Crime

South Merced advocacy group demands answers in police use-of-force investigation

South Merced Community Council member Antoine Hubbard Sr., left, discusses the arrest of William Colbert, a black man who says he was beaten by Merced police, during a press conference at the Merced Senior Community Center in Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Colbert, a 39-year-old Merced man, was arrested by police for allegedly resisting arrest after a store clerk called authorities when Colbert argued with the employee over the payment at the AM-PM mini-store on G Street in Merced on March 12. Colbert claims he was brutalized by more than one officer the evening of the 12th and that he committed no crimes.
South Merced Community Council member Antoine Hubbard Sr., left, discusses the arrest of William Colbert, a black man who says he was beaten by Merced police, during a press conference at the Merced Senior Community Center in Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Colbert, a 39-year-old Merced man, was arrested by police for allegedly resisting arrest after a store clerk called authorities when Colbert argued with the employee over the payment at the AM-PM mini-store on G Street in Merced on March 12. Colbert claims he was brutalized by more than one officer the evening of the 12th and that he committed no crimes. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Advocates of people of color said Wednesday they "want answers" following the arrest of William Colbert, a black man who said he was unnecessarily beaten by Merced police.

The South Merced Community Council held a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the March 12 arrest of the 39-year-old man outside of the AM-PM mini-store on G Street. Colbert's arrest photo shows his right eye swollen shut and blood smeared around his face while he's draped in a hospital gown.

"The initial approach by the police is wrong," member Chad Parker said. "There's no justification for them to bum rush him."

Colbert previously told the Sun-Star he stopped in at the store to buy a few items after leaving Mercy Medical Center. The clerk at the convenience store called police around 10:30 p.m. after Colbert demanded a refund because he was charged twice, Colbert said.

AK Colbert Meeting 4
South Merced Community Council member Chad Parker meets with fellow council members to discuss the arrest of William Colbert, a black man who says he was beaten by Merced police, during a press conference at the Merced Senior Community Center in Merced, Calif., on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Colbert, a 39-year-old Merced man, was arrested by police for allegedly resisting arrest after a store clerk called authorities when Colbert argued with the employee over the payment at the AM-PM mini-store on G Street in Merced on March 12. Colbert claims he was brutalized by more than one officer the evening of the 12th and that he committed no crimes. Andrew Kuhn akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Much of the altercation with police, according to Colbert, was spurred by an officer he identified as William McComb. Colbert said the officer called him a "snitch bitch gang member" at one point during the night, which made Colbert "irate," he told the Sun-Star, saying he has no relationship with any gang.

The members of the community group said the incident was the latest in a history of incidents between police and people of color. They shared personal stories of their own, as well as unpleasant interactions their relatives have had with law enforcement. Members also pointed to more public run-ins with police and people of color, including the July 9, 2017, melee between police and several black college students at a downtown hookah lounge and the arrest of a black teenager who rode his bike on the sidewalk on April 28, 2016.

Also at the news conference, advocate Antoine Hubbard said Merced police should be more transparent with Colbert's arrest and release body camera footage.

Colbert, a pipe-fitter and welder, was on his way home after work and hospital visit following an allergic reaction, he said. How he ended up in a situation where police used force is a mystery, Hubbard said.

"We want answers. Why? Why? Why?" he said.

William Colbert, 39, of Merced.jpg
William Colbert, 39, of Merced Merced County Sheriff's Office

Merced's city attorney and the Merced County Counsel Office have denied public records requests for body camera footage and surveillance video at Merced Main Jail, respectively. Each office cited a need to protect the ongoing investigation.

Merced Capt. Bimley West said the investigation into the incident continues but is "nearing" its end, and the footage, once released, will provide "clarity" on what happened. He has declined to name which and how many officers are being investigated.

"I would not condone anything like abuse from our officers," he said Wednesday. "I just ask for the citizens to have patience. ... We have staff on hand to investigate these matters. Eventually, the transparency will come."

Colbert could face charges related to resisting arrest but none have been filed, according to Harold Nutt, Merced County chief deputy district attorney.

In the meantime, the advocates at Wednesday's news conference called for church leaders and civil rights leaders, like those with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to put pressure on law enforcement.

Colbert said he had to be taken to the hospital twice that night for separate encounters with police. The second use of force came when McComb, who is white, and Officer Brandon Wilkins, who is black, used more force at Merced County Jail, Colbert claims.

"This is unacceptable. This should not be happening in Merced or any other city," group member Sharon Morris said on Wednesday. "We have people in office that allow this?"

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