Be skeptical of police reports and their initial statements

Today is the funeral of Tyre Nichols, the 29-year old Black man brutally murdered last month by five Memphis police officers, while other officers and EMT personnel stood around without doing anything to stop them. The five officers are being charged with murder and the others are being investigated.

After being involved in any incident, the police involved are required to file a report on it and the initial statements issued by police spokespersons are based on that account. According to news reports, the initial report filed following the murder of Nichols was nothing like what was seen on the video taken from the body cams.

The initial police report said Nichols “started to fight” with officers and at one point grabbed the gun of one of the detectives. But neither claim was substantiated by police videos released last week.

And despite the fact that the videos don’t appear to show Nichols fighting back, the report identified Nichols as a suspect in an aggravated assault.

The police report did not mention the officers punching and kicking Nichols.

One of the officers at the scene – who has since been charged with second-degree murder – was described in the report as a “victim.”

The report also claimed Nichols, who was Black, was pulled over for reckless driving at a high speed – another claim that is not substantiated by video of the encounter.

The report said Nichols was irate and sweating profusely when he got out of his vehicle and refused lawful detention by law enforcement. The use of pepper spray and a Taser stun gun had no effect on Nichols, the report stated.

The videos showed something else entirely.

Video released Friday shows Nichols running away after officers yanked him out of a car and used pepper spray and a Taser to try to make him lie prone; and then officers catching up to him at a second location, where he is repeatedly kicked and beaten.

After his hands are restrained and he’s left slumped to the ground, roughly 23 minutes pass before a gurney arrives at the scene. Nichols died at a hospital of his injuries three days later, authorities said.

The news report says that “the initial public statement from police was also contradicted by the videos.”

This same pattern was seen in the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin. The report filed and the statements made to the media were nowhere close to what actually occurred. (In that case, it was a video taken by a bystander that revealed what actually happened.) That is unfortunately a common occurrence. Police departments are quick to release statements that put themselves in the best light because they know that first impressions are important. That is why we should never take them at face value, especially when their actions result in injury or death to civilians.


  1. says

    I think “skeptical” is too soft. I’d phrase it more like, “assume police reports are lies and wait for other information to come out.”

    By the way, the single biggest thing we could do about the policing problem would be to make it 2-5 years in the pen for police who know about a police-committed crime and do not report it. That would include “testilying” -- if Cop A knows Cop B is spinning their version of events, and does not say anything, send them up.

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