(BBC News) Five former Memphis police officers charged with murder over the death of Tyre Nichols have pleaded not guilty in their first court appearance.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III, and Justin Smith were involved in the arrest of Nichols on January 7.
They were fired after an internal investigation by the Memphis Police Department.
Nichols’ death sparked protests against police brutality in the U.S.
The judge confirmed the five defendants had pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct, and official oppression.
Judge James Jones asked for patience as lawyers build their cases.
“This case may take some time,” he said to the defendants standing before him alongside their lawyers at the Shelby County Criminal Court.
“We do ask for your continued patience and your continued civility in this case,” he said.
Members of Nichols’ family were in court with their lawyer Ben Crump.
The ex-officers, dressed in suits and wearing black face masks, stood silently beside their attorneys during the brief hearing.
None of the defendants spoke. Their lawyers confirmed the not-guilty pleas when asked by the judge.
The officers were arrested and taken into custody on January 26 after the Memphis police reviewed bodycam footage of the violent arrest.
In the footage, 29-year-old Nichols can be heard calling for his mother as he is beaten by police after being pulled over for alleged reckless driving.
He was pepper-sprayed, kicked, and punched by the officers and died in hospital three days later.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said the incident was “not just a professional failing,” but “a failing of basic humanity toward another individual.”
The fallout from the violent arrest has had ripple effects throughout the city.
In addition to the arrest of the five officers directly involved, several other staff members were fired and are being investigated.
A special unit that was designed to fight crime in Memphis has been disbanded.
The former officers are out on bail, with the next hearing scheduled on May 1.
They face up to 60 years in prison if convicted of murder.