Death in Police Custody

“I can’t breathe,” says a Las Vegas man pinned down by officers

You would think that any police officer who has heard about the firing of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo last month in the wake of the 2014 chokehold death of 43-year old Eric Garner would practice the utmost restraint when holding down a man who repeatedly says, “I can’t breathe.” These words (uttered by Garner) became the rallying cry for thousands who protested his death.

Yet, this week in Las Vegas, a disturbing video, shows several Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers pinning down 50-year old Byron Lee Williams after an early morning police chase for failure to have safety lights on his bike.

Once in custody, the video shows Williams facedown on the ground with several officers placing handcuffs on him. He repeatedly says, “I can’t breathe.” Despite this, officers drag his limp body to a police vehicle to await paramedics.

Why didn’t any of several officers heed the man’s his cries? Where was the humanity that acknowledges another in need?

Williams’ family is pushing for an investigation into his death. Officers had turned off their body cams for several minutes. When the body cams resume, emergency personnel is trying to revive Williams. He died at Valley Hospital Medical Center at 6:44 a.m.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal article states that “Jeffrey Thompkins, Williams’ stepson, said that he and the rest of the family met with Metro a few days ago to review footage from seven officers who were at the scene. He said the footage showed officers dragging Williams’ limp body around a corner and dropping him on the ground while they laughed, high-fived and told him nobody was coming to help him.”

According to the Review-Journal, Williams has a criminal record in Nevada for “possession of a Schedule I, II, III or IV drug, possession of a forged instrument, failure to register as an ex-felon and numerous traffic violations.” The Las Vegas Sun reports that Williams had “a lengthy criminal record…in California.”

In addition, Williams, according to the Las Vegas Sun, had failed to check in at the Clark County Detention Center a week earlier. He was out on condition that he wear an ankle bracelet “for alleged meth trafficking and possession of a dangerous drug without a subscription.”

Sadly, his record might lead some to justify the officers’ actions and dismiss the concerns of his family.

However, Thompkins told the Review-Journal, “Those charges that they spoke of were more than 30 years old… He grew up in a time in Los Angeles where people did things, but that should not define his life.

“…(he) was a hardworking father and a loving grandfather who did everything in his power to uplift the community. Thompkins runs a nonprofit called the Jet Foundation, and that the two helped pass out 375 meals and over 4,000 articles of clothing to homeless people just a week before he died.”

Officers Benjamin Vasquez, 27, and Patrick Campbell, 28, have been placed on leave pending an investigation by the LVMPD’s Force Investigative Team into the use of force.

In the meantime, Williams’ name is added to the list of black men who have died in police custody, and his family must fight to prove that his life mattered..

OMV Podcast

This weekend, One Mother’s Voice: In the Name of Justice, begins a 5-part series, “Incarceration is a Family Affair” (

The first topic is “Prison and Trauma” about the effects on long-term incarceration in over-crowded, deteriorating prisons.

In the coming weeks, we’ll address post-incarceration syndrome, the effects of a son’s incarceration on mothers, the effects on children when a parent is incarcerated, and how high incarceration rates affect “disadvantaged” communities and communities of color.


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