Byron Williams’ family files lawsuit after he dies in Las Vegas police custody
"Las Vegas police committed an atrocious act to cover up what happened," an attorney said.
Byron Williams died in police custody in Las Vegas after he was detained for allegedly riding a bike without a safety light. Now his family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
Williams, 50, “was unarmed and hadn’t done a single thing wrong when police decided to stop him, then chase him and literally press the life out of him,” attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference Thursday.
“If we don’t do something, there will be another Byron Williams, another George Floyd,” Crump added.
The incident occurred on the evening of Sept. 5, 2019, as Williams was riding a bike home from a family gathering. Officers spotted him and ordered him to stop. When Williams ignored their commands, the officers pursued him before Williams ditched his bike and fled on foot. That’s when the police radioed a “Code Red” to other officers indicating that the situation was an emergency, the lawsuit states.
Williams ultimately stopped running and complied with the cops. They “immediately” restrained him while applying handcuffs, the lawsuit alleges. He died under similar circumstances as George Floyd, as Williams was also pinned to the ground by police who kneeled on his back during his arrest.
Police body camera video captured Williams saying “I can’t breathe” 24 times before his body went limp. According to the lawsuit, the officers mocked the victim as he pleaded for help, and two of them high-fived each other. Police then dragged his body to a patrol car and he was declared dead less than an hour later at the hospital.
“They treated him like garbage,” Williams’ stepson Jeffery Thompkins told PEOPLE.
“LVMPD is alleging that the existing emergency that prompted the ‘Code Red’ was Byron Lee Williams riding his bicycle without a safety light,” alleges the lawsuit, “despite the fact that it was already becoming light outside.”
The legal team for the Williams family has noted that nearly two years later there are still major gaps in the timeline of events leading up to his death.
“Las Vegas police committed an atrocious act to cover up what happened,” attorney Antonio Romanucci said. “They turned off their body-worn cameras — not for a minute, not for two minutes, but for over 10 minutes.”
The 43-page civil lawsuit names as defendants Clark County, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, and the four officers involved, Patrick Campbell, Benjamin Vasquez, Alexander Gonzalez, and Rocky Roman, per the report.
According to Las Vegas TV station KLAS, the officers have not been charged or disciplined.
“Without weighing in on the specific allegations against Metro and its officers, we can say that the allegations in the complaint about the County’s supervisory responsibilities for the policies and procedures of Metro are completely inaccurate and will be immediately dismissed by a court,” Clark County officials said in a statement.
“They were operating within the course and scope of their duty,” Las Vegas Police Protective Association president Steve Grammas tells PEOPLE.
Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg ruled Williams’ death a homicide. The coroner said he died of a “methamphetamine overdose” compounded by conditions including heart and lung disease.
“In this context, homicide means that the actions of another person or other people resulted in, or contributed to, the death,” Fudenberg said in a statement issued in October 2019. “It is not a determination of criminal activity or wrongdoing.”
“Just like we saw in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we saw similar indifference and inhumanity here in the state of Nevada, in the city of Las Vegas, when Byron Williams was detained by the police and said ‘I can’t breathe’ 24 times,” said Crump at a news conference, comparing Brown’s death to that of Floyd’s, who died while being detained by members of the Minneapolis police department.
“I do feel like they need to pay to the fullest extent of the law,” Thompkins said. “He was doing nothing. He was minding his business and he didn’t come home. When I saw him, when he left that evening, he was smiling.”
Thompkins said he and Williams, a convicted felon, were working on a program for felons, “to help teach them rehabilitation skills and get them employment.”
“That’s something that he was really, really excited about,” Thompkins said.
Thompkins runs a Las Vegas non-profit called Jet Foundation, where Williams was assisting in efforts to provide vulnerable families with food and medical care.
“Byron was at every single event that I had, volunteering, directing traffic, making plates, giving out supplies, resources. Whatever was needed of him, he was definitely there,” Thompkins said. “I think he was very interested in helping, because I believe that it’s a passion he always had. However, he was never in a situation or a circumstance to where he could be of service to someone, if that makes sense.”
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