Memphis, Tennessee, police officers beat motorist Tyre Nichols for three minutes, treating him like “a human piñata” in a “savage” encounter reminiscent of the 1991 beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King, legal representatives for the family have said.
Lawyer Ben Crump said police video viewed by the family on Monday showed that Mr Nichols was shocked, pepper-sprayed and restrained after the 29-year-old FedEx worker and father was pulled over near his home while returning from a suburban park where he had been taking photos of the sunset.
Mr Nichols was black. All five officers involved in the incident were also black.
Mr Crump said that this was irrelevant, that black and brown motorists are often treated differently to whites regardless of the officers’ race, and that the pain of Mr Nichols’s death “is just the same”.
He added that Mr Nichols’s family had agreed to investigators’ request to wait a week or two before making the video public to “make sure to give this family what they want most, and that is justice”.
Shelby County District Lawyer Steve Mulroy said in a statement on Monday that investigators did not want to risk compromising the investigation.
Mr Crump said the video shows the encounter was “violent” and “troublesome on every level”.
Another lawyer, Antonio Romanucci, called it “savage” and out of proportion to the alleged offence.
The city has been on edge about the release of the police footage because of the possibility of unrest.
Mr Nichols’s stepfather, Rodney Wells, asked that if there are protests, that they remain peaceful, saying violence “is not what Tyre wanted and won’t bring him back”.
Described by family as a “good kid” who loved skateboarding, photography and his four-year-old son, Mr Nichols was arrested after officers stopped him for reckless driving.
Police said in a statement the day after the encounter that “a confrontation occurred” as officers approached the vehicle and Mr Nichols ran. They said officers caught up to him and that “another confrontation occurred” while they were taking him into custody.
They added that Mr Nichols had complained of shortness of breath and was taken to hospital, where he died three days later.
Relatives have accused the police of beating Mr Nichols and causing him to have a heart attack and kidney failure.
Authorities have only said that Mr Nichols experienced a medical emergency.
The US Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the arrest and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether excessive force was used.
Memphis police Director Cerelyn Davis announced on Friday that the five officers involved in the arrest were fired after an investigation had determined that they used excessive force or failed to intervene and render aid.
Mr Wells, who said the family want the officers charged with first-degree murder, told reporters that his stepson had good reason to run from the officers.
“Our son ran because he was scared for his life,” Mr Wells said. “And when you see the video, you’ll see why he was scared for his life.”