National News

2 Florida police officers charged with kidnapping, beating handcuffed homeless man, Jose Ortega Gutierrez

(FLORIDA) -- Two former south Florida police officers handcuffed a homeless man last month and drove him to an isolated area where they beat him unconscious, prosecutors alleged Thursday.

According to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Hialeah city officers Rafael Otano and Lorenzo Ofila, who have since been fired, were responding to a disturbance at a bakery shortly after 5 p.m. on Dec. 17, when they encountered 50-year-old Jose Ortega Gutierrez, a homeless man who often roamed the area and was familiar to the officers.

Ofila, 22, allegedly handcuffed Ortega Gutierrez and placed him in the back of his marked police car, said Fernandez Rundle and claimed surveillance footage from the area provided no evidence that supported detaining him.

Instead of booking Ortega Gutierrez into the local jail, Ofila and Otano, 27, allegedly drove him six miles, with their emergency lights flashing, to "an isolated and dark location, against his will," Fernandez Rundle said at a news conference.

Once there, the officers allegedly threw Gutierrez, who was still handcuffed, to the ground and beat him, she said, noting that Gutierrez later testified he woke up alone, un-handcuffed, and bleeding from the head.

An off-duty Hialeah officer walking his dog noticed Gutierrez walking back after the incident and called 911, as was described during a press conference. An internal investigation into the incident soon commenced.

Prosecutors also arrested Ali Amin Saleh, who they allege tried to provide cover to Ofila and Otano by offering Gutierrez money to withhold his testimony about what happened to him.

Gutierrez told investigators that Saleh offered him more than $1,000 and pressured him to sign an affidavit that stated the officers did not assault him, even though he cannot read, Rundle said.

Ofila and Otano were each charged with armed kidnapping, which could bring a penalty of life in prison, and one count of battery. Ofila was also charged with official misconduct.

"There's been a horrible miscarriage of justice," Michael Pizzi, Otano's attorney, told ABC affiliate WPLG. "This case will be tried in a court of law and at the end of the day, it is our expectation that Mr. Otano will be exonerated and get his job back."

It was not immediately known whether Orfila or Saleh have retained lawyers.

Saleh was also charged with one count of witness tampering.

"We will not allow rogue police officers to abuse their powers and to betray the public that they serve," Rundle said.

Hialeah Police Chief George Fuente added: "Let these arrests send a clear message to everyone who wears a badge, that swears to uphold the oath, that we will not accept anything less than an unblemished integrity from those that entrust us to serve and protect."

"As Mayor I have worked closely with Chief George Fuente to create a department that is not only professional, but meets the standards that the residents of Hialeah deserve, demand, and expect. The actions of these officers fails to meet these expectations," Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo Jr. said. "The officers involved violated numerous established policies and procedures. Therefore, after consulting with Chief Fuente, I have terminated their employment with the City of Hialeah. The actions of these two officers are not a reflection of the Department as a whole," he continued.

The mayor also expressed his support for the city's police department.

"I want to reiterate my support of Chief Fuente and his efforts to revitalize our Police Department. I also want to reassure the residents of our great City that we will continue to improve our Police Department by investing in more training and education for our officers," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Tyre Nichols live updates: Video of confrontation released

Scott Olson/Getty Images

(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- Tyre Nichols died at the age of 29 on Jan. 10, three days after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop arrest in Memphis, Tennessee.

The five Memphis Police Department officers involved in his arrest -- Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith -- were fired and then charged with second-degree murder in connection with Nichols' death.

Body camera footage of his alleged beating by the former officers, which is set to be released Friday, has been described as "appalling," "deplorable," "heinous," "violent" and "troublesome on every level" by the attorney for the Nichols family.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jan 27, 9:32 PM EST
2 deputies at scene relieved of duties pending investigation

Following the footage's release, two Shelby County sheriff's deputies who were at the scene of the police confrontation have been relieved of their duties pending an investigation, the county's sheriff announced.

"Having watched the videotape for the first time tonight, I have concerns about two deputies who appeared on the scene following the physical confrontation between police and Tyre Nichols," Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr. said in a statement on Twitter.

Bonner said he has launched an internal investigation into their conduct "to determine what occurred and if any policies were violated."

Both are relieved of duty pending the investigation's outcome, he said.

Jan 27, 9:22 PM EST
Grizzlies hold moment of silence for Nichols

The Memphis Grizzlies held a moment of silence for Nichols before Friday night's NBA game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Minneapolis.

In a pre-game presser, Jenkins was it was "devastating", "another example of police brutality taking the life of one of our own" and "hard to process."

In a pre-game presser ahead of the release of the footage, Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins said it was "devastating", "another example of police brutality taking the life of one of our own" and "hard to process."

"A lot of emotion," Jenkins said.

Jan 27, 8:50 PM EST
Police departments react to video footage

Some major police departments released statements condemning the actions of the former officers seen in the body camera video of Tyre Nichols' encounter.

The LAPD tweeted a statement from Chief of Police Michel R. Moore, who called the ex-cop's actions "incredibly disturbing, cruel and inhumane."

"The violation of trust tarnishes our bade and has a caustic effect on the public's trust," Moore said in his statement.

Acting New York State Police Superintendent Steven A. Nigrelli also condemned the former officers.

"We are outraged and sickened, and we also understand the frustration being felt by the public," he said in a statement.

Jan 27, 8:41 PM EST
EMTs not visible in video until over 22 minutes after beating ends

Among the four videos released by the city, the overhead surveillance wide-angle shot taken from a city surveillance camera offers a bird's-eye view of the beating. The footage is graphic and contains images that are disturbing.

Based on that footage, it appears that roughly 20 minutes lapse between the ending of the beating and the officers' first attempts to render aid to Nichols. EMTs are not visible in the video until more than 22 minutes after the end of the beating.

Additionally, there appears to be several more officers on the scene other than the five who were fired and charged in this case. Shortly after the beating ends, several other officers can be seen in the video. Those officers have not been identified. The local district attorney has said that more charges could be possible in the case.

-ABC News' Whitney Lloyd

Jan 27, 8:31 PM EST
Protests begin in Memphis, other cities

Protests following the release of the body camera footage began in Memphis with crowds gathering in the streets and calling Tyre Nichols' name.

The demonstrations were so far peaceful, but officers were on hand.

Similar protests also took place in Washington, D.C , Philadelphia, Boston and Times Square.

There were no immediate reports of arrests at any of the protests in the other cities.

Jan 27, 7:55 PM EST
DA explains why video release was delayed

Shelby County DA Steven Mulroy released a statement following the release of the body camera footage.

Mulroy said the video was delayed because "it it was important to make sure witnesses spoke first from their memory and nothing else."

"As D.A., I have always sought to balance out the rightful demands of the community with protecting the integrity of our investigation and prosecution," Mulroy said in a statement.

The DA reiterated calls for peaceful protest as the investigation continues.

"It’s my hope that this tragedy can lead to a broader conversation on police reform," he said.

-ABC News' Whitney Lloyd

Jan 27, 7:03 PM EST
Bodycam footage released

Memphis officials have now released the footage of Nichols' confrontation with police.

Nichols' family, who saw the footage earlier this week with their attorneys, supported its public release.

Jan 27, 6:47 PM EST
Biden speaks with Nichols' family ahead of bodycam video release

President Joe Biden spoke with Nichols' mother and stepfather in a phone call Friday ahead of the footage's public release.

"He was a hell of a kid, a handsome boy," Biden said.

Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, told Biden that Nichols had her name tattooed on his arm.

"I do know that," Biden said. "I love it."

Ben Crump, the family's attorney, said on the call that the video will "evoke strong emotion," and urged U.S. lawmakers to watch.

"This gives you another opportunity to call for them to come back and pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, so we can try to prevent the next Tyre Nichols from happening," Crump said.

"We're in full agreement," Biden said, noting that he passed an executive order on police reform, "but we got to get it for local police."

As he departed the White House for Camp David Friday evening, Biden recapped his call with Nichols' mother, which he said lasted about 10 to 15 minutes.

"I told her that I was going to be making the case to the Congress they should pass the George Floyd act. We should get this under control," he said. "I can only do so much in the executive order at the federal level."

The president also recounted that Wells called for peaceful protests.

"I'm obviously very concerned about it, but I think she has made a very strong plea," he said.

--with ABC News' Molly Nagle

Jan 27, 5:55 PM EST
Attorney representing ex-Memphis cop speaks out

The attorney representing former Memphis Police Officer Desmond Mills, one of the five charged in Tyre Nichols' death, spoke with ABC News Friday evening.

Blake Ballin said his client was "maintaining a lot of strength" in the last two weeks and asking how he can cooperate with the investigation.

Ballin said he couldn't comment on the details about the incident but contended that he didn't believe that Mills delivered the fatal blow.

The attorney added Mills was a responding officer and not the first to arrive on the scene.

"Everybody played their own role. I suspect you’ll see officers crossed the line but not Desmond," Ballin said.

The attorney said he didn't see the body camera footage of the incident, which is slated to be released to the public later tonight.

-ABC News' Stephanie Ramos

Jan 27, 3:56 PM EST
Biden spoke with Nichols' family, has not seen video

President Joe Biden has not seen the Tyre Nichols video that’s set to be released to the public Friday evening, but the president has spoken to Nichols’ family, according to the White House.

“He’s been briefed, but he has not seen the video, nor has anyone at the White House seen the video,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.

Biden spoke with Nichols’ mother and stepfather Friday afternoon to offer his condolences, a White House official said.

Jean Pierre reiterated that Biden has echoed Nichols' family's calls for calm and peaceful protests. But the White House is “in coordination with the relevant agencies to ensure they prepare if protests become violent,” she added.

-ABC News’ Molly Nagle

Jan 27, 3:23 PM EST
Memphis Fire Department reviewing the video

The Memphis Fire Department said it received the video of Tyre Nichols’ traffic stop on Friday and is currently reviewing the footage.

Two Memphis Fire Department employees who responded to the scene where Nichols was injured have been relieved of duty in the wake of Nichols' death.

The Memphis Fire Department said its investigation will conclude early next week.

Jan 27, 1:06 PM EST
Nichols family 'very satisfied' with charges

Tyre Nichols’ stepfather, Rodney Wells, said at a news conference Friday that he’s “very satisfied with the charges” against the five police officers, including second-degree murder.

Although Wells initially said he wanted to see the officers charged with first-degree murder, he said, “As the charges were told to us and they explained to us what the difference between murder one and murder two was, we're very satisfied with the charges.”

Wells pleaded with the public to protest peacefully.

“We want peace. We do not want any type of uproar,” he said.

Wells added, “The family is very satisfied with the process, with the police chief, the D.A. They acted very, very quickly in this case. We are very, very pleased with that. Other cases drag on, but this is a special case. We had a special son.”

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said she didn’t watch the body camera video of her son's confrontation with police and urged people to not let their children see it.

Law enforcement, Nichols’ family and the family attorneys have already seen the video that’s set to be released to the public Friday evening.

RowVaughn Wells said the five officers charged in connection to her son's death disgraced their families, but said she'll pray for them and their families.

She added, "No mother should go through what I'm going through right now. No mother. To lose their child to the violent way that I lost my child."

Jan 27, 12:55 PM EST
Family attorney: 'This kidnapping charge -- it is terrorism'

Tyre Nichols family attorney Antonio Romanucci stressed the fact that the charges against the Memphis police officers include kidnapping.

By Tennessee law, he said, “the definition that we are dealing with here on this kidnapping charge -- it is terrorism."

"When you think of 9/11, what's the word that comes to mind? Terrorism. When you think of other heinous acts that have happened in churches across this country, any act of terrorism, what does that instill in you? That, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition that we are dealing with here on this kidnapping charge," he said at Friday's press conference. "It is terrorism. It was designed to terrorize the victim."

Family attorney Ben Crump added, “One of the things that must be stated about the kidnapping charge … when you all see this video, you're going to see Tyre Nichols is calling out for his mom.”

“He calls out three times for his mother. His last words on this Earth is, ‘mom,’” Crump said. “When you think about that kidnapping charge, [Nichols] said, 'I just want to go home.' I mean, it's a traffic stop, for God's sake.”

Jan 27, 12:31 PM EST
Ben Crump: ‘This is the blueprint going forward’

Ben Crump, an attorney for Tyre Nichols’ family, is applauding the charges, including second-degree murder, that were “swiftly” brought against the five Memphis police officers involved in Nichols’ traffic stop.

“When we look at how these five Black officers, who were caught on camera committing a crime, and when we look at how fast the police chief and the police department terminated them," Crump said at a news conference Friday. "And we look at how swiftly the district attorney brought charges against them in less than 20 days, then we want to proclaim that this is the blueprint going forward for any time any officers, whether they be Black or white, will be held accountable.”

"We won't accept less going forward," Crump said.

"We have a precedent that has been set here in Memphis," he said.

Jan 27, 11:48 AM EST
FBI director watched video, says he was ‘appalled’

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Friday that he’s watched the video and "was appalled."

"I’m struggling to find a stronger word, but I can tell you I was appalled," Wray said.

He said alerts have been sent to FBI field offices across the U.S. instructing them to work closely with state and local partners "in the event of something getting out of hand" after the video is released to the public Friday evening.

Wray added, “There is a right way and a wrong way in this country to express being upset or angry about something, and we need to make sure that if there is that sentiment expressed here, it is done in the right way.”

Jan 27, 10:36 AM EST
Memphis police chief says video left her 'horrified,' 'disgusted'

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis said video of the traffic stop that allegedly led to Tyre Nichols' death left her "horrified," "disgusted," "sad" and "confused."

"In my 36 years ... I would have to say I don't think I've ever been more horrified and disgusted, sad ... and, to some degree, confused," Davis told ABC News' Good Morning America on Friday.

When pressed on why the video left her "confused," she replied that it was "just in the level of aggression and response to what had occurred in this traffic stop and is still very unclear, you know, as to the real reason for the stop in the first place."

Davis said "there was much discussion about when an appropriate time for the video to be released,” and “we felt that Friday would be better.”

“We're taking under consideration the reaction of the community that could potentially take place and ensuring that our schools, you know, are out, most business folks would be on the way home,” the chief explained.

"Even though this is a very, very difficult video to watch, it was never a thought that we would not release this video," Davis added. "We wanted to make sure that it wasn't released too prematurely because we wanted to ensure that the DA's office, the TBI [Tennessee Bureau of Investigation] and also the FBI had an opportunity to cross some of the hurdles that they had to in their investigation. And we're sort of at a point now that the DA has made his statements in reference to charges of these officers, that this is a safe time for us to release the video."

Jan 27, 10:28 AM EST
Memphis calls for 'safe' protest

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said she expects residents to protest upon the release of the body-camera footage, which she called "heinous, reckless and inhumane," though said "we need to ensure our community is safe in this process."

"None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens," Davis said in a statement Thursday, following the arrest of the five officers involved in Nichol's arrest.

Authorities have warned law enforcement agencies of the reaction that may transpire when the official video footage is released.

Tennessee Sheriff's Association President Jeff Bledsoe sent out a letter to Jonathan Thompson, the National Sheriffs' Association Executive Director/CEO, on Wednesday anticipating the public reaction to the video's release.

"Due to the nature of the video's contents it is believed it may spark responses outside of the traditional protests," the letter read. "There is a public safety risk potential to communities and peace officers expanding outside of the Shelby County (Memphis) TN area."

Other cities are also anticipating protests upon the release of the footage.

"We are closely monitoring the events in Memphis and are prepared to support peaceful protests in our city," the Atlanta Police Department said in a statement Thursday. "We understand and share in the outrage surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols. Police officers are expected to conduct themselves in a compassionate, competent, and constitutional manner and these officers failed Tyre, their communities and their profession. We ask that demonstrations be safe and peaceful."

In Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Police Department said it has "fully activated all sworn personnel in preparation for possible First Amendment activities."

In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams told a local radio station on Friday, "It is imperative that New Yorkers exercise their right to free speech in a very peaceful way -- and that is what we are expecting from the city."

Jan 27, 10:24 AM EST
Nichols' family reacts to bodycam footage

After viewing the body camera footage Monday morning along with their attorney, Nichols' family said they saw the police kick, pepper spray and use a stun gun on their son all while Nichols repeatedly asked, "What did I do?"

"They handcuffed him and set him -- propped him up on the car. And as he fell over they'd tell him, 'Sit back up,'" Rodney Wells, Nichols' stepfather, told ABC News earlier this week. "You know, and he would slump back over again and they would make him sit back up. They never rendered any aid."

Nichols' mother, Rowvaughn Wells, told ABC News that she could not watch the entire video.

"Once the video started and I heard my son's voice, I lost it. I couldn't stay in the room. All I heard him say was, 'What did I do?' And once I heard that, I lost it," she said.

An independent autopsy, completed by a forensic pathologist hired by the family's attorneys, found that Nichols suffered from "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating," according to the family.

Jan 27, 10:22 AM EST
Timing of body camera footage release

The city plans to publicly release the body camera footage of Nichols' arrest sometime after 7 p.m. ET on Friday, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said.

"As we have said all along, we wanted to ensure the proper legal steps were followed and that the family of Mr. Nichols had the opportunity to view the video footage privately before we released it to the public," Strickland said in a statement Thursday night.

"It is clear that these officers violated the department's policies and training. But we are doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again," he continued, noting the city is initiating an independent review of the specialized units' training, policies and operations.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What is the SCORPION unit, the Memphis police task force at the center of Tyre Nichols’ death?

Memphis Police Department

(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- The Memphis Police Department unit at the center of Tyre Nichols' death earlier this month has now come under scrutiny from critics over its approach to fighting crime.

The SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods, was announced in October 2021 and launched a month later. It encompasses 40 officers split into four teams who patrol "high crime hotspots" throughout the city, the police department announced in November 2021.

MPD Assistant Chief Sean Jones told reporters during the launch that SCORPION officers would focus on auto thefts, gang-related crimes and drug-related crimes.

"It's important to us that each member of the community feels they can go to the grocery store or live in their house without their house being shot or shooting frequently occurring on the streets and on the roadways," Jones told ABC affiliate WATN in November 2021.

The locations chosen by the police were determined based on the number of 911 calls, Jones said at the time.

Two months into SCORPION's deployment, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland touted the unit's effectiveness. In his state of the city speech, Strickland claimed the unit was responsible for 566 arrests, 390 of them felony arrests, seized $103,000 in cash, 270 vehicles and 253 weapons between October 2021 and Jan. 23, 2022.

Criminal justice reform activists and some residents, however, have accused officers in the unit of using excessive force.

Ben Crump, an attorney representing Nichols' family, told reporters Friday that he had heard of several alleged instances of residents being pushed to the ground, cursed at and suffering other physical injuries at the hands of officers in the unit. One of the alleged victims was 66, according to Crump.

"He said he was confronted by this unit and he was brutalized, and he had pictures of his injuries," Crump said. "And so, it was foreseeable that something tragic like this was going to happen."

The Memphis PD did not immediately comment on Crump's allegations. The Memphis Police Association, the union representing the city's police officers, hasn't commented on the case as of Jan. 27.

Patrick Yoes, the president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, one of the largest police unions in the country, issued a statement Friday evening calling Nichols' death a "criminal assault" and saying the actions of the officers accused in his death "does not constitute legitimate police work or a traffic stop gone wrong."

“The men arrested and charged for this crime have rights, the presumption of innocence, and the due process protections of anyone accused of a crime, but the bottom line here is that Tyre Nichols, his family, and our entire country need to see justice done—swiftly and surely," Yoes said in a statement.

Tony Romanucci, another attorney representing the family, called on MPD Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis to disband the SCORPION unit immediately, alleging that the unit has created "a continual pattern and practice of bad behavior.

"The intent of the SCORPION unit has been corrupted," Romanucci said at the news conference. "It cannot be brought back to center with any sense of morality and dignity, and most importantly, trust in this community. How will the community ever, ever trust a SCORPION unit?"

Strickland said in a video statement Thursday that the department would launch an "outside, independent review of the training, policies and operations" of its specialized units.

Davis said in an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Friday that she was "horrified" by the video of the traffic stop that led to Nichols' death.

"As we continue to try to build trust with our community, this is a very, very heavy cross to bear -- not just for our department but for departments across the country," she added. "Building trust is a day-by-day interaction between every traffic stop, every encounter with the community. We all have to be responsible for that and it's going to be difficult in the days to come."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


DOJ charges 3 in 'murder for hire' plot against Iranian journalist

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Six months after a man with a loaded AK-47-style rifle was caught outside the Brooklyn, New York, home of a prominent Iranian dissident journalist, federal prosecutors on Friday announced new arrests in what they've called a murder-for-hire plot by Iran.

On Friday, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against two men, Rafat Amirov and Polad Omarov, for targeting journalist Masih Alinejad because her reporting publicized Iran's human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its suppression of democratic participation.

Amirov lives in Iran and Omarov lives in Eastern Europe. Along with Khalid Mehdiyev, who was previously arrested in Brooklyn, they were part of an Eastern European criminal organization with ties to Iran, according to the charging documents.

Amirov, the leader, worked with Omarov to arrange for the payment of $30,000 to Mehdiyev, "who then procured an AK-47-style assault rifle for carrying out the murder," according to the criminal complaint.

"At Amirov's and Omarov's instructions, Mehdiyev surveilled the Victim and members of the Victim's family; took photographs and videos of the Victim's residence in Brooklyn and the surrounding neighborhood; and devised schemes to lure the Victim out of the Victim's house," a charging document says.

The Justice Department alleges that the government of Iran has previously targeted dissidents, and Alinejad in particular. In 2018, Iranian government officials attempted to "induce relatives of the Victim who reside in Iran to invite the Victim to travel to a third country for the apparent purpose of having the Victim arrested or detained and transported to Iran for imprisonment," prosecutors allege.

Omarov tasked Mehdiyev on July 13, 2022, with carrying out the murder for hire plot, the DOJ claims. The men allegedly arranged to have a cash payment of $30,000 delivered to Mehdiyev, who then acquired an AK-47-type weapon to carry out the attack, according to court documents.

"War machine," Mehdiyev allegedly told the co-conspirators in a message, in apparent reference to the weapon.

For eight days, the three men surveilled the home of Alinejad, 45, and schemed to get her out of her house, according to documents. One plan involved sending her flowers so she would have to step outside, the documents said.

"It will be a show once she steps out of the house," Mehdiyev allegedly told Omarov in a message.

A day later, on July 28, Mehdiyev was stopped by the NYPD after leaving the area, and was arrested.

"Today's indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security -- a double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation: Iran," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said Friday.

The Iranians were so intent on silencing Alinejad, its intelligence personnel developed a series of possible escape routes, including travel from Brooklyn, a speedboat from Manhattan, and another boat to Venezuela, according to the complaint.

Amirov and Omarov are charged with money laundering and murder for hire. Amirov appeared briefly Friday in court to plead not guilty to the murder-for-hire charges. He did not contest being held without bail.

Prosecutors did not explain how U.S. officials managed to arrest Amirov, who had been living in Iran.

Omirov was arrested in the Czech Republic and U.S. authorities are seeking his extradition.

Mehdiyev, who was previously in custody, is expected in court next week.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


2 escaped inmates, including convicted murderer, found after multistate manhunt

Washington County Virginia Sheriff's Office

(ABINGDON, Va.) -- Two inmates, including a convicted murderer, who escaped from a Virginia jail have been apprehended in Tennessee, authorities said, more than 24 hours after announcing a fugitive manhunt.

The inmates -- identified by the Washington County Virginia Sheriff's Office as Johnny Shane Brown, 51, of Rogersville, Tennessee, and Albert Lee Ricketson, 31, of Abingdon, Virginia -- allegedly escaped the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority in Abingdon from a recreational yard around 2:45 p.m. Thursday. A Washington County emergency alert issued about an hour later warned residents to stay indoors and lock their doors.

A 2008 gold Cadillac SUV allegedly stolen by Brown and Ricketson in Abingdon following their escape was located in Bulls Gap, Tennessee, along Route 66 on Friday morning, the Washington County Virginia Sheriff's Office said.

The two men were found "hiding in the upstairs of a barn" in Rogersville, Tennessee, about four miles from where the stolen vehicle was found, and were arrested without incident, the sheriff's office said.

Brown, will be held in Washington County Tennessee Jail without bond, while Ricketson will be held in Hawkins County Tennessee Jail without bond, authorities said.

A $5,000 reward for each man was being offered by the U.S. Marshals Service for information leading to their apprehension.

Ricketson was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, while Brown is a federal inmate, authorities said.

Ricketson was arrested in August 2020 in the fatal shooting of a man and woman in Washington County. A jury convicted him of two counts of first-degree murder in November 2022, court records show.

Brown was in federal custody after allegedly escaping from another jail nearly a year ago. He and two other inmates broke out of the Sullivan County Jail in Tennessee through an air vent in early February 2022, the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office said at the time.

The other two inmates were found dead following a police pursuit in North Carolina, while Brown was apprehended in the state six days after they escaped, authorities said.

Brown was in the Sullivan County Jail at the time of the escape after being convicted of distributing methamphetamine, according to an indictment. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the felony offense, court records show.

A plea agreement on the escape charge was due by April 20 and a jury trial was scheduled to start on May 11, federal court records show.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jan. 6 rioter who maced Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick sentenced to nearly 7 years

Jason Marz/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Jan. 6 rioter who attacked fallen Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with pepper spray was sentenced Friday to 6 years and 8 months in prison.

Julian Khater, 33, of Somerset, New Jersey, pleaded guilty last year to assaulting officers with a dangerous weapon.

According to court records, Khater maced at least two officers that day at close range as a mob of rioters pulled down metal police barricades on the west front of the U.S. Capitol complex.

The Washington, D.C., medical examiner found that Sicknick died the next day of natural causes, but the events of the day may have contributed to his condition. As a result, Judge Thomas Hogan noted he could not sentence Khater for causing Sicknick's death.

Hogan said Khater will get credit for the year and 10-plus months he has spent incarcerated so far, in part due to prison conditions that the judge described as a "disgrace."

Before receiving his sentence, Khater addressed the court, saying he has spent significant time soul-searching, reading and praying.

"This has been a long, agonizing, but humbling experience that has taken a huge toll on me," Khater told the judge.

The judge called Khater's lack of direct apology to the officers a "self-centered" approach. Though Khater said his attorney had advised him against a direct apology, noting that a civil case had been filed against him.

Dozens of Capitol Police officers attended Friday's sentencing in support of their fallen colleague. Sicknick's family, along with Officer Caroline Edwards, who was near Sicknick and also maced by Khater, provided emotional statements to the court about their loss.

"I thought I would be happy when this day came - when justice would be served," said Edwards, struggling to hold back tears while explaining the emotional trauma she experienced with the loss of her friend and colleague.

Edwards described feeling as though she had failed as an officer due to her incapacitation and inability to help.

Sicknick's mother addressed Khater directly, calling him an "animal" and explaining the enduring stress the entire family has been under.

"You are center stage in our recurring nightmare," Gladys Sicknick said.

Khater's defense attorney, Chad Seigel, called his client's actions "a moment of clouded judgment."

"His emotionally charged conduct was an aberration," Seigel said.

Prosecutors requested 90 months for what they described as Khater's "cowardly and pre-meditated assault" on law enforcement officers. Hogan decided on 80 months minus the 22 months he has already served.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Who was Tyre Nichols, the man allegedly murdered by 5 Memphis police officers?

Deandre Nichols/Facebook

(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- Tyre Nichols, the man who died this month after an alleged beating by five police officers, was "damn near perfect," his mother RowVaughn Wells said at a press conference on Monday.

The 29-year-old Nichols had been living in Memphis, Tennessee, with his parents since the pandemic, according to his mother. Although he lived in Memphis at the time of his death, Nichols had previously lived in California.

He had just started a job at FedEx working alongside his stepfather, Rodney Wells.

"He was very, very beloved at my job. Everybody's calling me with blessings, prayers [and] showing sympathy for what happened," Rodney Wells said.

"He only worked at FedEx for maybe nine months, but you should see the out pour of love and support," RowVaughn Wells said.

The Wells' said that Nichols was passionate about skateboarding and photography, hobbies he engaged in during his downtime on weekends.

"Photography helps me look at the world in a more creative way," Nichols stated on his photography page. "It expresses me in ways I cannot write down for people."

His mother recalled the morning three days before her son's death. She said she had been preparing chicken for dinner that afternoon and planned to cook it his favorite way. At a press conference Friday, she said that Nichols was coming from Shelby Farms, a local park where he liked to go and take pictures of the sunset, on the day of his ultimately fatal encounter.

Officers pulled over Nichols that Friday due to "reckless driving," according to Memphis police reports, and attempted to flee from the officers before being eventually arrested. He was hospitalized in critical condition after complaining of shortness of breath during the arrest. Three days later -- Jan. 10 -- Nichols died.

According to a preliminary independent autopsy commissioned by the family, Nichols suffered "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating." The 6 foot, 3 inch, man also had Crohn's disease and weighed just 145 pounds, his family and attorneys said.

"It's just so hard for me to even fathom all of this because it's not real to me right now. … I don't know anything right now," RowVaughn Wells said. "All I know is my son Tyre is not here with me anymore," she added.

"I know everybody says they have a good son or that everybody's son is good, but my son? He actually was a good boy," she said.

Amid the investigation, RowVaughn Wells said she just wants people to remember her son as a "beautiful soul."

"We will get justice for Tyre, if that's the last breath I take," she said.

Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith, the five Memphis police officers who were fired in connection with Nichols' death, have each been charged with second-degree murder.

Nichols leaves behind a 4-year-old son.

Body camera footage of his alleged beating by the former officers, is set to be released Friday, and has been described as "appalling," "deplorable," "heinous," "violent" and "troublesome on every level" by the attorney for the Nichols family.

ABC News' Emily Shapiro and Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Everytown launches campaign demanding colleges, universities divest from gun industry

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(NEW YORK) -- Students Demand Action, a grassroots network of Everytown for Gun Safety, is launching a campaign calling on colleges and universities across the country to divest from the gun industry.

Students at nearly 30 colleges and universities around the country have joined the campaign, called #KillerBusiness, and are asking their colleges and universities to cut economic ties with the gun industry until these companies take accountability for their actions. Students will be organizing on their campuses to put pressure on their institutions to reveal their investments and stop funding the gun industry, according to Everytown.

Everytown plans to increase the number of campuses involved in the campaign throughout the year.

Colleges are notoriously secretive about their investments, though some schools have debated divesting from gun manufacturers in the past.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, Boston University discussed divesting from the gun industry but ultimately trustees rejected a recommendation from an advisory committee. The debate was revived again last year, with BU saying it had no current investment in gun manufacturers and would review whether to exclude future investments, according to the student paper.

Many colleges and universities use large investment firms to manage their endowments, further clouding whether schools are invested in gun manufacturers.

Everytown's announcement comes days after two mass shootings in California -- in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay -- left 18 people dead and several others wounded.

There have been 41 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot not including the gunman. Less than a month into the year, 3,130 people have died due to gun violence, including 1,782 people who died by suicide, according to the nonprofit.

Advocates have pushed for the University of California system, one of the largest in the country, to divest from guns for years. The Student Association pushed the Board of Regents to do so in a resolution in 2015, but that fight was still ongoing at least as of last year.

Some of the schools where students have signed on to the campaign include the University of Chicago, Yale University, Miami University and University of California, Davis.

Everytown accused the gun industry of refusing to make its products safer and halt dangerous marketing practices that often focus on youth.

Students Demand Action recently put out a list of steps it is asking the gun industry to take to reduce harm. It has asked the industry to stop marketing weapons of war to civilians and using military imagery to sell guns; stop making do-it-yourself kits that allow anyone to build untraceable ghost guns; stop producing weapons that are easily modified to make them shoot more rounds, more quickly; and stop working with dealers who sell guns without a background check, including at gun shows and online.

The gun industry brings in an estimated $9 billion a year, according to Everytown.

"We refuse to see our schools' money invested in an industry that won't even take simple steps to keep us safe," Ade Osadolor-Hernandez, a volunteer with Students Demand Action and a student at the University of Chicago, said in a press release.

"The gun industry must be held accountable for its deadly practices, and we will work tirelessly to make sure that colleges and universities across the country divest from this killer business," Osadolor-Hernandez added.

ABC News has reached out to the University of Chicago for comment.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Investigators search for clues in case of murdered parents of 'Baby Holly'

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(HOUSTON) -- A final canvass was performed on the plot of land on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, where the remains of a murdered couple were found in January of 1981 which led to the disappearance of their daughter for more than 40 years.

Two search dogs correctly and independently indicated the area where the bodies of Tina Linn and Harold "Dean" Clouse were found 42 years earlier on Thursday, and investigators bagged a few items and a soil sample.

The main motivation for the search of the land was to give the green light for its future occupant, a convenience and fuel development, to break ground. But it was also to check, one last time, for any clues to the unsolved mystery of the murders of the couple who police believe were likely killed between December 1980 and January 1981.

The case returned to the headlines in 2022 when the couple's small child, Holly, who had been understood to be missing since the couple was publicly identified in 2021, was found alive in Oklahoma. While many questions regarding the nature of Holly's disappearance remain, it is known that she was adopted at an early age and is now a mother herself.

A foggy morning ushered in a remarkably clear day in Houston ideal for the four search dogs and their handlers, as well as a band of 12 Texas attorney general investigators to comb through the densely wooded swath of land and the Harris County Sheriff's Office provided scene security.

The plan for the search involved an initial single-blind K-9 search, where both the dogs and their handlers were unaware of the exact location where the bodies were discovered within the 15-acre plot. This measure prevented either party from entering the scene partial to one area, which protected the integrity of the investigation.

According to Krystal Thompson, a Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden, the canines were trained to indicate scents of decomposition as old as from the Civil War era. Sgt. Rachel Kading, the lead investigator, demonstrated that this could equate to anything from an article of clothing with blood on it, to a human remain like a bone.

After the dogs finished, investigators focused their search on the zone where the bodies were found, using metal detectors, rakes, and other manual search equipment.

"Our goal for today is to make sure we've done all that we can to recover any evidence in this case," Sgt. Kading said to ABC News.

Sgt. Kading stressed the dual-agency effort between her own organization, the Texas Attorney General's Office, and local law enforcement.

"It's a cooperative investigation; we're working together for a common goal," she said.

The investigator admitted it was "a long shot" that they would find anything, due to the sheer time elapsed, damp weather conditions of Houston, and local wildlife.

Mindy Montford, senior counsel for the attorney general's specialized unit, echoed her colleague.

"It's a cold case, so yes, this is a long shot. It happened in the '80s and now it's 2023. But in cold cases often you only have long shots. We owe it to families to check every box and so we're checking this box," she said.

While the canvass did not turn up overt evidence law enforcement searched for, Montford told ABC News they will consult with a lab regarding the samples they retrieved and if needed, return to the land before it's developed. In the meantime, they also asked for the public's help.

"If anyone remembers anything or has heard anything, no matter how small, report it. You can remain anonymous, just please let us know," Montford said.

Harris County Sheriff's Office did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The Texas Attorney general's office is asking anyone with information pertaining to this case to please contact its Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit at coldcaseunit@oag.texas.gov or at 512-936-0742.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Memphis police chief 'horrified' at Tyre Nichols video, set to be released Friday

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn appears on "Good Morning America," on Jan. 27, 2023. - ABC News

(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) -- Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis said video of the Jan. 7 traffic stop that allegedly led to Tyre Nichols' death left her "horrified," "disgusted," "sad" and "confused."

"In my 36 years, [...] I would have to say I don't think I've ever been more horrified and disgusted, sad [...] and, to some degree, confused," Davis told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos during an interview Friday on Good Morning America.

"As we continue to try to build trust with our community, this is a very, very heavy cross to bear -- not just for our department but for departments across the country," she added. "Building trust is a day-by-day interaction between every traffic stop, every encounter with the community. We all have to be responsible for that and it's going to be difficult in the days to come."

Nichols, 29, died in a hospital three days after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop in Memphis on Jan. 7. Video of the incident, comprised of footage from the city's surveillance cameras and the former officers' body-worn cameras, has yet to be made public but is expected to be released on Friday evening.

"There was much discussion about when an appropriate time for the video to be released," Davis told ABC News. "We felt that Friday would be better. We're taking under consideration the reaction of the community that could potentially take place and ensuring that our schools, you know, are out, most business folks would be on the way home."

Authorities have warned law enforcement agencies of the reaction that may transpire when the footage is released, and Memphis is not the only city on alert. In Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Police Department said Thursday that it has "fully activated all sworn personnel in preparation for possible First Amendment activities." The United States Capitol Police, charged with protecting Congress, is also taking steps to boost security ahead of the video release, a source briefed on the agency's plans told ABC News on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Police Department said Friday that it is "closely monitoring the situation in Memphis" and is "working with our stakeholders to ensure that we have ample staffing on hand in order to provide for the safety and First Amendment rights of demonstrators, residents, and visitors."

Last week, the Memphis Police Department fired five officers -- Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith -- in connection with Nichols' death. All five men were arrested on Thursday and each charged with several felonies, including second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, official misconduct and official oppression, according to online jail records for Tennessee's Shelby County and a press release from the Shelby County District Attorney's Office.

"Even though this is a very, very difficult video to watch, it was never a thought that we would not release this video," Davis noted. "We wanted to make sure that it wasn't released too prematurely because we wanted to ensure that the DA's office, the TBI and also the FBI had an opportunity to cross some of the hurdles that they had to in their investigation. And we're sort of at a point now that the DA has made his statements in reference to charges of these officers, that this is a safe time for us to release the video."

When pressed on why the video left her "confused," the police chief told ABC News that it was "just in the level of aggression and response to what had occurred in this traffic stop and is still very unclear, you know, as to the real reason for the stop in the first place."

Nichols was arrested in Memphis on the evening of Jan. 7, after officers attempted to make a traffic stop for reckless driving near the area of Raines Road and Ross Road, according to separate press releases from the Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. A confrontation unfolded as the officers approached Nichols, who ran away. Another confrontation occurred when the officers pursued Nichols and ultimately apprehended him, police said.

After the incident, Nichols "complained of having a shortness of breath" and was transported by ambulance to Memphis' St. Francis Hospital in critical condition, according to police.

Due to Nichols' condition, the Shelby County District Attorney's Office was contacted and TBI special agents were subsequently requested to conduct a use-of-force investigation, according to the TBI.

Nichols "succumbed to his injuries" on Jan. 10, the TBI said.

Local, state and federal authorities continue to investigate the Jan. 7 traffic stop and Nichols' death.

According to a preliminary independent autopsy commissioned by Nichols' family and released by their lawyers, he suffered from "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating."

Neither the independent autopsy report nor official autopsy report have been publicly released.

When asked what went wrong that fateful day, the police chief told ABC News that she thinks "there were several gaps that took place."

"I'm just going to be honest, anytime we have officers that are working in various types of units -- and our police department along with departments around the country have specialized units -- it's just important to make sure that there are supervisors that are where they're supposed to be during these types of operations," Davis added. " You know, individuals that are the right people that are in place that will act appropriately when these types of incidents occur."

"I believe there was a sense of group think in the mentality of what was happening," she said, "and it's just very unfortunate that nobody stepped forward to say 'enough.'"

Davis also noted that "the stop itself was very questionable" and investigators "have been unable to verify the reckless driving allegation."

Bean, Haley, Martin, Mills and Smith were part of the SCORPION Unit, an acronym for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods launched in 2021 by the Memphis Police Department. The goal of the unit was created to address violent crimes in the city in a 50-person unit that operates seven days a week. According to the Memphis Police Department, the five former officers violated policies for use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid. Other officers are under investigation for department violations as well.

The police chief told ABC News that she is not aware of any prior criminal records for Bean, Haley, Martin, Mills or Smith.

All five were booked into Shelby County Jail on Thursday. Bonds were set at $350,000 for Martin and Haley, and $250,000 for Bean, Mills and Smith, according to a press release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. As of early Friday morning, online jail records show Bean, Martin, Mills and Smith have since been released after posting bond. Records show Haley is the only one still in custody, though it appears he has posted bond.

Mills' lawyer, Blake Ballin, and the attorney for Martin, William Massey, told reporters on Thursday that they have not yet seen video of the Jan. 7 incident, but they said their clients were "devastated" about the charges and will be pleading not guilty. Although there have been no public announcement of other defense attorneys representing the officers, Ballin and Massey told reporters that all former officers are currently represented.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, joined by TBI Director David Rausch and other members of the state agency, held a press conference on Thursday afternoon to officially announce the charges against the five former officers.

"Nothing we do today or did today precludes the addition of any further charges regarding any of the people [involved]," Mulroy told reporters.

Earlier this week, Nichols' stepfather, Rodney Wells, told ABC News that the family is seeking a first-degree murder charge. But Mulroy said Thursday that he had met with the family about the charges brought and "expedited" the investigation.

The TBI director described the Jan. 7 incident as "absolutely appalling."

"Let me be clear, what happened here does not at all reflect proper policing," Rausch told reporters. "This was wrong. This was criminal."

Nichols' family and their lawyers have already seen video of the incident. One of the family's attorneys, Ben Crump, told ABC News that the footage was "tragic" and "so difficult to watch," describing Nichols as a "gentle soul."

"Even while he's being brutalized, you still see the humanity in Tyre that he was a good kid," Crump said during an interview Thursday night on ABC News Live Prime. "It's just troubling on so many levels that they continue to escalate. They never de-escalate. And it's just heart wrenching at the end where, you know, he calls for his mother three times. I mean, heart wrenching cries for his mother. And then he never says another word again."

Crump said Nichols' family is "relieved" that the officers were terminated "in a swift manner" and also "thankful that the charges were brought today."

"What I found is -- in my almost 25 years of doing this civil rights work in America -- it is not the race of the police officer that is the determining factor of whether they are going to engage in excessive use of force," he added. "But it is the race of the citizen and, oftentimes, it's Black and brown citizens who bear the brunt of this police brutality. We don't see our white brothers and sisters who are unarmed encounter this type of excessive force at the hands of police."

ABC News' Nakylah Carter, Armando Garcia, Ahmad Hemingway, Josh Margolin, Mark Osborne, Stephanie Wash and Whitney Lloyd contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Former Memphis police officers charged with murder in connection with Tyre Nichols' death

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(MEMPHIS) -- The five Memphis police officers who were fired in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols after a Jan. 7 traffic stop have each been charged with murder and were taken into custody on Thursday, according to online jail records.

The Memphis Police Department identified the officers last week as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith. All five were booked into Shelby County Jail on Thursday.

Online jail records for the officers show they've each been booked on several felonies, including second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, official misconduct and official oppression.

According to a press release from the Shelby County District Attorney's Office, second-degree murder is either "an unplanned, intentional killing (reacting to the heat of the moment when angry) or a death caused by a reckless disregard for human life" in Tennessee. This differs from a first-degree murder charge in the state, that being defined a premeditated, intentional killing or a felony murder.

Bonds were set at $350,000 for Martin and Haley, and $250,000 for Bean, Mills and Smith, according to a press release from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

As of early Friday morning, online jail records show Bean, Martin, Mills and Smith have since been released after posting bond. Records show Haley is the only one still in custody, though it appears he has posted bond.

Mills' lawyer, Blake Ballin, and the attorney for Martin, William Massey, disclosed that they have not yet seen video of the Jan. 7 incident, but they assured the press that their clients will be pleading not guilty to the charges. They said their clients were "devastated" about the charges.

"We all want this process to play out in a fair way," Ballin told reporters on Thursday.

Although there have been no public announcement of other defense attorneys representing the officers, Ballin and Massey told reporters that all former officers are currently represented.

Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy, joined by TBI Director David Rausch and other members of the state agency, made the official announcement Thursday afternoon, charging the officers on multiple counts.

"Nothing we do today or did today precludes the addition of any further charges regarding any of the people [involved]," Mulroy said.

The investigation into Nichols' death is still ongoing at this time.

"In a word, it's absolutely appalling," Rausch added. "Let me be clear, what happened here does not at all reflect proper policing. This was wrong. This was criminal."

The lawyers representing Nichols' family, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, said in a joint statement on Thursday that the news of the charges "gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre."

"This young man lost his life in a particularly disgusting manner that points to the desperate need for change and reform to ensure this violence stops occurring during low-threat procedures, like in this case, a traffic stop," they added.

Video of the Jan. 7 incident is comprised of footage from the city's surveillance cameras and the former officers' body-worn cameras. It has yet to be made public, but is expected to be released on Friday evening.

Nichols' family and their attorneys have already seen the video. Crump told ABC News the footage was "tragic" and "so difficult to watch," and he described Nichols as a "gentle soul."

"Even while he's being brutalized, you still see the humanity in Tyre that he was a good kid," Crump said during an interview Thursday night on ABC News Live Prime. "It's just troubling on so many levels that they continue to escalate. They never de-escalate. And it's just heart wrenching at the end where, you know, he calls for his mother three times. I mean, heart wrenching cries for his mother. And then he never says another word again."

Crump said Nichols' family is "relieved" that the officers were terminated "in a swift manner" and also "thankful that the charges were brought today."

"What I found is -- in my almost 25 years of doing this civil rights work in America -- it is not the race of the police officer that is the determining factor of whether they are going to engage in excessive use of force," he added. "But it is the race of the citizen and, oftentimes, it's Black and brown citizens who bear the brunt of this police brutality. We don't see our white brothers and sisters who are unarmed encounter this type of excessive force at the hands of police.

Earlier this week, Nichols' stepfather, Rodney Wells, told ABC News that the family is seeking a first-degree murder charge. But Mulroy said Thursday that he had met with the family about the charges brought and "expedited" the investigation.

All five officers charged were part of the SCORPION Unit, an acronym for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods launched in 2021 by the Memphis Police Department. The goal of the unit was created to address violent crimes in the city in a 50-person unit that operates seven days a week.

According to the department, the officers violated policies for use of force, duty to intervene and duty to render aid.

The Memphis Police Department announced this week that other officers are under investigation for department violations as well.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis released a video statement on Thursday, saying the five officers were "directly responsible for the physical abuse" of Nichols and that the video footage of the incident was "heinous, reckless and inhumane."

"I expect our citizens to exercise their First Amendment right to protest, to demand action and results, but we need to ensure our community is safe in this process," Davis added. "None of this is a calling card for inciting violence or destruction on our community or against our citizens."

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee also released a statement on Thursday, saying "cruel, criminal abuse of power will not be tolerated" in his state.

"These individuals do not represent the honorable men & women of law enforcement, & they must be brought to justice for this tragic loss," Lee added. "The City of Memphis & the Memphis Police Department need to take a hard look at the misconduct and failure that has occurred within this unit. I discussed this with Mayor Strickland & am pleased the city is pursuing an external, impartial investigation."

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden said in statement Thursday that Nichols' death is "a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all."

Authorities have warned law enforcement agencies of the reaction that may transpire when the official video footage is released.

Tennessee Sheriff's Association President Jeff Bledsoe sent out a letter to National Sheriffs' Association Executive Director and CEO Jonathan Thompson on Wednesday in anticipation of the public reaction to the video's release.

"Due to the nature of the video's contents it is believed it may spark responses outside of the traditional protests," the letter read. "There is a public safety risk potential to communities and peace officers expanding outside of the Shelby County (Memphis) TN area."

As the city braces for the release of the video, Memphis-Shelby County Schools announced that it has cancelled all after-school activities and athletic events for Friday "in the interest of public safety." The public school district, which is Tennessee's largest, also postponed a previously scheduled showcase for Saturday until Feb. 4.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Tyre Nichols and those across the Mid-South affected by this tragedy," Memphis-Shelby County Schools said in a message to parents on Thursday. "We will monitor events and announce a decision about Saturday's additional activities and games by 10 p.m. Friday evening."

After being pulled over for "reckless driving" on Jan. 7, Nichols was involved in an altercation with Memphis officers that led to him being hospitalized in critical condition after complaining of shortness of breath during the arrest. Three days later, Nichols died.

According to a preliminary independent autopsy commissioned by Nichols' family and released by their lawyers, Nichols suffered from "extensive bleeding caused by a severe beating."

Neither the independent autopsy report nor official autopsy report have been publicly released.

The incident also continues to be investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

ABC News' Armando Garcia, Ahmad Hemingway, Josh Margolin, Stephanie Wash and Whitney Lloyd contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Kemp declares state of emergency after protests, mobilizes National Guard

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(ATLANTA) -- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Thursday in response to ongoing protests in downtown Atlanta.

Kemp ordered the state's defense department to mobilize up to 1,000 state National Guard troops to be called up to active duty "as necessary."

Authorities arrested six people Saturday when demonstrations over a proposed training ground for the Atlanta Police Department, which started peacefully, involved shooting fireworks, smashing windows, and igniting a police cruiser once protestors reached downtown.

Police suppressed the protests quickly, authorities said last weekend.

The group behind the protests, called 'Stop Cop City,' has demonstrated against the training facility for months and was particularly moved last week by the death of a protestor when police raided a campground occupied by demonstrators.

Police say the protestor, Manuel Esteban Paez Teran, fired first, injuring an officer, but activists have questioned authorities' description of the encounter.

The proposed training center, which was approved by the Atlanta City Council in 2021, will "reimagine law enforcement training," according to the website of the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is spearheading the project.

In a September FAQ posted on its website, the Foundation acknowledged that the 85 acres on which the facility is being built, which is part of a wooded area in DeKalb County, had been designated by the city council in 2017 as a future green space. However, the group claims that the plan "was not well-known" and said it was not binding.

Kemp's state of emergency declaration came as Atlanta braces for possible protests on Friday when Memphis authorities intend to release body camera footage of the alleged beating of Tyre Nichols by five Memphis police officers who have since been fired and charged with murder in his death.

"We are closely monitoring the events in Memphis and are prepared to support peaceful protests in our city," the Atlanta Police Department said in a statement Thursday. "We understand and share in the outrage surrounding the death of Tyre Nichols. Police officers are expected to conduct themselves in a compassionate, competent, and constitutional manner and these officers failed Tyre, their communities and their profession. We ask that demonstrations be safe and peaceful."

Kemp did not indicate whether his declaration was also in preparation for any Nichols-related protests.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Remains found positively identified as missing 4-year-old girl in Oklahoma

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(CYRIL, Okla.) -- Remains found last week amid the search for a missing 4-year-old girl in Oklahoma have been confirmed to be those of the child, authorities said.

Athena Brownfield was reported missing earlier this month after a postal carrier found her sister wandering alone outside, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Remains found in rural Grady County, outside of Rush Springs, on Jan. 17 have been positively identified as those of Athena, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said on Thursday.

The agency said it had no further comment due to a gag order filed in Caddo County District Court.

Local authorities began searching for Athena on Jan. 10, when the postal worker discovered her 5-year-old sister wandering alone and notified police, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The search became a "recovery operation," the agency said on Jan. 16, several days after one of her caregivers was arrested on a murder charge in connection with the child's disappearance.

Alysia Adams, 31, was arrested on Jan. 12 in Grady County, Oklahoma, on two counts of child neglect, the agency said. Her husband, Ivon Adams, 36, was taken into custody in Phoenix that day on one count of murder in the first degree and one count of child neglect, it said.

The two sisters had reportedly been in the couple's care for at least a year, before the 5-year-old was found alone outside their home in Cyril, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. Alysia Adams is related to the sisters, the agency said. Authorities did not comment on how the Adams' became the primary caregivers of the children.

The girls' biological parents have been interviewed by agents and are "cooperating with the investigation," the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said.

During a court appearance in Maricopa County a day after his arrest, Ivon Adams waived his right to an extradition hearing.

"I need to get there and fight this," he told the court.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol issued a missing and endangered person alert for Athena on Jan. 11 to people in a 15-mile radius of Cyril, located about 70 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said on Jan. 16 that the search was now considered a "recovery operation" and that its agents and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol were searching areas of Caddo County for the child's remains.

Amid the search, Brook Arbeitman, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, said that authorities were finding items in town that "could be relevant" and helpful to the case, though did not elaborate.

"We are finding things that we hope might give us clues," she said.

Athena's sister was placed in protective custody with the state after she was found, Arbeitman said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


California massacres suggest phenomenon of 'mass shooting contagion': Experts

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(LOS ANGELES) -- Following four California mass shootings in the span of eight days that left 25 people dead and 17 injured, some gun violence researchers said they're concerned that a phenomenon known as "mass shooting contagion" is occurring across the state.

The cluster of deadly incidents is not surprising, gun violence researchers told ABC News, saying studies have shown the probability is high that a mass shooting garnering national attention will be rapidly followed by another.

"'Contagion' is a statistical process. It's when the likelihood of a similar crime of another mass shooting increases in the aftermath of another mass shooting. That's what 'contagion' is," James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, who led a study on the subject published in 2020, told ABC News.

Fox said a 2015 study conducted by researchers at Arizona State University concluded that every mass shooting tends to increase the likelihood of another mass shooting for about 13 days.

String of California massacres

California's recent string of mass shootings began on Jan. 16, when six people, including a teenage mother and her baby, were found fatally shot at a home in Goshen, a semi-rural area in the state's San Joaquin Valley. The Tulare County Sheriff's Department, which has yet to announce any arrests, said the shooting appeared to be a targeted attack by two gunmen possibly connected to a drug cartel.

Just five days after the Goshen killings, a 72-year-old man allegedly opened fire in a dance studio in the Los Angeles County city of Monterey Park, killing 11 people, all of Asian descent, and injuring nine others, according to law enforcement officials. The gunman, identified as Huu Can Tran, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after police cornered him following an intense manhunt, officials said. A motive in the shooting remains under investigation.

A day later, a 66-year-old farmworker allegedly shot and killed seven co-workers, five of Asian descent and two of Hispanic descent, and injured one in what authorities said was a workplace shooting at two mushroom growing farms in Half Moon Bay. The suspect, Chunli Zhao, was charged with seven counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, firearm use enhancements and a count of special circumstance allegation of multiple murder.

Just hours after the Half Moon Bay shooting, seven people were shot, one fatally, in Oakland, California, in what police described as a "targeted" and possibly gang-related attack during the filming of a music video at a gas station.

"There are mass shootings waiting to happen, so one of them can influence the other," Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told ABC News.

Post, who keeps a database of mass shootings dating back to 1966, added, "If a would-be shooter sees all the attention of another mass shooter, it may incentivize him to carry out his plan. But one mass shooting does not inspire a normal person to commit a massacre."

Difference between contagion, copycat killings

Fox said mass shooting contagion is very different from what law enforcement officials call "copycat shootings," when an individual attempts to mimic or copy the actions of mass shooter they may admire.

Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured 14 in a May 2014 rampage in Isla Vista, California, near Santa Barbara, became a hero to the so-called "incel," or voluntarily celibate community after distributing a document in which he said he planned his murderous rampage as a "Day of Retribution" to exact revenge on a society that had denied him sex and love.

"There were a couple of mass shootings by incels who revered him," said Fox, adding that copycat killings can occur long after the original crime.

"The 20th anniversary of Columbine brought a number of attempts," Fox said. "Fortunately, no one succeeded."

In contagion mass shootings, Fox said, "It's not necessarily that the killer admires the previous ones."

"There are individuals who have the motivation to commit a mass killing and another crime can help precipitate it, but it doesn't cause it. It's just that they say, 'Ok, that's what I want to do too and I'll do it now," Fox said.

In addition to the spat of California mass shootings, Post said there have been several recent examples of the phenomenon, indicating contagion mass shootings don't have to occur in the same geographic location or even the same state if widespread publicity is spawned by the initial event.

On May 14, 2022, 18-year-old Payton Gendron killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in what investigators said was a racially-motivated attack he later pleaded guilty to. Ten days after the Buffalo mass shooting, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos committed a mass shooting at Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers before he was killed by a police officer.

One day after an Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, a gunman fired 41 shots in 30 seconds in a nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio, killing 9 people and wounding dozens of others before being shot and killed by police. In the final report of its investigation released in 2021, the FBI said the gunman, 24-year-old Conner Betts, had a fascination with mass shootings, serial killings and murder-suicide for at least a decade.

Fox said a cluster of mass shootings can be followed by a lull in massacres, some lasting several weeks to several years.

Fox, who once served on President Bill Clinton's advisory committee on school shootings, said that from the latter half of the 1990s to March 2021, there were eight multiple victim shootings in U.S. schools, each with at least four victims and at least two deaths, prompting a tremendous amount of discussion among the public, educators and students.

"After March of 2001, we had summertime, and of course there's no school shootings in the summertime, and then we had 9/11," Fox said. "After 9/11, no-one talked about school shootings. The shift of attention went from school shootings to terrorism. Once we stopped obsessing about it, they dissipated."

Less than 1% of annual homicides

Tage S. Rai, a psychologist and an assistant professor of management at U.C. San Diego Rady School of Management, who studies violence, told ABC News that data shows mass shootings only account for less than 1% of all annual homicide deaths in the United States, yet they garner the most attention and create widespread fear that is unwarranted.

"And so what that means is we're probably not paying enough attention or giving enough resources to other kinds of gun violence that go on," Rai said. "We're not paying enough attention to violence in the home, we're not paying enough attention to suicide deaths by gun, we're not paying enough attention to a lot of other kinds of gun violence that we see."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


California to deliver more water to cities after heavy rain storms

David McNew/Getty Images

(LOS ANGELES) -- January's record rain and snowfall on the West Coast has had a positive side effect for over 27 million California residents.

California's Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced Thursday that the extra rainwater will allow the State Water Project (SWP) to increase deliveries to 29 local water agencies this year.

In December, the agency announced that it would initially allocate 5% of requested supplies to the local agencies, but now it will allocate 30% of those requests.

"The SWP's two largest reservoirs (Oroville and San Luis) have gained a combined 1.62 million acre-feet of water in storage -- roughly enough to provide water to 5.6 million households for a year," DWR said in a statement.

Several rain and snow storms left parts of California with flash floods, downed trees and other damage during for weeks starting at the end of December. More than three feet of rain fell in California during those storms and the Sierra Nevada Mountains surpassed seasonal averages for snowfall, according to state data.

Extreme drought, the second-highest level of drought, in California fell from 27.1% to 0.32% Between Jan. 3 and Jan. 10, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Severe drought, the third-highest level, fell from 71% to 46%, during that same period, according to the monitor.

"These storms made clear the importance of our efforts to modernize our existing water infrastructure for an era of intensified drought and flood. Given these dramatic swings, these storm flows are badly needed to refill groundwater basins and support recycled water plants," DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in a statement.

The agency warned Californians to still conserve their water use as the state could see a return to warm and dry conditions prior to April 1, which is the end of the wet season.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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