A Tennessee board on Friday suspended the emergency medical technician licenses of two former Memphis Fire Department employees for failing to render critical care to Tyre Nichols after he took a beating from police that ultimately killed him.
The suspensions of EMT Robert Long and advanced EMT JaMichael Sandridge build on efforts by authorities to hold officers and other first responders accountable for the violence against Nichols, who was Black. Five Black officers have been fired and charged with second-degree murder and other charges, and two more officers have been suspended. The Justice Department has opened a civil rights probe into the attack that was captured on video.
Three fire department employees were fired after Nichols died. Former fire department Lt. Michelle Whitaker was the third employee let go, but her license was not considered for suspension Friday. The department has said she remained in the engine with the driver during the response to Nichols' beating Jan. 7. He died Jan. 10.
Emergency Medical Services Board member Jeff Beaman said during Friday's emergency meeting that there may have been other licensed personnel on scene — including a supervisor — who could have prevented the situation that led to the death of Nichols. Beaman said he hopes the board addresses those in the future.
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Matt Gibbs, an attorney for the state Department of Health, said the two suspensions were “not final disposition of this entire matter.”
Board members watched 19 minutes of surveillance video that showed Long and Sandridge as they failed to care for Nichols, who couldn't stay seated upright against the side of the vehicle, laying prone on the ground multiple times. They also considered an affidavit by the Memphis Fire Department's EMS deputy chief.
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“The (state) Department (of Health) alleges that neither Mr. Sandridge nor Mr. Long engaged in emergency care and treatment to patient T.N., who was clearly in distress during the 19 minute period,” Gibbs said.
Board member Sullivan Smith said it was "obvious to even a lay person" that Nichols “was in terrible distress and needed help.”
“And they failed to provide that help,” Smith said. "They were his best shot, and they failed to help.”
Fire Chief Gina Sweat has said the department received a call from police after someone was pepper-sprayed. When the workers arrived at 8:41 p.m., Nichols was handcuffed on the ground and slumped against a squad car, the statement said.
Long and Sandridge, based on the nature of the call and information they were told by police, “failed to conduct an adequate patient assessment of Mr. Nichols,” the statement said.
An ambulance was called, and it arrived at 8:55 p.m., the statement said. An emergency unit cared for Nichols and left for a hospital with him at 9:08 p.m., which was 27 minutes after Long, Sandridge and Whitaker arrived, officials said.
An investigation determined that all three violated multiple policies and protocols, the statement said, adding that “their actions or inactions on the scene that night do not meet the expectations of the Memphis Fire Department.”
Nichols was beaten after police stopped him for what they said was a traffic violation. Video released after pressure from Nichols’ family shows officers holding him down and repeatedly punching, kicking and striking him with a baton as he screamed for 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 Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said after the video’s release that the unit has been disbanded.
The killing led to renewed public discussion of how police forces can treat Black citizens with excessive violence, regardless of the race of both the police officers and those being policed.
At Nichols' funeral on Wednesday, calls for reform and justice were interwoven with grief over the loss of a man remembered as a son, a sibling, a father and a passionate photographer and skateboarder.
For more coverage of the Tyre Nichols case, go to https://apnews.com/hub/tyre-nichols.