MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A lawyer for one of five former Memphis officers charged with fatally beating Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop said in court documents that investigators found a hallucinogenic drug and stolen credit cards in the Black man’s car when he was pulled over, but authorities have not confirmed the claims.
A lawyer for Justin Smith said the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s inventory of Nichols’ car showed he had psilocybin, a substance found in mushrooms, when police stopped him Jan. 7 for an alleged reckless driving violation before he was beaten during a confrontation caught on police video.
The lawyer, Martin Zummach, said the ex-officers’ attorneys learned from a review of the inventory that Nichols had stolen credit cards, debit cards and photo identifications in his car. Zummach made the claims in a court filing joining another officer’s request for prosecutors to give them Nichols’ cell phone records as part of the federal civil rights case against the five former officers.
Authorities have not released information about what, if anything, was found in Nichols’ car when he was pulled over near his home. Nichols ran away from officers after he was hit with pepper spray and a stun gun at the location of the stop, according to the video and statements from authorities. The officers caught up with Nichols and then punched, kicked and struck him with a police baton, authorities said.
Nichols, 29, died in a hospital three days after the beating. The five officers were fired and later charged in state court with second-degree murder. The also have been indicted by a federal grand jury for alleged civil rights violations related to the use if excessive force and failing to help Nichols as he was struggling with his injuries. They have pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The inventory cited by Zummach has not been made public, and the TBI said Monday that the file is considered confidential under state law. An autopsy report showed Nichols died from blows to the head and that the manner of death was homicide. But it does not say that Nichols had psilocybin in his system when he was beaten. The officers said Nichols was pulled over for driving recklessly, but police officials have said there is no evidence to support that claim.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Memphis declined to comment. The Shelby County district attorney and lawyers for Nichols’ family, have not responded to questions about the accusations by Smith’s lawyer, which were made in a court filing Thursday demanding federal prosecutors hand over Nichols’ cell phone records to the defense.
In their response to the demand, prosecutors said the cell phone records have no bearing on the officers’ actions and are irrelevant to the case. But prosecutors did not directly address the accusations that the drug and stolen credit cards were found in the car.
Zummach, Smith’s lawyer, said the contents of the cell phone and the items he claims were found in Nichols’ car help explain his “state of mind” as he ran from police.
“Nichols did not want to be taken into custody with felony drugs and felony fraud evidence in his possession,” Zummach wrote.
Nichols’ family and their lawyers have said he was trying to run home in fear after he was forcibly removed from his car and hit with pepper spray and a stun gun.
“The fact that the defendant now seeks to rifle through the deceased victim’s personal effects for new information suggests that he intends to attack the character of the victim at trial and, in so doing, ask the jury to improperly nullify the criminal charges,” federal prosecutors said in response to the cell phone records request.
Nichols’ beating and death was one of several violent encounters between police and Black people that have sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and police reform in the U.S. The former officers are also Black.
During the trial of an officer charged in the death of George Floyd, defense attorneys focused on findings that Floyd had fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system when he died in May 2020. A county medical examiner ruled Floyd’s death a homicide due to “cardiopulmonary arrest,” not a drug overdose. Medical experts at the trial also testified Floyd died of a lack of oxygen from being pinned to the pavement with a knee on his neck, not from drug use. A jury unanimously agreed, finding the former officer guilty of murder and manslaughter.