Monday, Sep. 21, 2009
Legless man in wheelchair says police Tased him
By Victor A. Patton
MERCED — The Merced Police Department's Internal Affairs Division is investigating whether an officer twice used a Taser on an unarmed, wheelchair-bound man with no legs.
Gregory Williams, 40, a double-leg amputee, spent six days in jail on suspicion of domestic violence and resisting arrest. He was released from jail Friday after the Merced County district attorney's office decided not to file charges against him.
"How much resisting am I going to do with no legs? No feet?" Williams said. "It's ridiculous what they did to me. How far am I gonna run? Where am I gonna go?"
Police took Williams' wife into custody during the incident on an outstanding $10,000 misdemeanor warrant for domestic violence.
Williams is black, and the two main arresting officers are white, but it's unknown whether race played a role in the incident.
Williams said officers never used racial epithets toward him. Although he said he does believe race and class played a role in his arrest, he said he believes the police just wanted to be "downright nasty" to him.
Williams said he was manhandled and Tased by police, even though he said he was never physically aggressive toward the officers and didn't resist arrest.
Williams said he was humiliated after his pants fell down during the incident. The officers allegedly left him outdoors in broad daylight, handcuffed on the pavement, with his pants down. Williams said the Sept. 11 arrest also left him with an injured shoulder, limiting his mobility in his wheelchair.
A handful of residents in Williams' apartment complex said they witnessed the incident and supported Williams' charges. A short video clip, shot by a neighbor, shows Williams sitting on the pavement with his pants down, his hands cuffed behind his back.
A Merced police report, written by the responding officers, says police tried to reason with Williams before the arrest, to no avail. The officers wrote that Williams was uncooperative and refused to turn his 2-year-old daughter over to Merced County Child Protective Services, among other allegations.
In the report, police also say a hostile crowd gathered as the officers tried to perform their duties.
The Merced Police Department spokesman declined to comment, saying he can't discuss it because the investigation is internal. Both of the officers remain on duty.
Although the officers remain on duty, Cmdr. Floyd Higdon said, the department is taking the internal investigation and the allegations seriously.
"We want to get to the bottom of it," he said. "We want to make sure we're doing the right thing for the right reasons."
Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sept. 11, Williams said, he and his wife, 28-year-old Demetrice Shaunte Phifer, were arguing when a Merced Police Department patrol car arrived at the couple's studio apartment.
While one officer spoke with his wife, Williams said, another officer arrived and ordered him, "Go back to your house!" Williams, who had his 2-year-old daughter, Ginni, in his lap, said he rolled his wheelchair back to his apartment.
The officer, who is identified in the police report as John Pinnegar, approached him in the doorway of his apartment. Pinnegar said his wife had accused him of striking her, which Williams denied.
Shortly afterward, police Sgt. Rodney Court and a worker with Merced County Child Protective Services entered the room, Williams said. "I'm trying to tell him nothing happened. We were just having an argument," he said.
Pinnegar grabbed Williams' 2-year-old daughter from his lap, handing her to the CPS worker. "I said, 'What are you doing? I haven't done anything!' " Williams said.
Williams said Pinnegar unholstered his Taser, jammed it into his rib cage and shocked him twice. A police report says Williams was Tased once in the shoulder.
Williams said he fell from his chair onto his stomach on the ground outside his doorway.
While he was down, Williams said, Court put his knee on his neck, and one of the officers then cuffed his wrists. At some point after he fell out of his chair, Williams said, his shorts slid down his legs.
With his hands cuffed behind his back, Williams said, he was unable to pull his pants up. He said police left him for five to 10 minutes in that position on the pavement, with his private parts showing as neighbors and onlookers watched.
Williams, a lifelong Merced resident with three children, said both his legs were amputated in 2004 after he was diagnosed with deep-vein thrombosis that led to gangrene in his legs.
Doctors amputated his legs below the knees when he was 34. He lost his job as a truck driver and supports himself and his family from a Social Security disability allotment of $1,004 a month.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY LISA JAMES Greg Williams, a disabled double amputee who was Tasered by Merced Police Officers on Sept. 11th, recounts the incident to a Merced Sun-Star reporter last Friday at Williams' K Street apartment where the incident occured. Sept. 18, 2009
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