Merced police used Taser on unarmed, legless man in a wheelchair
By VICTOR A. PATTON
The Merced Police Department's Internal Affairs Division is investigating a complaint alleging that an officer twice used a Taser against an unarmed, wheelchair-bound man with no legs.
The incident occurred Sept. 11.
The man who was Tasered, 40-year-old Gregory Williams, a double-leg amputee, spent six days in jail on suspicion of domestic violence and resisting arrest, although the Merced County District Attorney's Office hasn't filed charges in the case.
Williams, who was released from jail Friday, said he was violently manhandled and Tasered by police, even though he claims he was never physically aggressive toward the officers or resisted arrest.
Even worse for him, Williams says he was publicly humiliated after his pants fell down during the incident. The officers allegedly left him outdoors in broad daylight, handcuffed on the pavement, nude below the waist. Williams said the arrest also left him with an injured shoulder, limiting his mobility in his wheelchair.
And although the two lead arresting officers are white, and Williams is black, it remains unknown whether race was a factor in the incident. Those two officers remain on duty.
Williams said the officers never used any racial epithets toward him. Although he does believe race and class played a role in his arrest, he also feels the police just wanted to be "downright nasty" to him. "They did what they did because they can get away with it," he said. "They've been doing it so long, it doesn't matter who they do it to. They just think they can get away with it."
A handful of residents who live in Williams' apartment complex claim they witnessed the incident and support Williams' charges. A short video clip, shot by a neighbor in the complex and obtained by the Sun-Star, clearly shows Williams sitting on the pavement with his pants down, his hands cuffed behind his back.
A Merced police report obtained by the Sun-Star tells a somewhat different story from that of Williams. The report, written by the responding officers, suggests that police had tried to reason with Williams before the arrest, to no avail. The officers wrote in the report that Williams was uncooperative and refused to turn over his 2-year-old daughter to Merced County Child Protective Services, among other allegations.
In the report, police also say a hostile crowd had gathered as the officers attempted to perform their duties.
The Merced Police Department's spokesman officially declined to comment on the matter, saying he can't legally speak about it because of the internal investigation.
The Sun-Star interviewed Williams and several neighbors who said they witnessed his arrest.
Police use Tasers more often
Tasers have become more controversial as they're more widely used by law enforcement. Proponents, including most U.S. law enforcement agencies and related foundations, say the weapon allows officers to control suspects and criminals without resorting to deadly force, pepper spray or batons. The stun guns, which transmit up to 50,000 volts of electricity, are supposed to disable a suspect or criminal for several seconds so officers can handcuff or otherwise control him. Tasers have become popular over the last decade, and more than 12,400 police departments worldwide use them.
Opponents blame Tasers for more than 150 deaths in the U.S. in recent years. A 2005 report by the American Civil Liberties Union claims that the weapon is "largely unregulated." In a survey of more than 50 departments across central and northern California, the ACLU concluded that "in the absence of strong regulations on how police use the weapon, we are likely to see more unnecessary deaths."
Stanislaus County inmate hit by Taser dies
Third time in five months for this kind of death at jail
By Rosalio Ahumada
An inmate at the Stanislaus County Jail in downtown Modesto died after jailers used a Taser to subdue him as he was being moved to another cell Wednesday afternoon, sheriff's officials reported Friday.
This is the third time in five months an inmate has died while in custody after law enforcement officials used Tasers to subdue the men. All three were being held at the sheriff's downtown Modesto jail when they died.
In the latest incident, deputies used a Taser on Alton Warren Ham, 45, of Oklahoma after he started "fighting" with them, according to a sheriff's news release issued Friday morning.
Sheriff's deputies arrested Ham on Tuesday night in Hughson on suspicion of home invasion robbery. It was unclear what Oklahoma city Ham was from.
On Wednesday, the deputies were trying to move Ham to a cell for his safety because he had "exhibited irrational behavior and was combative," according to the news release. Ham stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 200 pounds.
Sheriff's officials declined to release some details.
"Some of the details we don't have because this is still under investigation," Sheriff's Capt. Tim Beck said. "I don't know how many people (the detectives) still have to interview."
Beck said he did not know where in the jail Ham was being held when the jail staff noticed he was acting strangely. But about 2 p.m., the deputies decided to move Ham to the safety cell, also known as a "sobering cell."
Inmates are placed alone in the safety cell so they can't harm themselves or other inmates. The cell has a door with a small window, and sheriff's officials say the walls are not as hard as those of other cells. The cell has no bars.
As the deputies were moving Ham, "he started fighting," according to the news release. When asked if Ham was punching or kicking the deputies, Beck said he could not release those details.
It was unclear how long the struggle with the jailers lasted. Beck, who is a sheriff's spokesman, said Friday he didn't have information about how many deputies were involved in the struggle, how many deputies used a Taser on Ham or how many times Ham was struck by Tasers.
Deputies then put Ham into the cell.
Beck said the deputies and medical staff stayed with Ham in the cell until he became unresponsive. Medical staff tried to resuscitate him but were unsuccessful. Ham was pronounced dead at the jail at 2:38 p.m., Beck said.
Enlarged heart found
Sheriff's officials said an autopsy showed that Ham had an enlarged heart and coroner officials are awaiting toxicology results before they can determine a cause of death. Beck said it could be four to six weeks before the toxicology results are returned.
Ham was arrested about 9:20 p.m. Tuesday after he broke into a home in the 3000 block of Euclid Avenue in Hughson, Beck said.
An 84-year-old woman, who lives alone at the home, told deputies Ham first knocked on the front door and continued "banging on the door," demanding to be let in because he was being chased by a group of Latino males, Beck said.
The woman refused and called 911, but Ham broke a front window and entered the house, Beck said.
Ham ransacked the home while the victim was still inside. The woman, who was not harmed, went outside and was met by deputies who were dispatched to the scene.
Deputies went inside and found Ham, who had a 4-inch cut on his arm and was bleeding profusely. Beck said Ham suffered the cut while breaking the window.