The director of a criminal justice advocacy group advising the family of a man who died in police custody says she believes Raleigh Police officers used unnecessary force and violated their own policies when they administered two separate taser stuns within 50 seconds during the attempted arrest.
Darryl Tyree Williams, 32, died in a Raleigh hospital in the early hours of January 17 after that scuffle with police.
Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Emancipate NC, who says she also speaks for Williams’ mother, Sonya Williams, says the excessive use of tasers throughout his arrest led to his death nearly an hour later. Both are calling for all six officers involved to be fired for what they believe is a violation of department policies.
News84Media asked the Raleigh Police Department if those officers violated any department policies. The public affairs office said, “The Raleigh Police Department does not comment on any ongoing investigations.”
Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson sent a memo to City Manager Marchell Adams-David several days after Williams’ death saying RPD officers allegedly saw an open container of alcohol and marijuana in the parked car and decided to arrest Williams for possession of a controlled substance, News84Media previously reported.
News84Media has detailed the entire police encounter according to the memo, which includes one of the officers locating a folded dollar bill in Williams’ pocket containing a “white powdery substance consistent with the appearance of cocaine,” which led to the decision to arrest Williams.
The six officers have been placed on administrative leave pending an independent criminal investigation being conducted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, according to a memo from Patterson. The memo says the SBI will present its findings directly to the Wake County District Attorney.
Blagrove and Williams’ family are calling for the case to be handed over to an independent prosecutor rather than the Wake County District Attorney, Lorrin Freeman, who Blagrove says “doesn’t have the political will to hold Raleigh PD accountable for its wrongdoings.”
Blagrove was formerly the Williams family’s attorney and is now operating as their official adviser and advocate after civil rights Attorney Benjamin Crump was retained by the family on Monday.
In October, the Raleigh Police Department introduced a new de-escalation policy that states officers are required to assess the level of non-compliance and if there is not an “immediate need to act,” the officer should attempt de-escalation techniques.
The department’s use of force guidelines were also updated, according to the department’s written directives manual on its website. RPD’s new policies and required de-escalation were created after several listening sessions where the department sought public input.
In June 2020, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, then-Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown and current mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin announced the department would adopt reforms proposed by Campaign Zero’s #8CantWait police reform campaign, including de-escalation policies and a ban on chokeholds.
The use of force and weapons policy defines tasers as “Conducted Energy Weapons,” or CEW, and lists circumstances as to when they should and should not be used.
According to the policy, these weapons should not be used “when the subject is only offering passive resistance, which is defined as simple non-compliance to a lawful command. Such resistance may include physical resistance which does not pose an imminent threat of assault or indicate escalating aggression.”
The policy also says they should not be used “as punishment” or “in defense of ‘verbal’ threats alone.”
After reviewing the video of the police interaction with Williams, Blagrove says she is joined by Sonya Williams in believing officers used tasing as a punishment, arguing they used the drive stun technique as a method of pain control, which violates department policy. Drive stun is when the Taser is placed in direct contact with the body.
The preliminary report released by RPD’s police chief says officers used the drive stun technique when Williams was tased twice within a 50 second period. The police association representing two of the officers alleges this technique was used because Williams was not complying with officer demands.
The use of force directives also state “the drive stun technique by itself is not an effective pain compliance tool against active resistance and may escalate the level of resistance. Therefore, the drive stun technique shall not be used as a pain compliance tool.”
The Raleigh Police Protective Association is representing CD Robinson and BL Ramge, two of the six officers placed on administrative leave. The association’s vice president, Rick Armstrong, said in a statement to News84Media on Saturday that the association “at this point could not determine any criminal actions or policy violations of the officers involved.”
When presented with the allegations made by Blagrove and Sonya Williams on Monday, Armstrong defended his clients, saying, “We believe officers followed RPD taser policy because Mr. Williams’s [sic] was not complying with instructions from the officers and he was clearly resisting arrest.”
News84Media has reached out to the Southern States Police Benevolent Association to confirm that they are representing the other four officers, JT Thomas, DL Aquino, JR Scott and DL Grande, but has not heard back.
Blagrove and Emancipate NC have publicly criticized RPD’s de-escalation policy, saying it “falls short,” and sent a letter to the department in November asking for more changes.
Blagrove argues that this situation shows “policies and procedures cannot and will not fix the problem of policing. The problem of policing is a cultural one and it is rooted in the history of the American history.”
“None of this should have resulted in a man losing his life,” she told News84Media. “Police believe and they approach every situation with a hammer, with force, with violence. That is just not necessary. And that is especially true when it comes to interacting with Black, Brown and marginalized communities.”
The family also questions why Williams was not told the reason he was being arrested.
The audio from the body camera footage does not capture the officers informing Williams of the reason why he was being arrested, although it does capture him asking them multiple times.
“Obviously if he was being detained or arrested… which they claimed they were in the middle of an arrest, there’s no question that he should have been read his rights,” Blagrove told News84Media. “None of that happened. That is a practice that we see quite frequently with the Raleigh police.”
Armstrong told News84Media Monday, “Typically Miranda warnings are not read until officers are going to begin questioning the suspect.”
Throughout the released video, officers can be heard telling Williams multiple commands, including, “calm down, stop resisting, put your hands behind your back,” and warning Williams that he was about to be tased, which is consistent with use of force policy. . Williams can be heard saying “I have heart problems,” and begging them to stop.
“Darryl should not be gone. His mother should not have had to bury her first born child,” Blagrove said. “And Raleigh police department needs to be held accountable and had the city of Raleigh done what it should have done a long time ago, Darryl may still be alive.”