Video showing five Memphis officers beating a black man was made public on Friday, one day after they were charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols.
The footage shows Mr Nichols being held down, struck by the black officers and screaming for his mother as the police savagely beat the 29-year-old FedEx worker for three minutes.
The Nichols family legal team has likened the assault to the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King.
Cities across the country braced for large demonstrations, with Mr Nichols’ relatives urging supporters to protest peacefully.
“This young man, by definition of the law in this state, was terrorised. Not by one, not by two, but by five officers who we now know… acted in concert with each other,” said attorney Antonio Romanucci, who represents Mr Nichols’ family.
The officers “acted together… to inflict harm, terrorism, oppression of liberty, oppression of constitutional rights, which led to murder,” Mr Romanucci said.
Memphis Police Director Cerelyn Davis described the officers’ actions as “heinous, reckless and inhumane”, and said that her department has been unable to substantiate the reckless driving allegation that prompted the stop.
She told The Associated Press in an interview that there is no video of the traffic stop that shows Mr Nichols driving recklessly.
During the initial stop, the video shows the officers were “already ramped up, at about a 10”, she said. The officers were “aggressive, loud, using profane language and probably scared Mr Nichols from the very beginning”.
“We know something happened prior to this officer or these officers getting out of their vehicles… Just knowing the nature of officers, it takes something to get them amped up, you know, like that. We don’t know what happened,” she said.
“All we know is the amount of force that was applied in this situation was over the top,” Ms Davis said.
Given the likelihood of protests, Ms Davis told ABC that she and other local officials decided it would be best to release the video later in the day, after schools are dismissed and people are home from work.
Mr Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video but pleaded for peace.
“I don’t want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that’s not what my son stood for,” she said on Thursday. “If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully.”
President Joe Biden said he was “very concerned” about the prospect of violence, but called for protests over the death of Mr Nichols to remain peaceful.
Speaking Friday at the White House before departing for Camp David, the president reflected on his call earlier with Ms RowVaughn Wells.
“I’m obviously very concerned about it,” Mr Biden said when asked if he was worried about violence, “but I think she has made a very strong plea. She’s obviously in enormous pain”.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said he was “appalled” by the video and that all FBI field officers have been alerted to work with state and local partners, including in Memphis, “in the event of something getting out of hand”.
Court records showed that all five former officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr, Emmitt Martin III and Justin Smith — were taken into custody.
The officers each face charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault, aggravated kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression.
Four of the five officers had posted bond and been released from custody by Friday morning, according to court and jail records.
Mr Martin’s lawyer, William Massey, and Mr Mills’ lawyer, Blake Ballin, said their clients would plead not guilty. Lawyers for Mr Smith, Mr Bean and Mr Haley could not be reached.
“No-one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” Mr Massey said.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison under Tennessee law.
Rallies and demonstrations were planned for Friday night in Memphis, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City, Portland, Oregon and Washington.