MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) – Former Memphis police officer Desmond Mills pleaded guilty Thursday morning to federal charges and has agreed to plead guilty to state charges in the death of Tyre Nichols, according to the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office.
Mills has also agreed to cooperate with federal and state investigations.
Judge Mark Norris will decide on his sentencing at an upcoming hearing. Both federal and state prosecutors have agreed to a recommended sentence of 15 years.
“This is but the first domino — the first domino — to fall,” Nichols’ father said in a press conference outside the federal courthouse.
“It’s a start,” his mother said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee said Mills pleaded guilty to using excessive force and failing to intervene in the unlawful assault, and with conspiring to cover up his use of unlawful force by omitting material information and by providing false and misleading information to his supervisor and to others.
Blake Ballin, Mills’ attorney, said Mills has shown remorse for his actions Jan. 7 since “day one” of the case.
“This is a man who watched this video with me and the first words out of his mouth were were, ‘Oh my God, this could’ve been my brother,'” Ballin said. “Today is the first step in publicly taking responsibility.”
A number of other admissions were detailed in court:
- Mills admitted to repeatedly and unjustifiably striking Nichols with a baton and to failing to intervene in other officers’ use of force against Nichols. Mills said he watched another officer repeatedly punch Nichols in the head while two other officers restrained Nichols.
- Mills admitted that he did not provide any medical aid to Nichols after the beating, though he knew that Nichols had a serious medical need. He did not alert MPD or Memphis Fire Department EMTs that Nichols had been struck in the head and body.
- In addition, Mills participated in conversations with other officers in which they discussed, using force against Nichols, hitting Nichols to make him fall, and believing they were on the verge of killing Nichols when they saw that Nichols did not fall from the blows.
- Mills admitted to making false statements in connection with the arrest of Nichols, including telling his supervisor that they had done “everything by the book” and providing false information in his statements to an MPD detective tasked with writing the incident report.
- Finally, Mills submitted an MPD report that provided a false account of the force used on Nichols, including a claim that Mills saw Nichols “aggressively resisting” officers. Instead of admitting that he had seen an officer repeatedly punch Nichols in the head while Nichols was restrained by two other officers, Mills reported only that “Nichols was eventually put into custody.”
Mills, 33, was one of five Memphis officers who were criminally charged in the January beating death of Nichols during a traffic stop. The other ex-officers are Emmitt Martin III, 31; Tadarrius Bean, 24; Demetrius Haley, 30; and Justin Smith, 28.
The remaining defendants still face a federal trial scheduled for May 6, 2024.
Ben Crump, the attorney representing Tyre Nichols’ family along with Anthony Romanucci, said he believes the testimony from the remaining officers will be “jaw-dropping.”
Romanucci added that Thursday’s plea represented a major moment in police accountability.
“Today you are seeing the tide turn,” he said. “This is a monumental shift in policing.”