CONCORD — A police brutality trial involving four Manchester police officers starts Tuesday in federal court in Concord, despite their lawyers’ fears that the death of Tyre Nichols will hurt their chances for a fair trial.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro rejected requests from three of the four officers to postpone the trial.
Lawyers for the three cited adverse publicity and public opinion after the Memphis police beating of Nichols on Jan. 7 and his subsequent death.
“The likelihood of injustice or unfair prejudice if the trial is not reasonably continued is substantial,” lawyers for the officers wrote in a court filing.
“This case is not about police brutality at the national or local levels, but may become about that if the trial proceeds as scheduled.”
At a pre-trial hearing last week, Barbadoro rejected the request. An online case summary reports that the judge gave his reasons in open court, but does not restate them.
On Tuesday, Barbadoro and lawyers are expected to begin picking a jury for the trial.
The trial pits state prison inmate Chasrick Heredia, 29, against the four officers.
Heredia has claimed the officers used excessive force in a 2018 arrest, failed to render medical aid and fabricated evidence against him.
Although Barbadoro did not postpone the trial, lawyers for the police officers plan to quiz potential jurors about the Memphis case, in which five police officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other offenses.
Defense lawyers will ask potential jurors about their impression of the Nichols beating and whether it would impact their impressions of Manchester police.
Nichols, who was Black, was beaten by five Black police officers. Heredia, who is Hispanic, has sued four White officers.
Bystander video of Heredia’s 2018 arrest, which played a key role in his Hillsborough County Superior Court criminal trial, is expected to be screened during the federal trial. It shows Heredia resisting arrest and officer Michael Roscoe striking him several times.
Police arrested him during a melee outside the now-closed Glow Bar on Hanover Street, and authorities charged him with attempted murder, riot, numerous assault charges and resisting arrest.
A jury cleared him of the more serious charges, and in April 2019 he signed a plea deal that released him from jail.
The plea deal took place after the case against him collapsed. Two of the police officers who testified against him at trial were dating, and a judge ruled that the state should have disclosed that to Heredia’s lawyer.
The two — Roscoe and Canada Stewart — are defendants in the lawsuit. The other two defendants are are Matthew Nocella and Nathan Harrington.
Heredia has sued the four individually but not the police department or the city of Manchester. The city is paying the officers’ legal bills and would likely pay any jury award.
In 2021, Heredia was tried on sexual assault charges involving teen girls who walked away from Granite Pathways, a residential drug and mental health program for teens in Manchester.
He was cleared of the sexual assault charges but convicted on witness tampering and evidence destruction charges. He is serving a minimum 5 1/2-year sentence in state prison.