In July 2011, 22-year-old Derek Williams was arrested by Milwaukee police for attempted robbery. He had only got out of the jail earlier that day, after being held for unpaid parking fines. Derek was seen wearing a mask and attempting to rob a couple and fled on foot after he was spotted by police. Once caught, he was restrained and placed into the back of a cop car, video footage from inside the car shows Derek struggling to breathe and slowly suffocating while pleading for help for over 7 minutes before dying.
The police officers claimed they did not realise anything was wrong until he slumped unconscious in the back of the car. A police officer then tried to check for a pulse, after which he left him in the back of the car to try and find a nearby supervisor, but after finding no one, he returned to the car to start CPR while another officer called for an ambulance. Police and paramedics both continued CPR on Derek for over 45 minutes before he was pronounced dead.
The autopsy at the time claimed the cause of death to be natural causes. He was believed to have suffered from sickle cell disease, which can cause shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and breathing problems, due to the blood being sickle and not enough oxygen travelling to the organs.
The family of Derek Williams did not believe that the natural cause ruling was correct and felt the officers did little to help him and left him to die. After a review of the original coroner’s report in the autopsy and new information, which only recently came to light, including the video footage, it was requested by an inquest jury that the cause of death was to be changed to homicide. A new investigation is under way to see whether criminal charges are warranted against any of the officers involved in his arrest.
New Information regarding Death of Derek Williams
Some of the new information which has been released states that Derek Williams was sweating profusely when police found him hiding behind an overturned table. After being cuffed, Derek repeatedly told officers that he could not breath and when the officers released pressure, he kept struggling and tried to reach around his waistband. Because he had not been previously searched, officers thought he was maybe reaching for a gun and got physical again, pinning him back to the ground, with an officers knee in his back.
Derek Williams was then searched. No gun was found. New reports also states that officers felt like he was messing them around and trying to resist arrest or possibly escape once pressure was released. Locked inside the back of the cop car, Derek was still asking for ambulance assistance while having trouble breathing. Police officers deny hearing him asking for any medical assistance at this point.
A cracked hyoid bone was also found during autopsy, and a claim raised that this is proof that excessive force was used against him, possibly a choke hold, although no mention of this was ever found in any report to date. Police say this was not from force and probably caused during the CPR.
There is no video footage of the arrest, only once Derek was placed into the back of the car. City officials from the police and prosecutors offices reviewed the video months ago and determined that the cops did nothing wrong.
Whether this is proved to be another case of police brutality and if any of the officers will be held accountable for Derek Williams’s death it is yet to be determined. If it ever is determined it will probably take months and will only be ruled after a lengthy trial. The recommendation from an inquest jury – the first time this has happened in 25 years in Milwaukee – is only advisory and there is still a chance that no charges will be filed at all. The misdemeanour the jury recommended they be charged for is failure to render aid by a law enforcement officer. Which carries a maximum penalty of nine months.
Video of Derek Williams suffocating to death in the back of a police car is below:
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