Merced refuses to release police video footage of alleged altercation with officers

William Colbert, 39, of Merced
William Colbert, 39, of Merced

The city of Merced denied a public records request for body or dashboard camera footage from the arrest of William Colbert, a black man in Merced who said he was bloodied during a confrontation with police in March.

The 39-year-old was arrested by Merced police for allegedly resisting arrest on the night of March 12 outside of the AM-PM mini-store on G Street and Olive Avenue. Colbert said he never made threats or resisted arrest, claiming officers beat him without reason.

Colbert says officers used more force on him at the Merced County Jail. His booking photo from the night of the incident shows his right eye swollen shut and blood smeared across his face.

Colbert could face charges of his own but the Merced County District Attorney's Office hasn't made a decision yet, according to Hal Nutt, chief deputy district attorney.

"There's a lot of stuff to get through on that case. Lot of body cams to watch and all that," he said on Wednesday. "I haven't been able to get through it."

The office is reviewing footage from several cameras, he said. The determination on Colbert's case has to be made before the office can weigh whether officers should be charged with a crime, Nutt said.

Merced police confirmed they have begun an internal review of officers involved in the incident, though they have not released the names of the officers.

The request for footage was denied because the investigation is ongoing and the release of that "information would endanger the successful completion of the investigation," according to Jolie Houston, Merced's city attorney. In addition, the Sun-Star's previous request for surveillance footage of the altercation at the jail was denied by the Merced County Counsel Office, which cited the ongoing investigation.

In comparison, police in Sacramento released footage of the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark the day after he was killed by officers, according to reports from the Sacramento Bee.

The Merced clerk at the convenience store called police some time around 10:30 p.m. March 12 after Colbert demanded a refund following a dispute over a purchase of tea and other items, Colbert said.

Much of the altercation with police, according to Colbert, was spurred by an officer he identified as William McComb. The officer called Colbert a "snitch bitch gang member" at one point during the night, which made Colbert "irate," he told the Sun-Star.

The welder and pipe-fitter said he has no gang affiliation and attended Merced College with another officer on scene, whom he identified as Joseph Opinski.

McComb, who is white, and Officer Brandon Wilkins, who is black, used more unnecessary force at Merced County Jail, Colbert claims. He went to Mercy Medical Center in Merced twice that night, once for each of the incidents with Merced officers, he said.