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Former policeman changes plea to guilty over killing of Tyre Nichols

Tyre Nichols was allegedly beaten by five police officers after a traffic stop (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton, File)
Tyre Nichols was allegedly beaten by five police officers after a traffic stop (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton, File) Tyre Nichols was allegedly beaten by five police officers after a traffic stop (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton, File)

A former Memphis police officer changed his plea to guilty on Thursday over the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, becoming the first of five officers charged to reverse course, with prosecutors recommending up to 15 years in prison.

Desmond Mills Jr entered his plea during a hearing at the Memphis federal courthouse as part of a larger agreement to settle charges in state court as well.

It was not immediately clear whether the four other officers would follow suit. Their attorneys declined to comment on Mills’ plea change.

Mills pleaded guilty to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice and agreed to plead guilty to related state charges.

Tyre Nichols
Tyre Nichols Desmond Mills Jr, right, with his attorney outside court in Memphis, Tennessee (Chris Day/The Commercial Appeal via AP)

Mills also agreed to co-operate with prosecutors, who are recommending a 15-year sentence. The final sentencing decision rests with the judge.

Mills remains free on bail ahead of his May 22 sentencing hearing.

Mr Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, shook as she described hearing how five large men beat her skinny son.

“This one today was very difficult for me because this was really the first time I actually heard somebody tell and say what they actually did to my son,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.

“So, this was very difficult. But I’m hoping that Mr Mills, it was his conscience that allowed him to make this plea agreement, and not because of his lawyers telling him it was the right thing to do.”

Caught on police video, the Nichols beating in January was one in a string of violent encounters between police and black people that sparked protests and renewed debate about police brutality and the need to for police reform in the US.

The five former officers who were charged also are black.

Mills and four other former Memphis police department officers were charged in federal court with using excessive force, failing to intervene, deliberate indifference and conspiring to lie, as well as obstruction of justice after they were caught on camera punching, kicking and beating Mr Nichols on January 7. He died three days later.

The five former officers: Mills, Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin and Justin Smith; pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and other charges in state court. Mills is the first to agree to plead guilty.

The four remaining officers have a May 6 trial date in federal court. A trial has not yet been set in state court.