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Cycling while Black: the death of Byron Williams

devastates his family, leaving them with questions and a demand for justice

· lvmpd,police brutality,byron williams,las vegas,breaking news

Reporting by Nissa Tzun

Photos by Nissa Tzun and Eduardo Rossal-Cabrera

Cyclist Byron Williams was pulled over by the LVMPD for allegedly not having lights on his bicycle at the Chevron gas station on the corner of MLK Blvd and W. Bonanza Rd. September 7, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

Las Vegas, NV - Very early Thursday morning, around 5AM, September 5, 2019, 50-year old Byron Williams was dropped off by his fiancee and partner of 35 years, Carmon Scott, at Martin Luther King Boulevard and W. Bonanza Road so that he could visit one of his sons. He hopped on his bicycle and began peddling when he was apprehended by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police in the parking lot of a Chevron gas station at 1500 W. Bonanza Rd. Police allege that Williams did not have safety lights on his bicycle, and so a chase ensued. Williams jumped over a wall that separated the gas station from a block of apartment homes. Soon after, he would be dead.

Byron Williams takes a selfie with his fiancee and life partner of 35 years, Carmon Scott. Together they share a daughter, Kelly Williams. Courtesy of the Byron Williams family.

The family of Williams was first notified by a woman who said he was arrested, and died at the hospital. "Some lady called my mom and told my mom a false story of the police arresting my dad," said Kelly Williams, the daughter of Williams, as she recalled receiving the news Thursday morning. "The lady told my mom that my dad was arrested and when they handcuffed him they stood him up and that's when my dad said he couldn't breathe. They laid him back on the ground and they called AMR. My dad died at the hospital."

Gwen Lewis, Byron Williams' older sister, comforts her niece Kelly Williams as they recall the horror of watching Williams struggle for his life during the fatal police encounter early Thursday morning, September 5, 2019. September 7, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Eduardo Rossal-Cabrera

This narrative turned out to be inaccurate. Soon after this narrative was told, an eyewitness reached out to the family and described what they had seen. "But someone that was there got in contact with my mom and told my mom the whole sto--we knew the story before we even seen the video footage which is today. We seen that video today this morning, at roughly, approximately around 10:30 we were probably all sitting down watching that video."

Kelly Williams, daughter of Byron Williams. September 7, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Eduardo Rossal-Cabrera

In absolute visceral pain and between streaming tears, Kelly described what she witnessed on the body cam footage in the morning at the police station. Williams had been apprehended for allegedly not having a safety light on his bicycle, and decided to flee from the police. He jumped over the wall in the back of the Chevron gas station and the body cam footage shows Williams running a considerable distance, and then following police orders to lay on the ground waiting to be apprehended.  

"They put their knee in my daddy's back and the whole time my daddy was on the ground asking for help he kept telling them he could not breathe and they're sitting their having a conversation over him, and he stopped breathin'." During the encounter, the family describes witnessing several LVMPD officers act callously while Williams struggled to breathe. At one point, they were seen giving each other high-five's, saying, "Good job," and laughing. When Williams was trying to stand up, one of the officers remarked, “If you don’t stand up, we’re gonna drag you,” which they eventually did, and then put him face down in the dirt. Williams can be seen gasping for air here repeatedly saying , "I can't breathe."

"They thought they had a drug addict, and they thought they were going to be able to kill this drug addict and it was going to be swept under the table like they been doing every other Black person in Las Vegas...But he has a whole family that cares about him," said Kelly.

What happened next is even more despicable. As Williams laid pinned to the ground, one of the standing officers remarked, "Is he breathin'?"

"You see another officer go down and put his hand on my daddy's back...and everybody's cameras go off. It was like a scary movie. This was nighttime, mind you. When their video footage came back, the sun was out."

Due to how bright the video was when the cameras were turned back on, Kelly and the family speculate that a lot of time passed while the cameras were off. Williams was now laying lifeless on his back and EMT can be seen on the camera with gloves on attempting to administer CPR.

Gwen Lewis, Byron Williams' older sister describes Williams as a "beautiful man," who gave his all to his friends and family. September 7, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Eduardo Rossal-Cabrera

The family stated that LVMPD never tried to contact them about what happened to Williams. Jeffery E. Thompkins, Kelly's half brother, says it was only when he called the Clark County Coroner's office after the eyewitness informed the family of what happened, that LVMPD's Force Investigations Unit reached out to them. On a panel hosted by UNLV's Criminal Justice department in March of 2018, a LVMPD representative claimed that families are notified by a special unit that is trained to counsel families through traumatic experiences. While this may be a program for Victims of Crime, local families impacted by police homicide have never reported receiving this kind of service and very rarely are they informed by the police that their loved one in fact died during a police interaction.

Another upset occurred when the family was turned away from viewing Williams' body. The excuse coroner's office gave was that Williams' body was being stored amongst other bodies and they could not allow the family to view Williams due to privacy issues. In a phone conversation with the Clark County Coroner's Office, the representative stated that they never allow families to view their loved one at the office, and it was due to the fact that their office was very small, and that families are able to view the body once it has been delivered to the funeral home. This can be confirmed in the case of Junior Lopez, who was killed during a traffic stop in April of 2018. The family wanted to desperately to see Lopez' body and was not reunited with him until the day of his funeral.

However, what is out of the ordinary is how quiet LVMPD has been in regards to the interaction with Williams. Virtually no mainstream media outlet has been made aware of Williams' death, and it was through social media that Forced Trajectory Project was made privy to this information. While this is an anomaly, the situation may allow the family to be the first to share their story before the police takes hold of the narrative, likely criminalizing Williams' character and utilizing the mainstream media as a bullhorn for their perspective. When Tashii Brown was choked to death after having been tased seven times and hit repeatedly in the head by LVMPD officer Kenneth Lopera, the media focused on Tashii's criminal history and the coroner's office blamed his death on his enlarged heart and methamphetamine usage, distracting from the blatant brutality that obviously ended his life. This is often coined as "being killed twice," when a victim loses their life at the hands of the police and then suffers a second assassination through the media.

Jeffery E. Thompkins holds up a photo of Byron Williams, his mother's partner and fiancé, who was apprehended by the LVMPD in this Chevron parking lot on the corner of MLK Blvd and Bonanza Rd. Williams did not survive the police interaction. September7, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

The family is demanding answers for what happened to Byron Williams. "I wanna know why was he stopped? Why wasn't his rights read to him? Why wasn't he afforded medical care when he was sayin' he could not breathe? I wanna know why he was disrespected in the body cam, in the videos. We seen the footage. Some footage shows officers turning their body cam completely off, and it was like that for a long period of time. I wanna know what wasn't shown," said Teena Acree, niece of Williams. "I am 100% calling [on] the DA. Asking for media attention - coverage. I don't think there's been one case that Las Vegas Police Department have been held accountable for actions that they have done in the past and currently. Thats what I'm asking for. A full investigation. I'm asking for us all to unite, us all to understand that this is not okay. When someone says they cannot breathe multiple, numerous times, and they're just cursing in their body just shows that they don't care."

"Steve Wolfson, we expect you to do your job," demanded Kelly. "My daddy didn't deserve this at all. I hope he gives my daddy justice for this."

Another family in pain: From left to right, Gwen Lewis, older sister of Byron Williams, Kelly Williams, daughter of Byron Williams, Carmon Scott, fiancee of Byron Williams, and Teena Acree, niece of Byron Williams. September 7, 2019, Las Vegas, NV. Photo by Nissa Tzun

If you would like to support the family directly for burial costs and legal services, please visit their Gofundme page.

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