Ex-Memphis cop Desmond Mills Jr. pled guilty to both federal and state charges on Thursday for the beating death of Tyre Nichols.
Mills, 33, became the first of five former Memphis police officers charged in connection with Nichols’ death to agree to a deal. Mills pleaded guilty to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice in the federal case in addition to the related state charges.
He also agreed to act as a cooperating witness in both federal and state investigations, according to the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office.
“His cooperation will help us bring to justice all those criminally responsible while also identifying needs for systemic reform within the police department,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said in a statement Thursday.
Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died three days after being beaten during a traffic stop on Jan. 7, 2023. On Jan. 28, Memphis released police bodycam footage and surveillance street cameras that caught the violent incident on video.
Footage showed disturbing images of Nichols being restrained and beaten by police officers at a suburban intersection. He was kicked in the head while being restrained, pepper sprayed, punched and struck multiple times with a baton.
Five former Memphis police officers – Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr., Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith – were charged in his death. The officers were members of an infamous group – the SCORPION unit – created by the Memphis police to fight street crime. Three weeks after Nichols’ death, Memphis police announced the unit had been disbanded and “permanently deactivated.“
The five officers had pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder charges in state courts arising from the killing and federal civil rights violations in the case. Mills had been released on a $250,000 bond while he fought the charges.
In connection with his plea agreement, Mills admitted to “repeatedly and unjustifiably striking Nichols with a baton” and not stopping the other police officers from beating the man. He also admitted to making false statements and accounts, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news statement.
Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, said after the plea deal was announced, “This is just one of many that will come in our favor.”
The remaining four defendants still face a federal trial scheduled for May 6, 2024, the news statement said.
The government will recommend a sentence of no more than 15 years in prison, the statement said. Mills will serve that time in a federal prison.
Cara Tabachnick is a news editor for CBSNews.com. Contact her at [email protected]
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