Trending Topics

New Tenn. law repeals Memphis traffic stop reforms enacted after Tyre Nichols’ death

An ordinance prohibiting pretextual stops is among the reforms that have been nullified by the new state law

Tyre Nichols

FILE - In this image taken from video released on Jan. 27, 2023, by the city of Memphis, Tenn., Tyre Nichols leans against a car after being beaten by five Memphis police officers on Jan. 7, in Memphis. On Friday, Aug. 18, a Tennessee judge set a September court hearing to discuss requests by three of five former Memphis police officers charged in the death of Nichols to face separate trials. (City of Memphis via AP, File)


By Jonathan Mattisse
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday signed off on the repeal of police traffic stop reforms made in Memphis after the death of Tyre Nichols in January 2023, despite pleas from Nichols’ parents to GOP lawmakers and the governor to give them a chance to find compromise.

The Republican governor’s signature means the law immediately renders some of Memphis’ ordinances null and void, including one that outlawed so-called pretextual traffic stops, such as for a broken taillight and other minor violations. Lee echoed arguments from Republican lawmakers who argued Nichols’ death needed to result in accountability for officers who abuse power, not new limits on how authorities conduct traffic stops.

“I think what’s most important for us to remember is that we can give law enforcement tools, but we’ve got to hold law enforcement to a standard of using those tools appropriately, where there’s an appropriate interaction with the public,” Lee told reporters Friday, earlier this month of his decision to sign the bill. “That’s not what we understand has happened all the time, and certainly their family would attest to that.”

Nichols’ parents, mother RowVaughn Wells and stepfather Rodney Wells, were among the advocates who drummed up support for the Memphis city council last year to pass ordinance changes.

Nichols’ parents, in this case, said their attempts to get the bill sponsors to commit to finding some middle ground failed, leaving them and supporters in the Memphis community feeling marginalized and discouraged. Nichols’ parents said they felt misled by Rep. John Gillespie, leading them to skip one trip to Nashville when they thought he would delay the bill. Instead, House Republicans passed it without the Nichols’ parents there. Gillespie argued it was a miscommunication.

They also penned a letter to Lee before he ultimately signed the bill.

“After the death of our son, you generously offered your support in our pursuit of justice,” they wrote, imploring Lee to veto the bill. “This is that moment, Governor. We need your support now, more than ever.”

Five officers were charged with federal civil rights violations in Nichols’ death, and second-degree murder and other criminal counts in state court. One has pleaded guilty in federal court. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating how Memphis Police Department officers use force and conduct arrests and whether the department in the majority-Black city engages in racially discriminatory policing.


Associated Press writers Kimberlee Kruesi and Adrian Sainz contributed to this report.