Man who repeatedly told police ‘I can’t breathe’ during arrest for biking without lights dies in custody

Michael Eli Dokosi September 16, 2019
Byron Lee Williams via twitter @alexis_egeland

Even though 50-year-old Byron Lee Williams had a troubled past, his relatives say he was reforming to becoming an upright man in society when his life was snuffed at the hands of the Las Vegas Metro Police.

Williams’ death sparked anger among people of colour in the U.S., especially when he was also heard on camera saying he couldn’t breathe, having been wrestled to the ground by two officers trying to handcuff him.

Eric Garner, another Black man had died in Staten Island in 2014 after Daniel Pantaleo, a New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer, put him in a chokehold while arresting him. Despite saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times, the officer didn’t budge, leading to Garner’s death.

The Black Las Vegas man, Williams, caught the attention of Las Vegas Metro Police officers Benjamin Vazquez and Patrick Campbell on September 6.

This was while he was riding a bike without a safety light or reflectors near the MLK Boulevard and Bonanza Road at dawn which constitutes a violation, according to a KTNV report.

But the series of events which ultimately led to Williams losing his life has prompted his family to demand the full body-cam footage of his arrest to ascertain if the officers employed foul play in his arrest as the body cam was turned off at certain periods.

According to Clark County Asst. Sheriff Charles Hank, Williams, when stopped by the patrol officers, rather paddled off, eventually ditching the bike to run. The officers then chased him and eventually caught up with him in the courtyard of a nearby apartment complex but not before he had scaled two walls.

“Get on the ground!” an officer shouts, according to bodycam footage of the pursuit. “Get on the ground!”

Williams is then seen on the ground with a hand on his back and one forward. In the process of cuffing him, he is repeatedly heard saying he can’t breathe, to which one of the cops responds: “Yeah, ’cause you’re f—–g tired of running.”

He is eventually carried to the patrol car when he appeared to lose consciousness, but was still moving and “making noises.” The officers call medics to attend to him but arrive 15 minutes later.

Upon reaching the hospital, he is pronounced dead. Curiously, the body cameras of the officers get turned off within the period of transferring him to the hospital and it is here the family seeks answers as to what necessitated the putting off of the body cam.

According to Hank, “there was a time when the cameras went off after they got him over to the police car and they subsequently turned them back on later on,” but added the department policy does allow for the officers to turn the camera off at the conclusion of an incident or in other circumstances.

In all, Williams stayed alive for 56 minutes upon encountering the patrol officers who demanded he stops, according to Hank.

“We take the sanctity of life very seriously,” he added. “We feel very saddened that this has occurred, and it’s unfortunate,” Hank told reporters.

His grieving daughter said: “Byron Lee Williams had people who cared about him.”

“He was loved, he was a changed man,” Williams’ niece told KNTV. It needs to be known that he changed his lifestyle.”

The assistant police chief stated that drugs – methamphetamine and opioid pills – were recovered from the deceased, which might have prompted his flight and attempt to conceal.

Stepson Jeffrey E. Thompkin, told ACAB Radio that the video the police provided them had been “doctored,” adding that “40 minutes had elapsed between the traffic stop and images that he said showed his stepfather lifeless on the concrete,” the Las Vegas Sun reported.

Thompkin believes his stepdad died during the arrest, not on the way to the hospital like they had been told.

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s Force Investigation Team and Critical Incident Review Team are investigating what happened during the arrest before the death of Williams.

The findings will be forwarded to the Clark County District Attorney’s Office for review, LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank stated, adding the Coroner’s Office will determine Williams’ death.

Williams, a convicted felon with a long criminal history in California and Nevada, was part of the Clark County Detention Center electronic monitoring program.

He was required to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet but in August, he failed to check in and whiles wearing it when taken into custody, he had not charged it.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 16, 2019


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