Lawsuit filed against City of Las Vegas and Four Metro Police Officers for Death of Byron Williams
Civil rights attorneys Ben Crump of Ben Crump Law, Antonio Romanucci, Bhavani Raveendran and Ian Fallon of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC and local counsel Patrick McDonnell of Michaelson & Associates announce the filing of a civil lawsuit naming the City of Las Vegas and four police officers as responsible for the death of Byron Williams on September 5, 2019. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Marcia Wells and Teena Acree, Williams’ nieces. Mr. Williams, who was Black and unarmed, died in police custody after being stopped for a minor offense and eventually handcuffed with an officer’s knee on his head, shoulders and back.
While in police custody, Williams told the officers, “I can’t breathe” approximately 24 times. He lost consciousness, dying an hour later. He had no history of cardiovascular or respiratory problems. While the incident happened nearly two years ago, it has not received widespread attention, in part because the officers turned off their bodycams and body camera footage was only made public during a Police Fatality Public Fact Finding Review at the Clark County Nevada Government Center in 2020.
The federal civil rights lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
The complaint names Las Vegas Metro Police officers Patrick Campbell, Benjamin Vasquez, Alexander Gonzalez and Rocky Roman individually and as agents of the City of Las Vegas for their roles in Williams’ death. No criminal charges have been filed. Two officers who were involved were placed on administrative leave and have since returned to active duty. The City issued a number of police policy reforms after the Fact Finding meeting on this case.
The lawsuit details 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.
These Monell claims against the City and LVMPD under Sheriff Joe Lombardo include unwritten polities, customs and practices including the following:
- Discriminating against non-white subjects in both lethal and non-lethal uses of force;
- Allowing inherently dangerous foot pursuits for minor ordinance violations;
- Failing to train law enforcement officers about the danger and likely injury when subjecting individuals to prone restraint and placing the officer’s body weight on subjects’ backs leading to cardiorespiratory distress;
- Failing to train law enforcement officers about the danger and likely injury of failing to use a recovery position or proper tactics if a positional restraint is utilized;
- Failing to train law enforcement officers to provide medical aid or get assistance;
- Failing to train law enforcement officers on the sanctity of life;
- Allowing the use of dangerous and excessive force during and after the arrest of subjects;
- Allowing law enforcement officers to refuse to provide emergency medical assistance, including CPR and chest compressions, after an in-custody subject exhibits symptoms of cardiorespiratory failure, has lost consciousness, and/or become unresponsive;
- Allowing law enforcement officers to choose not to immediately call for medical assistance when a subject is injured during an arrest; and/or
- Encouraging police officers not to intervene with the use of excessive force by LVMPD officers.
Counts in the complaint include battery and negligence that lead to wrongful death, and claims saying the officers had no legal justification for their use of force. The lawsuit also states officers were in no fear of their own bodily harm and violated Mr. Williams’ Fourth Amendment civil rights. It further states the City has municipal liability for the officers’ employment, training and conduct, as well as operated with bad faith refusal to terminate officers and created an underlying environment where unreasonable and unconstitutional use of force was tolerated.
“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. How many times, America, do we need to see the violation of the civil rights of Black people by police who use unnecessary force and act with impunity? What happened in Las Vegas that night was not an isolated incident and shows the urgent need for police reform across this country,” said Attorney Ben Crump.
“We have seen a significant shift this year in cities being held accountable for the patterns and practices of their police departments, and this lawsuit is intended to bring that reality home to Las Vegas. Cities simply have to do better and overhaul their toxic police culture to rebuild community trust,” said Attorney Antonio M. Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC.
“The tragic and unnecessary death of Byron Williams is further proof of what many in Southern Nevada have long known. We still suffer from an apparently systemic problem within Metro where there is insufficient accountability for those police officers who violate the civil rights of Black residents,” said Attorney Patrick C. McDonnell of Michaelson & Associates, a longtime Clark County resident.
“Our family continues to grieve this absolutely senseless death and we are still suffering from the continued lack of respect by police and the city. The officers who killed Byron Williams need to be held accountable so that no other family has to suffer like this again,” said Teena Acree, Byron Williams’ niece.
About Ben Crump Law
Nationally renowned civil rights and personal injury attorney Ben Crump and his national network of specialized attorneys have spearheaded a legal movement to better protect the rights of marginalized citizens. He has led landscape-changing civil rights cases and represented clients in a wide range of areas including civil rights, personal injury, labor and employment, class actions, and more. Ben Crump Law is dedicated to holding the powerful accountable. For more, visit BenCrump.com or call (800) 935-8111.
About Romanucci & Blandin, LLC
Romanucci & Blandin is a Chicago-based national trial practice committed to fighting for victims of negligence, abuse and wrongful death arising from police misconduct, corporate negligence, civil rights actions, medical malpractice, mass torts and class actions. Founded in 1998, the firm is widely recognized for representing plaintiffs in numerous practice areas including: workers’ compensation, pharmaceuticals, civil rights, police misconduct, excessive force, aviation, product liability and premises liability. For more information, please visit www.rblaw.net or call (312) 458-1000.
About Michaelson & Associates
Michaelson & Associates, a law firm that was founded in Clark County, Nevada in 1992 and now has offices in Henderson, Summerlin, and Reno, NV, served as legal counsel to Byron Lee Williams’ family for their difficult 20-month-long probate case. Michaelson & Associates, through one of the firm’s top trial lawyers, Patrick C. McDonnell, is now continuing to work on behalf of the family by serving as local counsel for their federal civil rights case team. For more information visit michaelsonlaw.com or call (702) 731-2333.
About Pintas & Mullins
Pintas & Mullins is a national law firm, headquartered in Chicago, which has fought for the rights of the seriously injured for more than 35 years. Its practice areas include representation for the victims of environmental injustice, nursing home abuse of seniors, medical malpractice, dangerous products and drugs, and more. Through its close association with Ben Crump law, Pintas & Mullins is a passionate advocate for those without a voice against powerful interests and bad-acting corporations. For more information please visit www.pintas.com or call (800) 935-8111.