He said Merced police beat him. DA releases audio, charges him with assaulting cops

A 39-year-old Merced man who said police beat him four months ago now faces felony charges of resisting an officer, the Merced County District Attorney's Office announced Friday.

Prosecutors on Friday also released an audio recording of a 911 call that led to the March 12 confrontation between William Colbert and Merced police officers.

Colbert on Friday was charged with two felony counts of resisting officers and misdemeanor counts of assaulting an officer and vandalism for allegedly damaging a city police car.

Merced Police Chief Chris Goodwin said 911 call and transcript released by the DA's Office and the investigation shows that officers did their jobs correctly.

"We responded to a call of a person with a gun and we didn't know what was going to happen," Goodwin said. "Officers reacted to what (Colbert) did. The whole investigation shows that and the court is going to show that."

Colbert declined to comment on the charges or the incident.

In a previous interview with the Sun-Star, Colbert said he was getting tea from the ampm market on G Street and Olive Avenue at about 10:30 p.m. on March 12 when he got into an argument with the convenience store's clerk believing he'd been over-charged for the drink and, demanded the clerk put money back on his credit card.

After several minutes of arguing, the clerk called police and told them Colbert was armed, according to Colbert.

Colbert denied having any weapons. Investigators didn't find a gun or any weapons on Colbert, Chief Deputy District Attorney Harold Nutt confirmed Friday.

Colbert said Officer Joseph Opinski, who he knew from college, approached him and went inside to talk to the clerk.

That's when, according to Colbert, officers "bum rushed" him, throwing him face first into a puddle. Colbert said he tried to not resist the officers from using force, but he was also trying to lift his head to breathe above the puddle.

Colbert said he was then placed into the back of a police cruiser and he kicked the car's door while telling officers to loosen his handcuffs. Then, Colbert said, officers pulled him out of the car and pressed their knees into his back before he started asking for medical attention.

Colbert received medical treatment at the hospital before he was taken to the Merced County jail on 22nd Street in Merced, where Colbert said he got into a second altercation with other officers.

After another altercation during which Colbert alleged officers used handcuffs to rake Colbert's arm, he was turned over to deputies at the jail and sent back to a hospital for more treatment. Colbert is seen with a right eye swollen shut and blood smeared across his face in his arrest photo.

That story, however, differs from the version released Friday by the District Attorney's Office.

Prosecutors said Merced officers were dispatched to the scene and opened the store's doors after the clerk had locked out Colbert.

Colbert then charged at the clerk before he was restrained and escorted out by officers, according to the release, which states Colbert resisted officers.

Prosecutors say Colbert was then taken to a hospital where he hurled racial slurs at the officers, the release states. After he was treated, Colbert was transported to the jail but was still uncooperative and confrontational.

While one of the officers was trying to get Colbert to follow his directions, Colbert reportedly charged at the officers and attempted to assault the officer, according to the release, which also states the officer took down Colbert and several other officers helped to restrain him.

"Throughout this incident, Mr. Colbert, who is African American, can be heard throwing racial insults and has alleged a racial bias in his arrest," Nutt said, adding Colbert's claim is "inconsistent with video evidence."

Prosecutors did not release any video footage on Friday, saying it was evidence in the criminal case that would be released during the court process.

The city of Merced denied a Sun-Star public records request for body or dashboard camera footage during Colbert's arrest.

A south Merced community council denounced the police department during a May 9 news conference, sharing their own examples of what they described as unpleasant interactions between police and people of color.

"Any injuries sustained by Mr. Colbert were solely the result of his own aggression and failure to cooperate with lawful orders by law enforcement," Nutt said.

An arraignment date in Merced County Superior Court was not available Friday.