I-Team: Investigating Byron Williams’ in-custody death

I-Team

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Black Lives Matter movement has spurred protests across the nation, including here in Southern Nevada. While many state and local leaders say the Metro Police Department is a leader in policing, many are still calling for change.

Some activists say one in-custody death is an example of why. The I-Team examined how a police stop led to the death of Byron Williams.

WARNING: Some of the content in this report is of a sensitive nature.

Williams told officers he couldn’t breathe at least 17 times. Less than an hour later, he was dead.

The I-Team spoke with loved one Jeffery Thompkins about the incident, telling him they said Williams died at the hospital. He replied:

“That’s absolutely 100% not correct.”

Williams’ death was ruled a homicide, and the Clark County Coroner said he had methamphetamine in his system, along with other health issues.

Thompkins looked at Williams like a dad, as Byron and the former’s mother were high school sweethearts.

We asked him what he thinks officers should have done when Williams said he couldn’t breathe, “I really don’t even think it should have got to that point.”

According to Metro, on September 5, 2019, Officers Benjamin Vazquez and Patrick Campbell tried to stop Williams for not having a bicycle light. About a quarter of a mile after the initial attempt, he complied.

Body camera footage showed the officer’s knee remaining on Williams’ back while he was on the ground. Additional police arrived, and medical was not called until about two and a half minutes after the first time Williams said he couldn’t breathe.

At a press conference five days later, now retired Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank acknowledged police body cameras went dark.

“It’s very serious, and it’s concerning to us,” Hank said during the briefing. “…They subsequently went back on later on. We’re gonna investigate that.”

For the full Metro press conference and body camera footage, click here.

Thompkins says Metro showed his family a total of seven body camera videos but would not provide them the footage.

“They turn the cameras on for probably 30 seconds, 35 seconds, enough to see,” he explained, “You see them working on Byron, motionless, and they take ’em off. And the cameras go back off.”

The I-Team requested the video, but we were denied due to the ongoing investigation.

Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave and are now back at work.

In March, the Clark County District Attorney announced no criminal prosecution of the officers and called for the scheduling of a police fatality public fact-finding review, which has not yet taken place.

On June 16, Sheriff Joe Lombardo told the Clark County Commission changes were made to department policy.

“We changed a policy last month to address medical aide and recovery position as a result of an unfortunate foot pursuit where an individual lost their lives with our interaction,” said Lombardo. “Aide was administered, recovery was administered, but it wasn’t timely.”

In response to the policy change, Thompkins said, “I think it’s a slap in the face. This is the thing: Why are you changing policies? You only change policies when there is a problem.”

Shortly after Williams’ death, his family demanded answers.

In May, video surfaced of George Floyd’s death. Thompkins says what’s different is that Minneapolis Police didn’t have a chance to control the narrative, but Metro did, showing limited video and citing Williams’ lengthy criminal history.

“Because it’s like that almost makes it okay,” lamented Thompkins. “Well, this person was a criminal, or they were an ex-offender, you know. And it just hurts, it hurts, you know.”

The family has previously said they plan on filing a lawsuit against Metro Police, but nothing has been filed yet.

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