LAS VEGAS (AP) — A family member said Friday she wasn’t satisfied with findings that led prosecutors not to charge Las Vegas police with a crime in the death of a 50-year-old Black man after he was stopped by patrol officers for riding a bicycle in the dark without a light.
After abandoning his bicycle and leading two officers on a foot chase, Byron Williams is seen on police body-camera saying he can’t breathe while the officers pin him face-first to the ground to handcuff him. One has his knee on Williams’ back in video made public during an airing of elements of the investigation.
A family attorney suggested a lawsuit may be coming.
A Las Vegas police lieutenant said policy changes enacted since Williams died in September 2019 require officers to more closely monitor the health of people in their custody — particularly if they complain of breathing trouble.
Officers are now taught to more quickly get people in handcuffs into a seated position, Lt. James LaRochelle said, and a policy change requires them not to turn off body-worn cameras until they are no longer assigned to an event.
“The family of Byron Williams continues to grieve,” Teena Acree, Williams’ niece, said in a statement through her attorneys. Acree sat during the three-hour presentation with several other family members.
“The lack of complete information and the disrespect from their unwillingness to deal openly with us makes it impossible for our family to heal,” Acree said of police and public officials.
Chicago-based attorney, Bhavani Raveendran, representing the family, called Friday’s proceedings “just the start of transparency.”
“More steps need to be taken,” she said.
Relatives raised questions about Williams’ death even before the Clark County coroner ruled it a homicide a year ago — citing “prone restraint” by police as a significant factor. Medical examiners also found Williams had methamphetamine in his system, high blood pressure and heart and lung disease.
Williams’ name has been invoked during recent protests in Las Vegas calling for racial justice following the police deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
The coroner’s October 2019 ruling that Williams’ death was caused by another person was not a finding that it was a criminal act, and Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson later declined to pursue criminal charges.
That led to Friday’s proceedings — a non-judicial process created when the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department underwent a U.S. Justice Department policy review in 2012 following public pressure about police shootings and uses of force.
The officers involved in Williams’ arrest, Benjamin Vasquez and Patrick Campbell, were not involved in Friday’s proceeding. They are back at work, a department spokesman said.
Their union executive, Steve Grammas, called Williams’ death unfortunate, but he said the officers did not cause it.
Detective Scott Mendoza, a department investigator who spoke Friday, noted video showed Williams and the officers were all breathing hard after scaling two block walls and veering into an apartment complex courtyard. The foot chase lasted about two minutes before Williams surrendered face-down on his stomach.
Mendoza said he counted Williams say 24 times while he was being handcuffed that he could not breathe.
One officer is heard replying that was because of the chase.
Video showed Williams initially struggle to keep an arm beneath him, and still talking and conscious when he was lifted by his arms to his feet.
No weapon was found, but Williams appeared to try to kick away small plastic bags of a white substance and an orange bottle with white pills that dropped to the ground when he stood. Mendoza said the substances were methamphetamine and hydrocodone.
Paramedics were summoned, but Williams became unconscious on the ground before they arrived. He was pronounced dead later at a hospital.
Attorney Joshua Tomsheck, the appointed public advocate for the hearing, identified several gaps in body camera video during and after Williams’ arrest and medical treatment.
Michelle Fleck, a county prosecutor who questioned Mendoza, noted Williams was supposed to be on house arrest in a pending felony drug and forgery case in Las Vegas and was wearing an ankle bracelet tracking device when he died.
Police said Williams had a history of criminal arrests and felony drug convictions in California and Nevada.