The family of a Black Las Vegas man who died in police custody earlier this month are questioning officers’ account of the incident, arguing their loved one’s death was wholly unjustified.
Byron Lee Williams, 50, was stopped by Las Vegas Metro Police on Sept. 6 after riding his bicycle without a safety light or reflectors, KTNV reported. Williams, who was handcuffed on the ground, alerted officers he couldn’t breathe as they struggled to take him into custody.
Less than an hour later, he was dead.
“Byron Lee Williams had people who cared about him,” his grieving daughter, who wasn’t named, told the outlet.
Clark County Asst. Sheriff Charles Hank held a press conference Monday, recounting the details of Williams’ arrest. The incident unfolded just before 6 a.m., when a pair of patrol officers encountered the Nevada man riding his bike near MLK Boulevard and Bonanza Road. It was dark and William’s bike wasn’t equipped with a safety light, authorities said.
When police tried to stop him, the man quickly pedaled away, eventually ditching his bike and running on foot. Officers gave chase.
Police eventually caught up with Williams, who had scaled two walls before surrendering in the courtyard of a nearby apartment complex.
“Get on the ground!” an officer shouts, according to bodycam footage of the pursuit. “Get on the ground!”
The suspect complies, lying on the ground with one arm behind his back. As he’s being cuffed, Williams repeatedly tells officers he can’t breathe, to which one of the cops responds: “Yeah, ’cause you’re f—–g tired of running.”
The officers, audibly winded themselves, were helping Williams’ to the patrol car when he appeared to lose consciousness, but was still moving and “making noises.” The police called for medics, who arrived about 15 minutes later to treat Williams before rushing him to a nearby hospital. Officers’ body cameras were turned off by this time.
He was pronounced dead at the hospital, just 56 minutes after officers had first encountered him, Hank told reporters Monday.
“We take the sanctity of life very seriously,” he added. “We feel very saddened that this has occurred, and it’s unfortunate.”
The asst. police chief added that drugs, including a baggie of meth and a container of opioid pills, that Williams was seemingly trying to hide were recovered at the scene by officers. The suspect’s lengthy rap sheet, which included charges for illicit drugs, was also mentioned.
Authorities were reportedly in the process of drafting an arrest warrant for Williams, who they said was under electronic monitoring and had fled.
The man’s relatives didn’t deny his criminal past, but insisted he’d turned his life around.
“He was loved, he was a changed man,” Williams niece told KNTV. It needs to be known that he changed his lifestyle.”
Jeffrey E. Thompkin, who identified himself as Williams’ stepson, has scrutinzed officers’ version of events. In a recent interview with ACAB Radio, Thompkin alleged that the video 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.
Las Vegas authorities said the incident remains under investigation.
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