Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
We are learning more about the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers.
- On January 7, a group of officers violently beat Nichols following a traffic stop. Nichols succumbed to his injuries three days later.
- Last week, a grand jury indicted five of the officers on charges, including second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and official misconduct. The incident was captured on video, which city officials have now released to the public. The videos contained footage from police body cameras and street surveillance cameras. The recordings start by showing the initial traffic stop where Nichols eventually attempted to flee. Then, the videos show officers repeatedly hitting and kicking Nichols, pepper spraying him, and striking him with a baton — all while he was restrained.
- Nearly two weeks after the incident, but before they were charged, the five officers were fired from the Memphis Police Department. Since the indictments were announced, two additional police officers and three members of the Memphis Fire Department (two emergency medical technicians and a fire lieutenant) have also been terminated.
- The released video footage has also revealed inconsistencies and omissions from the police department’s initial report and public statement about the incident. For instance, the report stated that during the initial traffic stop, Nichols grabbed for one of the officer’s guns, however that is not captured in any of the videos. In addition, the statement simply says, twice, that a “confrontation occurred” and that Nichols was taken to the hospital, while the report said Nichols was struck with a baton and pepper sprayed. The report and statement provided no further details on the violent beating, which included kicking and hitting Nichols in the head.
Actor Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly shooting and killing a cinematographer on the set of the movie Rust in 2021.
- Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed on October 21, 2021. Prosecutors accuse Baldwin of shooting her, although he disputes that he pulled the trigger. Baldwin and the armorer for the film, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, are now facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter, one of which contains a heightened penalty for using a firearm during the offense. If either individual is convicted at trial, a jury would decide which of the two charges should apply.
- In a court filing, an investigator in the district attorney’s office wrote that Baldwin’s “reckless deviation from known standards and practice and protocol directly caused the fatal shooting.” Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies also is arguing that Baldwin, as an actor and producer of the film, had a duty to ensure that the gun was used safely. “He was the actor that pulled the trigger so certainly he’s charged as an actor but also as a producer. He also had a duty to make sure that the set was safe and we know from our investigation that there had been accidental misfires prior to this,” Carmack-Altwies said. In his defense, Baldwin contends that Dave Halls, the first assistant director on Rust, declared that the gun was “cold” when Halls handed it to him. Halls pled guilty to a separate charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.
- A New Mexico judge will now determine whether the prosecution will move forward (the state has largely stopped using grand juries since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic). If convicted, Baldwin could face a potential mandatory five-year sentence due to the firearm enhancement charge.
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