The four-count indictment accuses the now-former Memphis Police Department officers of using excessive force against Nichols and failing to intervene in an unlawful assault against him, willfully disregarding his need for urgent medical aid, and then conspiring to cover up the assault by intentionally withholding information and making false statements to supervisors.
They also are accused of obstructing the investigation.
Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin, Desmond Mills Jr and Justin Smith are also facing state criminal charges – including second-degree murder, aggravated assault and aggravated kidnapping – after officer-worn body camera and surveillance footage from January captured officers yelling conflicting commands at the 29-year-old Black man, firing a Taser at him, and beating him while he was pinned to the ground.
Nichols died in hospital three days later.
The first two counts of the federal indictment carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Counts three and four each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years.
Seven Memphis Police Department officers were fired after Nichols’ death. Five are now facing federal and state charges.
“Tyre Nichols should be alive today. No one in this country should have to bury a loved one because of police violence,” Assistant US Attorney General Kristen Clarke said during a press briefing alongside US Attorney Kevin G Ritz on Tuesday.
The nation “watched in horror as Tyre Nichols was kicked, punched, tased, and pepper sprayed, and we all heard Mr Nichols cry out for his mother and say ‘I’m just trying to go home,’” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a separate video statement.
The defendants “willfully deprived” Nichols of his constitutional rights and their actions resulted in his death, Mr Garland added.
“Officers who violate the civil rights of those they are sworn to protect undermine public safety, which depends on the community’s trust in law enforcement,” he said. “They dishonor their fellow officers who do their work with integrity every day. The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable officers who betray their oath.”
Separately, the Justice Department has opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the MPD earlier this year to determine whether the agency has a history of excessive force, racist policing and profiling, and unconstitutional search and seizure.
Nichols’ family also has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit with prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump seeking $550m in damages and accusing the city of Memphis and its police department of widespread negligence and a failure to properly train officers operating in a now-dissolved controversial unit criticised for its alleged constitutional violations.