Merced police said Wednesday they have launched an internal affairs investigation into an incident that left a Merced man with a bleeding, swollen face and other injuries.
Capt. Bimley West said the department is looking into the officers involved in the arrest of 39-year-old William Colbert at the ampm market on G Street and Olive Avenue. Colbert's arrest photo shows a right eye swollen shut and blood smeared across his face.
"I have spoken with Mr. Colbert and collected all the statements about what he said had transpired," West said on Wednesday. "This is a formalized internal affairs investigation into this particular matter."
West declined to release the names of the officers being investigated, and said he could not elaborate on the circumstances or claims Colbert made behind the arrest. In addition, the Sun-Star's request for surveillance footage of the altercation at the jail was denied by the Merced County Counsel Office, which cited the ongoing investigation.
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Colbert, a welder and pipe-fitter, said he was brutalized by more than one officer the evening of March 12, though he had committed no crimes, didn't threaten the clerk and never resisted arrest. He was arrested on suspicion of resisting arrest, threatening an officer and battery on an officer, according to Merced County Jail records.
Colbert went into the convenience store around 10:30 p.m. to buy an iced tea, he said. He'd just left Mercy Medical Center after having an allergic reaction to medication.
A Merced resident, Colbert said he had a disagreement over the payment and demanded the clerk put the money back on his credit card. After arguing for several minutes, the clerk called police and said Colbert was armed, according to Colbert. He denies having a weapon of any kind.
When police arrived, Colbert was standing in front of the store after the clerk locked him out, he said. The first officer to approach him was Officer Joseph Opinski, he said, who he knew because they both went to Merced College. Opinski went inside to talk to the clerk, Colbert said.
That's when another officer, who Colbert identified as William McComb, came at him "like a bat out of hell." "Why would you be arresting me when I haven't committed any crime?" he said, recounting what he asked the officer.
Then McComb and at least two other officers "bum rushed" him, he said, throwing him face first into a puddle (it had been raining that evening). Colbert said he was trying not to resist officers, to prevent them from using force, but was also trying to lift his face out of the water to breathe.
"I'm afraid to fight for my life," he said.
He was placed in the back of a cruiser, he said. The handcuffs were tight enough that his hands started to become numb, and his left thumb was hurting from an arrest hold from the officers, he said. Saying "I'm no saint," Colbert admitted he kicked the squad car's door and told police he needed the cuffs loosened.
Officers pulled him back out of the car and pressed their knees into his back, he said. "There should be no reason I come out of that cop car," he said.
After Colbert asked for medical attention, he said, McComb called him a "snitch bitch gang member," implying that's why he knew the first officer, Opinski. Colbert said that made him "irate."
"I don't want him going to the hospital with me," he said. "I'm feeling violated. ... He's the one that caused this."
But, the officer was in the room throughout Colbert's examination by hospital staff, he said. Colbert said he was feeling that his rights were being ignored and he got "obnoxious" toward the officers, calling them "cowards" and calling one officer a "bitch."
Colbert was taken from the hospital to Merced County Jail without handcuffs, because he was wearing a splint on his thumb, he said. McComb, a white officer, and Colbert were met by a black officer, who Colbert identified as Brandon Wilkins.
Another altercation ensued as the officers processed Colbert. He said the officers began "aggressively" shoving him from behind unnecessarily. Colbert said he stepped to the side as the officer attempted to push him, so the officer stumbled. Colbert said he went to the ground to avoid any more force from officers, but they began either kicking or punching him from behind.
At some point during the altercation, one of the officers used the ridges on his handcuffs to rake the back of Colbert's arm, he said. After Colbert was turned over to deputies at the Merced County Jail, he was sent back to the hospital for treatment.
"This is the s--- people talk about on the news that I think will never happen to me," Colbert said. "I'm thankful to be alive."