A Bike Violation, a Fatal Police Encounter: 'They Treated Him Like Garbage'
Byron Williams was arrested for riding his bike without a safety light
Byron Williams had just left a family gathering and was riding home on his bicycle in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 2019, when Las Vegas police officers spotted him riding without a safety light.
Officers called for him to stop, but Williams, 50, fled on his bicycle before ditching it and fleeing on foot. Ultimately, however, he stopped and complied with officers' orders to lie on the ground.
While officers were handcuffing him and kneeling on his back, Williams repeatedly said, "I can't breathe."
When officers ordered him to stand up, Williams went limp. He was then dragged into a patrol car.
Less than an hour later, at the hospital, Williams was pronounced dead.
“They treated him like garbage,” Williams’ stepson Jeffery Thompkins says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
The Clark County coroner ruled Williams' death a homicide. The coroner said Williams died of methamphetamine intoxication with other significant conditions including heart and lung disease and “prone restraint.”
The Clark County District Attorney’s Office said the incident is under review. A public fact-finding review has been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The officers have not been charged or disciplined.
“They were operating within the course and scope of their duty,” Las Vegas Police Protective Association president Steve Grammas tells PEOPLE.
Thompkins says his hope is that the officers involved in Williams' death are charged.
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“I do feel like they need to pay to the fullest extent of the law,” he says. “He was doing nothing. He was minding his business and he didn't come home. When I saw him, when he left that evening, he was smiling.”
Thompkins says Williams, a convicted felon, was trying to turn his life around and had been volunteering at Thompkins’ Las Vegas non-profit Jet Foundation, which helps underserved families receive food and medical care.
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“Byron was at every single event that I had, volunteering, directing traffic, making plates, giving out supplies, resources. Whatever was needed of him, he was definitely there,” he says. "I think he was very interested in helping, because I believe that it's a passion he always had. However, he was never in a situation or a circumstance to where he could be of service to someone, if that makes sense.”
At the time of his death, Thompkins says he was working with Williams on a program for felons, “to help teach them rehabilitation skills and get them employment.”
“That's something that he was really, really excited about,” Thompkins says.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.