FILE PHOTO: Civil rights attorney Ben Crump speaks during a “Stop The Black Attack” rally against ongoing state legislation at the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee, Florida, U.S. January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Octavio Jones/File Photo
(Reuters) -Lawyers for Tyre Nichols’ family filed a $550 million federal lawsuit against the city of Memphis on Wednesday, seeking damages in the beating death in January of the 29-year-old Black man at the hands of police, attorney Ben Crump said.
The lawsuit and the massive award that the family is seeking are meant to send a message to Memphis and other U.S. cities that continued brutalization of Black men will be wrenchingly expensive, in hopes of forcing a change in the way police officers are hired and trained.
The specific number of $550 million was chosen as a reference to 55 years since civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, also in Memphis, Crump said.
“This lawsuit and the amount we are suing for is a message that if you keep giving license to these gang-minded police officers to perpetrate acts of terrorism on Black and brown people, then we’re coming to your city and we’re going to bring these lawsuits,” Crump said at a news conference in Memphis.
Crump has negotiated multimillion-dollar settlements in other high-profile civil rights cases in recent years, including $27 million from the city of Minneapolis for the police killing of George Floyd and $12 million from the city of Louisville for the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor.
Nichols died on Jan. 10 three days after his beating by police during a traffic stop. A nationwide outcry and protests followed, leading to the arrest and indictment for second-degree murder of five police officers.
The officers, all Black, pleaded not guilty and are next scheduled for a court appearance on May 1.
Memphis officials and Shelby County prosecutors acted swiftly in meting out discipline after police video showed officers punched Nichols with his hands held behind his back, kicked him in the head and beat him with a baton after they said he swerved in and out of traffic.
Police and fire department responders left a mortally wounded Nichols on the ground, his hands cuffed behind his back, and intermittently propped him against a patrol car. It took several minutes before medical care was provided, the police video showed.
Besides the five criminally charged, two additional police officers were fired, three more were suspended and two had internal disciplinary charges dropped. Yet another officer retired while being recommended for termination.
Three fire department employees were also fired and a fourth was suspended.
Besides seeking damages for wrongful death, Crump’s legal team is also suing Memphis police for intentional infliction of emotional distress for lying to his mother.