Law leaders react, reassure communities they serve priority is public safety

Published 10:05 am Monday, January 30, 2023

NATCHEZ — Miss-Lou law enforcement leaders have expressed a variety of thoughts in reacting to the video released Friday evening of a traffic stop that led to the death of Tyre Nichols and the firing and arrest of the fire Memphis police officers involved.

From expressing concern over the damage the incident has done to public trust, to safeguards in place to prevent such incidents here, each said the primary objective of their department is public safety for all involved.

Natchez Police Chief Cal Green

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Natchez Police Chief Cal Green said what she saw when she watched the video of the traffic stop in Memphis that led to Tyre Nichols’ death was “just wrong.”

“I really don’t know a better word to use. It was just wrong. I don’t even know why they pulled him over,” Green said. “That’s not the way you start a traffic stop. It seems every time we try to take a half a step forward in regaining the public trust, something like this happens and we are back beyond square one.”

Memphis law enforcement officials waited until 6 p.m. on Friday to release the video of the police event that led to the death of Tyre Nichols for fear protests would lead to further violence in the city.

Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis fired all five officers within two weeks of the Jan. 7 event. On Thursday, the Shelby County, Tennessee, District Attorney charged the five officers with a variety of offenses, including second-degree murder.

“Even when the guy was being cooperative, those officers were still at 100. They were ramped completely up. It was almost like they did not want it to be a peaceful stop,” Green said.

She said she has discussed the event with Natchez Police officers who she said, “were totally disgusted by what they saw. They were like, ‘What were they thinking?’ ”

Green said every officer has a duty to intervene when they see another officer going out of the bounds of department policy.

“We have a policy. It’s our duty to intervene. You know the difference between right and wrong. Regardless of how high the adrenaline is you only use the amount of force necessary to gain compliance. When he was compliant, they should have handcuffed him.

“Using the baton on him like they did…all officers are taught to never strike anyone above the waist. Hitting him in the back? I just don’t understand it. And kicking him in the face? It was just wrong,” she said.

Further, she said she does not understand why none of the officers involved seemed to realize their actions were going to be seen by others.

“You have to assume in 2023 that there is always a camera on you somewhere. Whether you have the camera on, or a poll camera or a ring doorbell camera, you are going to have a camera on you,” Green said.

“My heart goes out to his family. Nobody’s life needed to be lost that night. It was totally unnecessary. She (Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis) did the right thing in firing them, then arresting them quickly. There is no way to get ahead of something like that. It is what it is and let the chips fall where they may,” she said. “At the end of the day, we are public servants. That’s not what we are supposed to do.”

Concordia Parish Sheriff David Hedrick

Hedrick said in a statement he could not speak to the specifics of the Tyre Nichols case without knowing all of the details.

“What I will say, however, is that trust in law enforcement is essential to a free and safe society. At Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, the main priority of my administration is safety for all residents. I have proven on multiple occasions that the abuse of civilians nor law enforcement officers will be tolerated.

“Proper supervision of and extensive training for my staff are crucial in establishing trust with the people we work for, the residents of Concordia Parish. It is important to me that my staff receive training that focuses on public health safety and violence prevention on a regular basis,” Hedrick said. “I will continue to do everything in my power to protect and serve each and every resident of Concordia Parish.”

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten

Patten provided his thoughts on the Nichols incident on social media Friday evening.

“My heart hurts for the Nichols family, the Memphis community and the good officers that I believe are in that community who had no part in this,” Patten wrote. “This country cannot take seeing another grown man, and in this case an African American man, cry for mama as his life is brutally being taken by those who took an oath to serve and protect.”

Patten posted his reaction at about 10 p.m. Friday. Patten is in Glynco, Georgia, at a Department of Homeland Security Leadership Academy and because of that training, did not see the video when it was first released.

“There are good officers out there who have a duty to act when someone’s life is in danger and this includes when the perpetrator is one of their own. As law enforcement officers, we have to stand up and police our own. Law enforcement executives have to rid their respective agencies and law enforcement period of these bad apples if we have any hope of having trusted relationships with the communities we serve,” Patten said.

He said he commends the leadership on all levels in Memphis for taking swift action and being transparent with the world in the investigation into Nichols’ death.

“We need more of that in order to heal the pain of communities ripped apart by disgusting acts like this. We are better than this and it is past time for us to show it while holding those accountable who don’t.”

Ferriday Police Chief Sam King

Ferriday Police Chief Sam King said he has watched all of the video released of the incident by the Memphis Police Department and his first reactions were “sad and disgusted,” he said.

“I think, first and foremost, we are saddened that the family and this gentlemen had to go through that, had to experience that pain,” King said. “You have to understand it’s usually a very small percentage of officers we need to look at very closely. The majority we have are good officers.

“We weed out what I call bad apples by getting to know your people, staying in communication with them. You get to know their personality and who they are, and you train them,” he said.

Every officer in a department should be empowered to “hit the stop button,” King said.

“You train you officers by going through different scenarios and making sure they know when they’ve reached their limit. I call it the stop button. They should be able to recognize when to stop. And everybody, even the lowest man on the Totem pole, should be empowered to say, ‘That’s enough,’ ”

Public trust is crucial to public safety, King said.

“I hope that our communities know their police officers, and you get to know your community through more interaction. That builds public trust. It’s our job to figure out how to reach and get to know our community, whether that’s through town meetings, or cookouts or toy drives. You have to have community involvement,” he said.