LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Byron Williams was stopped by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers in September 2019 for riding his bicycle without a safety light. He ran, and police chased him. He was eventually caught, ordered to lay on the ground and handcuffed.
That’s when an officer put a knee to Williams’ back.
He can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” 24 times in video from a police body camera, according to civil rights attorney Ben Crump who, along with Antonio Romanucci, is representing Williams’ family.
Lawyers point out officers kept Williams on the ground and failed to get him medical attention when he told them he couldn’t breathe. They also say officers joked around with each other while Williams was dying and turned their body cameras off at the scene.
“Stevie Wonder could see that this man needed medical help,” Crump said during a news conference in Las Vegas Thursday.
Williams was pronounced dead at a hospital two hours after he was stopped by police.
“Byron Williams 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,” said attorney Ben Crump. “If we don’t do something, there will be another Byron Williams, another George Floyd.”
The Clark County Coroner ruled his death a homicide because the prone restraint officers kept him in was a factor. The coroner also noted Williams had methamphetamine in his system and other health issues.
Attorneys representing the family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas Thursday.
His family is suing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the four police officers involved, Sheriff Joe Lombardo and the City of Las Vegas. Crump and Romanucci discussed the lawsuit.
The brother and a nephew of George Floyd, who died in police custody, also attended the news conference. The Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s back was sentenced last month to 22.5 years in prison for the killing.
“You have no choice but to think about George Floyd because the situations are similar in so many ways,” said Brandon Williams, George Floyd’s nephew. “Byron Williams said he couldn’t breathe 24 times. George said he couldn’t breathe nearly 30 times.”
Crump stated, “Byron Williams should not have been killed by the police for riding a bicycle while Black.”
Teena Acree, niece of Byron Williams, lamented, “My uncle Byron Williams’ life was stolen from my family.”
The officers named in the lawsuit are Patrick Campbell, Benjamin Vasquez, Alexander Gonzalez and Rocky Roman. No criminal charges were ever filed in the case.
A Metro spokesperson told the I-Team two of the officers were placed on administrative leave but returned to active duty.
Officers Campbell and Vasquez were put on relief of duty on 9/6/19 and returned on 11/9/19. The other two officers named in the lawsuit were never put on relief of duty.”Metro spokesperson
“I can’t believe that they’re still wearing that uniform,” said Acree, “that they still have a badge, and they’re supposed to protect and serve the community.”
In October, Metro announced some policy changes as a result of Williams’ death, pertaining to force used and body cameras.
The lawsuit alleges “a pattern of unconstitutional practices and customs in the Las Vegas Metro
Police Department, including the disproportionate use of force, poor or absent communications
about incidents, poor handling of suspects, and not requesting or administering medical aid to
suspects in a timely manner. The complaint also details a disproportionate use of force and
officer-involved shootings involving Black citizens.”
Lawyers claim Metro has additional body camera footage from the scene but has not released it. A spokesman for the department tells the I-Team all body cam video has been released.
Family members named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Williams’ two sisters and one brother, as well as two nieces, who are the administrators of his estate. They are seeking both survival and wrongful death damages under federal and state law.
We reached out to Metro, but the department typically doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
Lawyers are calling for an investigation by the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice and by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. We reached out to Aaron Ford’s office, and a spokeswoman says they cannot confirm or deny whether there is an ongoing criminal investigation.
Our office cannot confirm or deny whether we have an ongoing criminal investigation.”Nevada Attorney General’s Office