Family of Black Man Who Died in Las Vegas Police Custody After Bike Violation Files Civil Suit
Anthony Brown, 50, was stopped for allegedly riding his bike without a safety light
The family of a Black man who died in police custody after he was stopped for allegedly riding a bike without a safety light has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the officers involved.
The victim, Anthony Brown, whose death was ruled a homicide by the Clark County coroner, "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," attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference Thursday.
"If we don't do something, there will be another Byron Williams, another George Floyd," Crump added.
Like Floyd, the 50-year-old Williams was pinned to the ground with officers allegedly kneeling on his back, during which police body camera video captured him saying "I can't breathe" 24 times before the officers relented and Williams went limp as he was ordered to stand, according to the lawsuit, which was obtained by PEOPLE.
Afterward Williams was dragged into a patrol car. Less than an hour later, at the hospital, he was pronounced dead.
No criminal charges were filed in the case, reports Las Vegas TV station KLAS.
Metro police and Las Vegas city officials declined to comment on the civil lawsuit, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In addition to the police department and the city, the lawsuit names as defendants Clark County, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, and the four involved Metro officers: Patrick Campbell, Benjamin Vasquez, Alexander Gonzalez and Rocky Roman.
In a statement to the newspaper, Clark County officials said: "Without weighing in on the specific allegations against Metro and its officers, we can say that the allegations in the complaint about the County's supervisory responsibilities for the policies and procedures of Metro are completely inaccurate and will be immediately dismissed by a court."
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The incident occurred after Williams left a family gathering and was spotted by officers around 5:48 a.m. on Sept. 5, 2019 riding home through what the Review-Journal described as "the Historic Westside, the heart of the city's Black community."
Officers called for him to stop, but Williams continued on his bike with officers in pursuit before ditching it and fleeing on foot. Ultimately, he stopped and complied with officers' orders to lie on the ground. They "immediately" restrained him in a prone position with "knees to the shoulders, back and buttocks," and then to Williams' head, while applying handcuffs, the lawsuit alleges.
As Williams had tried to pedal away, the officers had radioed a "Code Red" to other officers indicating an emergency, the lawsuit states.
"LVMPD is alleging that the existing emergency that prompted the 'Code Red' was Byron Lee Williams riding his bicycle without a safety light," alleges the lawsuit, "despite the fact that it was already becoming light outside."
With Williams detained, the lawsuit alleges that officers mocked Williams as he pleaded with them for help, and two of them high-fived each other.
In ruling Williams' death a homicide, Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg said he died of a methamphetamine overdose compounded by conditions that included "prone restraint," hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, pulmonary fibrosis and granulomatous lung disease.
"In this context, homicide means that the actions of another person or other people resulted in, or contributed to, the death," Fudenberg said in a statement issued in October 2019. "It is not a determination of criminal activity or wrongdoing."
'No choice but to think about George Floyd'
Crump, who represented Floyd's family after Floyd's 2020 murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin while in custody, said at the news conference: "Just like we saw in Minneapolis, Minnesota, we saw similar indifference and inhumanity here in the state of Nevada, in the city of Las Vegas, when Byron Williams was detained by the police and said 'I can't breathe' 24 times."
He was joined at the news conference by members of Floyd's family who showed their support for the Williams case.
"You have no choice but to think about George Floyd because the situations are similar in so many ways," said Brandon Williams, George Floyd's nephew, reports KLAS. "Byron Williams said he couldn't breathe 24 times. George said he couldn't breathe nearly 30 times."
Another Williams family attorney, Antonio Romanucci, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE: "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."