Black cyclist killed by cops after being stopped for no safety light
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 9/11/2019, 11:40 a.m.
The family of a Black man who died in police custody in Las Vegas after being stopped for not having a safety light on his bicycle is asking for answers. The man reportedly repeatedly yelled “I can’t breathe” after officers handcuffed him, according to assistant Sheriff Charles Hank, reports the Review Journal.
According to Hank: Officers Benjamin Vasquez, 27, and Patrick Campbell, 28, were driving near North Martin Luther King Boulevard and West Bonanza Road when they saw 50-year-old Byron Lee Williams riding his bicycle without safety lights. When they tried to stop him, he fled. The officers caught Williams at an apartment complex on the 1700 block of West Bonanza Road. Body camera footage showed that Vasquez and Campbell were yelling at Williams to get on the ground and he complied.
When the officers stood Williams up, Hank said, two baggies of a white substance and an orange bottle filled with white pills dropped to the ground. Williams attempted to cover the items with his feet, Hank added. He said the substances tested positive for methamphetamine and hydrocodone.
The footage shows Williams’ body going limp after the officers found the drugs, and he had to be dragged to the patrol car to wait for paramedics. When Vasquez and Campbell got Williams to the patrol car, the officers turned off their body cameras. Their cameras weren’t turned back on until medical assistance arrived, about 15 minutes later, Hank said. Williams was transported to Valley Hospital Medical Center, where he died less than an hour later.
The Clark County coroner’s office has yet to determine his cause of death. Hank said the death is under investigation and could not confirm whether other officers who arrived after Williams was handcuffed left their body cameras on while Vasquez and Campbell had theirs off. He said the department is working to review body camera footage from all of the officers and will interview each officer.
Williams’ family said that the footage shown in Monday’s briefing didn’t tell the whole story. Jeffery Thompkins, Williams’ stepson, said he and the rest of the family met with Metro a few days ago to review footage from seven officers who were at the scene. He said the footage showed officers dragging Williams’ limp body around a corner and dropping him on the ground while they laughed, high-fived and told him nobody was coming to help him. He said there was a lapse in the video that was made visible by the sun’s changed location in the sky.
“You could see him on the ground, begging for help, and it was still dark,” Thompkins said. “When the images come back on and he’s on his back, the sun is up and he’s being worked on by paramedics. He’s motionless, lifeless.” Hank said Williams was in custody for trafficking methamphetamine, possession of a dangerous drug without a prescription, obstructing a police officer and absconding an electronic monitoring device from the Clark County Detention Center.
Hank said Williams did not check in on Aug. 29 and had not charged his ankle bracelet. He said officers were working on getting an arrest warrant for Williams, but it was not issued until Monday. The device was still on Williams’ leg when he was arrested. His stepson said Williams was a hardworking father and a loving grandfather who did everything in his power to uplift the community.
Thompkins runs a nonprofit called the Jet Foundation, and that the two helped pass out 375 meals and more than 4,000 articles of clothing to homeless people just a week before he died. Thompkins, who lives in Summerlin, said he saw at least six people riding their bikes Monday night without safety lights. “That’s not a good feeling for them to say this is why they stopped him,” Thompkins said, “… because if he was in a different place and he was a different color, it wouldn’t have been an issue.”
On Sept. 8, the Forced Trajectory Project published an article about Williams, citing Williams’ family members, who watched body camera footage of his death before Monday’s briefing. The Forced Trajectory Project is an advocacy media organization that documents stories of police violence and offers an internship to UNLV students. The two officers who initiate the stop have been placed on paid leave pending an investigation.