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Death of Memphis man after traffic stop prompts federal civil rights investigation

Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The FBI and the Justice Department have opened a coordinated civil rights investigation into the recent death of a Memphis man after a confrontation with police, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee Kevin G. Ritz announced.

This investigation into the death of Tyre Nichols is in addition to investigative efforts from the Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Nichols, 29, was stopped by police on Jan. 7 for alleged reckless driving in Memphis, according to press releases from the Memphis Police Department and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

During the encounter with officers, Nichols allegedly ran away when approached, causing the officers to pursue Nichols and ultimately apprehend him, police said. Nichols was hospitalized in critical condition after complaining of shortness of breath during the arrest and died three days later, police said. Nichols' cause of death has yet to be released.

"State authorities have publicly announced that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating. In addition, the United States Attorney's Office, in coordination with the FBI Memphis Field Office and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, has opened a civil rights investigation," Ritz said in a statement.

Ritz added, "As this is an open investigation, we are not able to provide additional comments or release further information at this time."

Due to Nichols' hospitalization, the Shelby County District Attorney's Office was contacted, and TBI special agents were subsequently requested to conduct a use-of-force investigation, according to the TBI.

Body camera footage of the incident has not yet been released.

In a statement from Shelby County District Attorney's Office, the office said they are committed to "transparency."

"We're working with the appropriate agencies to determine how quickly we can release the video and will do so as soon as we can. We'll be sure to update the public throughout this process," the statement added.

The death of Nichols sparked protests throughout the weekend in Memphis calling for the release of footage from the officer-worn body cameras.

Mayor Jim Strickland and Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis said the video will be released "after the family of Mr. Nichols has had the opportunity to review the video privately," according to a joint statement.

The investigation should be completed by the end of this week, according to the joint statement.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing Nichols' family in the case.

"All of the available information tells us that this was the tragic and preventable death of a young man deeply beloved by his family and community," Crump said. "This kind of in-custody death destroys community trust if agencies are not swiftly transparent. The most effective way for the Memphis Police Department to be transparent with the grieving Nichols family and the Memphis community is to release the body camera and surveillance footage from the traffic stop."

He added, "Nobody should ever die from a simple traffic stop -- the footage is the only way to discern the true narrative of why and how that happened to Tyre."

The Memphis Police Department said the "officers involved will be routinely relieved of duty pending the outcome of" the TBI's investigation.

ABC News' Morgan Winsor and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

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