A legless, wheelchair-bound man who was Tasered by Merced police officers has hired two lawyers -- one of them a high-profile civil rights attorney with a lengthy track record of handling police brutality cases.
Meanwhile, the police department announced that the city has hired its own attorney, and Chief Norm Andrade said Friday that he believes the arresting officers followed policy.
Renowned Oakland attorney John Burris has signed on to represent Greg Williams, the 40-year-old double amputee who spent six days in jail after two Merced police officers arrested him Sept. 11 on suspicion of domestic violence and resisting arrest.
Williams was unarmed, and the District Attorney's Office has declined to file any charges against him. At the same time that Williams was arrested, his 2-year-old daughter was taken by a child welfare worker and his wife was sent to jail on an outstanding domestic violence warrant.
Williams claims that he was Tasered without cause and that he never acted violently toward the police. Besides his allegation of excessive force, he has said he was publicly humiliated when the officers left him handcuffed and nude from the waist down for several minutes in front of a small crowd that had gathered outside his K Street apartment.
In the department's first public statements about the arrest, Andrade offered a version of events fairly similar to that outlined by Williams and police reports. But he said that based on what internal investigators have learned so far, the officers' actions appear justified.
As officers tried to arrest him, "Mr. Williams refused to comply and became progressively more belligerent," Andrade said during an afternoon press conference. "(The officers) obviously used the level of force necessary to the threat that Mr. Williams had given them."
Andrade didn't explain what Williams said or did to cause the officers to fear for their safety, but he nonetheless said they felt threatened. He named the safety of Williams' daughter as the primary reason officers decided to Tase him, then acknowledged later that the girl already was in the hands of a child welfare worker when the Tasing took place.
He noted that the neighborhood where Williams lives is considered a "high maintenance" trouble area, and that officers tried for roughly 30 minutes to convince Williams to allow them to arrest him without force.
He said Williams was stunned once for less than five seconds, causing him to release his grip on his wheelchair so that officers could handcuff him. Andrade called it "unfortunate" that Williams' genitals were exposed to his neighbors and said officers didn't mean to humiliate him.
The two officers involved in the incident, Sgt. Rodney Court and Officer John Pinnegar, remain on duty. Both are white. Williams is black. Andrade made no mention of allegations that issues of race and class might have played a role in the officers' actions.
The police department's Internal Affairs Division opened an investigation after one of Williams' relatives filed a complaint. Andrade said the inquiry is ongoing and that findings will be forwarded to the state Attorney General's Office.
In addition to Burris, Williams has hired a Stockton-based attorney named David Drivon.
After a closed-door meeting with Williams on Thursday, Burris and Drivon said in interviews that they'll carry out an investigation of their own. The attorneys aren't taking any payment up front but will collect 40 percent of any award, Williams' relatives said.