Memphis, Tenn. A Tennessee board on Friday suspended the emergency medical technician licenses of two former Memphis Fire Department employees for failing to provide critical care to Tyre Nichols after he suffered a police beating that ultimately killed him.
EMT Robert Long and EMT JaMichael Sandridge’s advanced commentary builds on authorities’ efforts to hold officers and other first responders accountable for the violence against Nichols, who was Black. Five black officers were fired and charged with second-degree murder and other charges, and two other officers were suspended. The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the videotaped attack.
Three fire department employees were fired after Nichols’ death. Former Fire Department Lt. Michelle Whitaker was the third employee to let go, but her license was not taken into consideration Friday. The department said it remained in the engine with the driver while responding to Nichols’ hitting on Jan. 7. He died on January 10.
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There may have been other authorized personnel at the site — including the supervisor — who could have prevented the situation that led to Nichols’ death, Jeff Beeman, a member of the EMS board, said during the emergency meeting Friday. Byman said he hopes the council will address them in the future.
Matt Gibbs, an attorney with the state health department, said the two comments “are not a final verdict on this whole matter.”
Board members watched 19 minutes of surveillance video that showed Long and Sandridge failing to attend to Nichols, who was unable to stay seated upright on the side of the car, lying on the ground several times. They also considered an affidavit from the deputy chief of EMS for the Memphis Fire Department.
“The state (health) department alleges that neither Mr. Sandridge nor Mr. Long engaged in the emergency care and treatment of patient TN, who was clearly in distress during the 19-minute period,” Gibbs said.
Board member Sullivan Smith said that it was “obvious even to a layman” that Nichols “was in terrible distress and needed help”.
“They failed to provide that assistance,” Smith said. “It was his best shot, and they failed to help.”
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Fire Chief Gina Sutt said the department received a call from police after someone was pepper sprayed. When workers arrived at 8:41 p.m., the statement said, Nichols was handcuffed to the ground and fell onto a squad car.
The statement said that Long and Sandridge, based on the nature of the call and the information reported to them by the police, “failed to perform an adequate patient assessment of Mr Nichols”.
There was no immediate response to a voicemail seeking comment left on a number listed on Long. A person who answered a phone call to a number listed in Sandridge declined to comment on the board’s decision.
The statement stated that an ambulance was called and arrived at 8:55 pm. Officials said Nichols was attended to by an emergency unit and left for the hospital with him at 9:08 p.m., 27 minutes after Long, Sandridge and Whitaker arrived.
The investigation concluded that the three violated multiple policies and protocols, the statement said, adding that “their actions or inaction on the scene that night did not live up to the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department.”
Nichols was beaten after police pulled him over for what they said was a traffic offence. Video released after pressure from Nichols’ family shows officers grabbing him, hitting him, kicking him, and clubbing him as he screams at his mother.
Six of the officers involved were part of the so-called Scorpion unit, which targeted violent criminals in high-crime areas. Police Chief Cereline “CJ” Davis said after the video was released that the unit had been dismantled.
The killing renewed public debate about how police forces should treat black citizens with excessive violence, regardless of the race of both the police officers and those being busted.
At Nichols’ funeral on Wednesday, calls for reform and justice intertwined with grief over the loss of a man remembered as a son, brother, father, avid photographer and skateboarder.
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