RowVaughn Wells, whose 29-year-old son Tyre Nichols died from injuries sustained during a police traffic stop in Memphis earlier this month, says that the officers involved have “brought shame to their own families” and “brought shame to the Black community.”
Wells spoke with CNN’s Don Lemon on Friday morning in her first interview since the five officers involved were criminally charged.
“They have put their own families in harm’s way. They have brought shame to their own families. They brought shame to the Black community,” she said through tears. “I feel sorry for them. I really do. I really feel sorry for them, because they didn’t have to do this.”
The five officers, who are all Black, are Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin and Desmond Mills, Jr. They were all fired from the Memphis Police Department on January 20. Each was charged with second-degree murder, aggravated assault, two charges of aggravated kidnapping, two charges of official misconduct and one charge of official oppression.
Nichols was pulled over by police on January 7 for suspected reckless driving and a “confrontation” occurred, according to police. On January 10, three days after the stop, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announced Nichols had died due to injuries sustained in a “use-of-force incident with officers,” according to a statement. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said Friday that police have since been unable to find anything to substantiate the probable cause for reckless driving by Nichols before the fatal encounter.
Nichols was overpowered and abused by the officers, Wells says. “They beat my son like a piñata,” she said. “Those men, if you combine their weights, they all – it was over 1000 pounds, beating and beating a 150-pound person to death,” she said.
Wells says she wants “bad officers” taken off the police force.
“People try to say Black people, we only try to go after White officers. That’s not true,” she said. “We don’t care what color the officer is. We want bad officers taken off the force. We know there’s a lot of great officers, I know… But there are bad officers, too. And those are the ones that we need to get rid of.”
‘They had him beat to a pulp’
Wells told the harrowing story of when police came to her door after the beating and how she learned of her son’s devastating injuries.
She says the Memphis police “banged” on her door on the evening of January 7 and told her Nichols had been arrested for driving under the influence. Police, she says, said they had to use pepper spray and a Taser on him and he would go to the hospital after being attended by paramedics.
Wells says that police attributed their use of force to Nichols’ “superhuman energy,” which made it difficult to put handcuffs on him. “What they were describing was not my son,” she said.
Initially, police denied her request to go to the hospital with Nichols, Wells says. It wasn’t until around 4 am that she received a call from a doctor asking her and her husband to come see Nichols in the hospital, where he was being treated for his injuries.
“The doctor proceeded to tell me that my son had went into cardiac arrest and that his kidneys were failing,” she said. “This doesn’t sound consistent to somebody being tased or pepper sprayed,” as the police had told her.
“When my husband and I got to the hospital and I saw my son, he was already gone. They had beat him to a pulp,” Wells said.
Her son’s injuries were horrific and he was unconscious, she says.
“He had bruises all over him. His head was swollen like a watermelon. His neck was busting because of the swelling. They broke his neck. My son’s nose look like a S,” she said. “They actually just beat the crap out of him. And so when I saw that I knew my son was gone, the end. Even if he did live, he would have been a vegetable.”
“Now that I’m actually putting things together, I believe they were trying to cover it up when they first came to my door,” she added. “I knew something wasn’t right. I just didn’t understand why they stopped my son in the first place.”
Police video shows brutal beating
Wells’ interview comes as the country braces for the release of video of Nichols’ arrest and beating. Police chief Davis has said that the video shows “acts that defy humanity” and “a disregard for life.” She compared the footage to the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991.
Wells says that she couldn’t watch the full video of her son’s arrest and beating. The family attorney, Ben Crump, said that one of the last things Nichols did in the video was cry out for his mother.
“He calls out for you three times,” Crump said to Wells during the Friday interview. “Gut-wrenching screams for his mom.”
“He was a mama’s boy,” Wells said, her voice wracked with pain. “That boy loved me to death. He has my name tattooed on his arm.”
Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, says that he didn’t want his wife to see the video, but their attorneys asked that she try and watch as long as she could.
“She heard one word and had to leave out of the room,” Rodney Wells said. “And that was when they initially pulled him out of the car, he said, ‘What did I do?’”
Rodney Wells described the rest of the confrontation captured on video.
“They proceeded to snatch him out of the car and was trying to wrestle him to the ground,” he said. “And he got scared. So he was athletic enough to get out of their situation and run, and he was trying to run home, because he was three blocks from the house when they stopped him.”
Rodney Wells says he watched on the video as officers used a retractable metal stick to beat his stepson.
“I saw them pull that out and started beating my son with it,” he said. “I saw officers hitting on him, I saw officers kicking him. One officer kicked him like he was kicking a football, a couple of times.”
He says he was shocked to see that although there were approximately 10 officers on the scene, no one attempted to intervene or offer Nichols aid.
“Nobody tried to stop it, or even after they beat him and they propped him up against the car, no one rendered aid to him whatsoever,” he said. “They walked around, smoking cigarettes like it was all calm and like, you know, bragging about what happened.”
“He was sitting there, and then he slumped over. And an officer walked over to him and said, ‘sit back up mother——’ while he’s handcuffed. So, he had to – they prop him back up, and he slumped over again, and they prop him back up again, but no one was rendering aid,” he continued.
“I saw some fire department people come out there and they just walked around and nobody showed him any aid, and they’re supposed to be trained in first aid,” he said.
‘No mother should have to go through this’
Nichols’ mother described her son as a “beautiful soul” who “touched a lot of people.”
“I always joke – because he’ll come in the house and he’ll come in and say ‘hello parents’ – and I’ll never hear that again,” she said. “I’ll never cook for my son again. I’ll never get a hug from my son again. I won’t get anything from my son again, just because some officers decided they wanted to do harm to my son.”
“No mother should have to go through this,” she said. “I’m still trying to understand all of this and trying to wrap my head around all of this. It’s still like a nightmare right now.”
“I don’t have my baby. I’ll never have my baby again,” Wells said.
Family statements have painted a loving portrait of Nichols, who was the youngest of four children and a caring father to his own 4-year-old son. He worked at FedEx and was passionate about photography and skateboarding.
“I do know that he was a good person. And that all this – all the good in Tyre will come out and so that’s what keeps me going because I just feel like my son was sent here on assignment from God,” Wells said.
“His assignment is – was over. It’s over,” Wells said. “And he was sent back home. And God is not gonna let any of his children’s names go in vain. So, when this is all over, it’s gonna be some good and some positive because my son was a good and positive person.”
CNN’s Amanda Watts contributed to this report.