any of his children's names go in vain. So when this is all over, it's going to be some good and some positive, because my son was a good and positive person. And that's what keeps me going.

LEMON: Have you gotten any sleep?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Not really, but it's what it is.

LEMON: Mom, when did you first learn about this? How did you hear?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: The Memphis police department banged on our door approximately between 8:30 and 9:00, asking if we knew Tyre Nichols. And we said, yes, what's going on? He's been arrested. Arrested for what? DUI. DUI? My son don't drink like that? What do you mean, DUI? Well, we had to pepper spray him and tase him, so he's being attended to by the paramedics, and we'll send him to the hospital. And then after that, he'll go to booking. What? They then asked me, was he on any type of drugs or anything of that nature, because he was -- they were saying that it was so difficult to put the handcuffs on him and he had this amount of energy -- superhuman energy.

And what they were describing was not my son. So I was very confused. I asked if I can go to the hospital. They told me, no. They left. My husband and I, we got in our car and went to go see if we could find Ty, because he wasn't answering his phone or anything. When I asked them where my son was, they said nearby. Nearby? What is nearby? I got nothing from them.


I think now that I'm actually putting things together, I believe that they were trying to cover it up when they first came to my door. So around 4:00 in the morning, the doctors called from Saint Francis and said, Mrs. Wells, do you know your son is in the hospital? And I said, yes, I was advised by the police officers. He said, why aren't you here? And I said, the police officers said that I couldn't come because he was under arrest.

The doctor proceeded to tell me that my son had went into cardiac arrest and that his kidneys were failing. This doesn't sound consistent to somebody being tased or pepper sprayed. When my husband and I got to the hospital and I saw my son, he was already gone. They had beat him to a pulp. He had bruises all over him, his head was swollen like a watermelon, his neck was busting because of the swelling. They broke his neck. My son's nose looked like an "S." They actually just beat the crap out of him.

And so when I saw that, I knew my son was gone then, even if he did live, he would have been a vegetable. So once I got to the hospital, all the police officers were basically whisked out, because I heard that the TBI had taken over the investigation. And that was it. They spoke to us, asked a bunch of questions, but I knew something wasn't right. I just didn't understand why they stopped my son in the first place.

LEMON: You said that you thought from the initial time when they contacted you that they were trying to cover it up? Why did you think that?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Well, I didn't think that initially. As I started getting information and information was coming to me, because they made it seem like the stop and the start -- the start and the stop of the -- was at a certain location, when actually they were less than 80 feet from my home.

LEMON: You talked about what you saw. Now, I hate to bring this up, but I just have to be honest. You know Emmett Till.


LEMON: It's reminiscent of that.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I haven't seen the video.

LEMON: I'm talking about what you saw when you went to the hospital.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, that was -- that was terrible.

LEMON: Dad, would you agree with that?

RODNEY WELLS: Oh, most definitely. Because I'm the one who took the picture that's being circulated. And I took the picture because he was in such a horrific condition. He shouldn't have been in that condition from pepper spray and tasing.

LEMON: He was never conscience, never. You said you believed if he lived, he would have been a vegetable.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Yes. CRUMP: The last words on that video that America is going to hear

him, Miss Wells, he calls out for you three times. Gut wrenching screams for his mom.

LEMON: Go ahead, mom.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: That was my baby. He was a mama's boy. That boy loved me to death. He has my name tattooed on his arm. People don't know what those five police officers did to our family. And they really don't know what they did to their own families. They have put their own families in harm's way. They have brought shame to their own families. They have brought shame to the black community. I just feel sorry for -- I feel sorry for them. I really do. I really feel sorry for them.

LEMON: Why do you say that?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Because they didn't have to do this. And like I said, they brought a lot of shame to their own family. Once you see this video, and I know I didn't see it, but from what I hear, it's horrific.


And the humanity of it all, where was the humanity? They beat my son like a pinata. My son, he was -- he had Crohn's disease. He has surgery in 2013. My son weighed a buck 50, he was 6'3", and he weighed a buck 50. And those men, if you combine their weights, they are -- it was over a thousand pounds, beating and beating a 150-pound person to death. Because that's what they did, they beat my son to death.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: He cried out for his mom.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Yes. Yes, he cried out for me. Because I'm his mother. And that's what he was trying to get home to safety. And it was funny, I was in the room earlier. And my stomach started hurting so bad. And I went into the dinner, I told my husband my stomach is hurting so bad. And once I found out what happened, it was just the fact that I was telling myself, I was crying. I was feeling busters that they would -- they would beat him to death.

LEMON: You said that you felt sorry for them. Where does that come from, mom?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I don't -- I don't -- I don't hate anybody, it's not in my nature. I just feel sorry for them because they did something horrendous. And I don't know -- I don't know.

LEMON: You said they brought shame on themselves, their family, and you brought -- they brought shame on the Black Community. Can you speak to these all-black officers?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: No. People try to say, black people, we only try to go after white officers. That's not true. We don't care what color the officer is. We won't bad officers taken off the force. We know there's a lot of great officers. I know officers. But they are bad officers, too. And those are the ones that we need to get rid of. Because all these kids that are dying and being killed at the hands of police officers, their parents pay taxes, they're paying their salaries. And then they have to be murdered by a person who's -- they're paying their salaries? That's not right.

Why is it that black and brown kids always get beat up when they are encountered with the police? We just had an incident in Memphis right after my son with the white guy who spit on police officer. They didn't beat him to death. Why? And I'm not saying they're supposed to, but why? They ran, they didn't get beat up. I don't care what color police officer but by them being black, it hurt the Black Community.

LEMON: Do you think there's a bias built into the system regardless of what --


LEMON: -- color the officer is?


LEMON: What would you say to these officers, mom?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I will say to these officers that, you have to show some compassion to people. We all know that a lot of these police officers intimidate black people in order for them to do something. They're waiting for them to do something. And they need to learn that everyone is human, and everyone should be treated with respect.


LEMON: She didn't see the video. You saw the video.


LEMON: What are we going to say, Rodney?

RODNEY WELLS: From the initial encounter --


LEMON: You can't even look that way when we talks about the video.

RODNEY WELLS: No. I didn't want her to -- I didn't want her to see the video, or hear the video. It was our attorney's request that she could stay in there as long as she could. She heard one word and had to leave the other room. And that was when they initially was pulling him out the car. He said, what did I do?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: I don't know, but that's what he said.

RODNEY WELLS: He said, what did I do? Why are y'all doing this to me? What did I do? And they proceeded to snatch him out of the car, and was trying to wrestle him to the ground. And he got scared. So, he was athletic enough to get out of their situation and run. And he was trying to run home because we were -- he was three blocks from the house when they stopped him. So, after the initial car, we didn't see everything because actually when the body cam started, they were already engaged. And then there was the second body cam with the skycam, that they (INAUDIBLE). And when I saw the police officer -- you know, they have this little like stick, this, what, metal thing that they pull out.

LEMON: They pull out like an antenna.

RODNEY WELLS: Like an antenna, exactly.

LEMON: Right. Retractable.

RODNEY WELLS: Yes, and I saw them pull that out, and started beating my son with it. I saw officers hitting on him. I saw officers kicking him, one officer kicked him like he was kicking a football a couple of times. And -- but the most -- the most telling thing about the video to me was the fact that it was maybe 10 officers on the same. And nobody tried to stop it, or even after they beat him, and they would pop him up against the car, no one rendered aid to him whatsoever. They walked around, smoking cigarettes like it was all calm and like, you know, bragging about what happened. And --

LEMON: An hour of video?


LEMON: You saw him just sitting there.

RODNEY WELLS: He was sitting there. And then, he slumped over. An officer walked over to him and said, sit back up, mother fucker -- M.F., you know, and while he's handcuffed. So, he had -- they popped him back up and he slumped over again, and they popped him back up again. But no one was rendering aid. I saw some fire department people come out there, and they just walked around, nobody showed them the aid and they're supposed to be trained in first aid. By the time the paramedic truck pulled up, that's when we couldn't see anything because the paramedic truck blocked the camera. So, I was told that the lady who was driving the paramedic truck never got out. So, it was -- it was just -- you know, to watch your son as we state all of the time, a 150 pounds. How could he pose a threat to their lives to where they had to take his life? Unarmed.


LEMON: What's your message?

RODNEY WELLS: My message is the same as my wife said. Hopefully from this situation that we have reform, that police get better training. That, you know, I've heard from people because of this where this particular unit --

LEMON: Scorpion.

RODNEY WELLS: -- Scorpion unit has beat up other people. But because they didn't die, it's not publicized. In fact, it's squashed under the rug. LEMON: You think more is going to come out then?

BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR TYRE NICHOLS' FAMILY: I believe that more is going to come out as there's strong reaction, Don Lemon. And (INAUDIBLE) floor after so many of these tragedies, we pray for reform.

LEMON: Can I ask you something? She said her son, well, came here on a mission. And she doesn't hate anybody. She feels sorry for them. Doing the work that you do, is there a lesson in it, you said this is a blueprint -- should be a blueprint for around the country? So, that -- what is the mission? What will accomplish the mission that she believes that her son was sent to this earth for and taken too quickly?


CRUMP: And the prayer that, I believe, Mrs. Wells is articulating is that this won't have happened to other young black and brown children. We don't have to learn so many hashtags, Don Lemon. I don't have to keep talking to you on CNN week after every other week about yet another unarmed black person has been killed by police in a highly- controversial manner. Hopefully, this institutional police culture that says it's OK to engage in excessive force against black and brown people will finally be dealt with. We will continue to try to say that, oh, it's training. They can de-escalate just fine when it's white citizens. We see that all of the time.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: All if the time.

CRUMPS: But it's when it's black and brown citizens, no matter if the police are black, Hispanic, or white, they seem to do the most, Don Lemon. And so, this is the blueprint from now, you know, Memphis Police Department terminated them immediately. The D.A. brought charges within 20 days. Now, when it's not black officers, we want to see the same type of justice.



LEMON: What you going to miss about him the most?

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: His beautiful smile. And just, my son had a beautiful soul. And he touched a lot of people. And I always joke because he'll come in the house, and he'll come in and say, hello parents. I'll never hear that again. I'll never cook for my son again. I'll never get a hug from my son again. I won't get anything from my son again. Just because some officers decided they wanted to do harm to my son. So, this is very difficult thing. No mother should have to go through this, no mother. And I never thought in a million years that I will be sitting on your show, speaking about my deceased son that was killed by the Memphis Police Department.

LEMON: You only get one mom.


LEMON: And I just -- I don't even know what to say. I'm -- just so you know. I said I was a skater growing up. My mom is with me now, visiting from Louisiana. Show her boyfriend, she found him dead on Christmas Eve. And she's supposed to stay with me for two weeks. And now she's been with me for a month, and she's going to continue to stay with me. She's been cooking for me. So, I relate to what's going on to you, especially the black family. Doesn't matter the race of the officer.



LEMON: No one deserves to be treated like that.


LEMON: You can be co-opted no matter what race by a system that is biased.


LEMON: And I appreciate you saying that because the world should -- doesn't matter the race of the officer. People just want to be treated with dignity and fairness. And for a traffic stop, no one should have to die.

ROWVAUGHN WELLS: Exactly. And I just want to say thank you to the district attorney because he's working very hard on this. And he was just elected in, and he's doing an excellent job, as well as the chief of police.

CRUMPS: You know, what's so extraordinary? As painful as this is, you never heard this family's spouse one ounce of hate. They continue --

LEMON: Not at all.

CRUMPS: -- to say we just -- we are determined that they did this time.


LEMON: Thank you, Ben. Thank you, Rodney.

CRUMPS: You're welcome.


LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate you. Thank you. We're back in a moment.