The January 2023 death of a Black man in Memphis, Tennessee, after a severe beating by police officers, resulted in a flurry of unsubstantiated rumors online.
On Jan. 7, 2023, police stopped Tyre Nichols at a traffic light on suspicion of reckless driving. This encounter resulted in a "confrontation" in which the police said he ran away before he was ultimately arrested. However, Nichols' family said he had suffered a severe beating at the hands of these officers, which ultimately caused his death three days later. Body camera footage and surveillance cameras corroborate the family's account, showing the officers kicking and punching Nichols in the head, restraining him, using pepper spray, and striking him multiple times with a baton.
Weeks after Nichols' death, on Jan. 27, 2023, five fired officers involved in the beating were charged with second-degree murder. Demetrius Haley was one of those officers, and his alleged prior connection to Nichols has come under scrutiny.
On Jan. 30, 2023, a number of tweets and memes went viral, claiming that Haley and Nichols were connected prior to the assault, and allegedly through Haley's ex-girlfriend or ex-wife. These rumors were reportedly refuted by Nichols' stepfather, and, so far, none of the claims have been substantiated by an independent investigation, or any other parties involved.
One tweet from @Sirmaejor, a purported civil rights activist, stated, "BREAKING NEWS: I am being told that Tyre Nichols was in a relationship with and worked at a Memphis @FedEx with #MemphisPolice Demetrius Halys's [sic] ex-girlfriend & baby mama. After the beating Officer Halys [sic] took a pictures of #TyreNichols face and sent it to his babymama."
The account followed up with a disclaimer: "THIS IS MERELY SPECULATIONS AND OR A RUMOR AT THIS POINT - THIS INFORMATION HAS NOT BEEN CONFIRMED."
Another Instagram post claimed that the whole confrontation was "behind a woman" and repeated the claims.
Yet another viral tweet from self-described social media influencer Kenny Akers repeated the claims and added, "The big word here....... 'Allegedly!' my full intention is to hopefully get whatever assumptions are on the table and information to the proper authorities and they can conduct a thorough investigation... No legal investigative authority has disproved of any of this yet…"
The posts make a number of claims, including that Nichols was romantically involved with either an ex-wife or former partner of Haley, the police officer involved in his assault, a woman who also shares a child with Haley. The posts claim that Nichols and the unknown woman worked together at a FedEx facility in Memphis. They add that during or after the beating Haley took photographs of Nichols' beaten and injured face and texted them to the woman.
We do not know the identity of the woman people are claiming is at the center of this incident. Nor do we know whether Nichols' involvement with a woman connected to Haley has anything to do with what occurred in early January.
CBS News reported the following: Nichols did work at a FedEx in Memphis. He was a father of a young boy. On the night of the attack, Nichols was returning home from a suburban park, where he had taken photographs of the sunset, according to his family's legal team. The team added that the five police officers beat him for three minutes straight.
John Best, a general manager for Memphis-Shelby County Schools' radio stations per LinkedIn, claimed to have met Nichols' parents, who reportedly said the rumors were not true. According to his Facebook post, the parents said, "SQUASH THAT RUMOR ABOUT OUR SON DATING ONE OF THOSE OFFICERS WIVES/GF. PLEASE SQUASH THAT RUMOR THAT IS NOT TRUE."
None of the speculation online has been confirmed from official sources, including Nichols' family and legal team. We reached out to the Memphis police, Ben Crump, the attorney for Nichols' family, as well as FedEx to learn if any of the above claims are accurate.
A spokesperson from FedEx responded to us, but did not address any of our queries on this subject: "We remain shocked and heartbroken about the loss of our team member, Tyre Nichols, and our thoughts continue to be with his family, friends, and co-workers. We grieve with the broader community both here in Memphis and beyond as we grapple with this tragedy. As this is an active investigation, any questions should be referred to investigating authorities."
On Jan. 30, Rodney Wells, Nichols' stepfather, addressed the rumors, Fox13 Memphis reported. Speaking at a prayer vigil outside his home, he said, "My son was not messing around with one of the officer's wives. That's just a rumor."
As we await more comment from the other parties involved, we consider this a largely unsubstantiated rumor.