Crime

Merced officer claims his life was threatened by unarmed black man in arrest

The white officer accused of unnecessarily using force against an unarmed black man in Merced wrote in his police report that the man he arrested threatened to put a bounty on his life.

Officer William McComb is one of two officers accused of beating 39-year-old William Colbert after he had a dispute with a cashier on March 12. Colbert pleaded “not guilty” to resisting arrest and battery on an officer in an appearance Wednesday in Merced County Superior Court.

“We’re going to move on to fighting any criminal cases or charges pressed against him,” Colbert’s attorney, Patrick Buelna, said Wednesday.

Colbert was taken to Mercy Medical Center on March 12 following an initial use-of-force by police. Officers have said Colbert was combative, but the Merced resident says he never resisted arrest.

In a police report from the night of the arrest, McComb claims Colbert threatened him while he was being treated at the hospital. Colbert said he would “bail out in the morning and have $10,000 on my head,” McComb wrote in the report.

In a previous interview with the Sun-Star, Colbert admitted to being “irate” after McComb called him a “snitch bitch gang member.” He said he’s never been in a gang. Colbert said he also became “obnoxious” towards the officer because he believed his civil rights were violated, and called an officer a “bitch.”

Through a previous attorney, Colbert filed damage claims totaling $20 million with Merced County and the city of Merced. Both claims have been rejected, setting up a potential legal battle. Buelna said he would not put a dollar amount on a lawsuit, and prefers to let a jury decide.

Police were called to the am-pm market on G Street and Olive Avenue in Merced about 10:40 p.m., according to the report. A cashier claimed a person at the store had a gun.

When officers arrived, Colbert had been locked out of the store and police said they did not find a gun. Colbert says he never had a gun.

Another report written by Officer Brandon Wilkins says Colbert told the officers the cashier “ripped” him “off.” Colbert walked toward the clerk “in an aggressive manner and was yelling,” the report says. Colbert then left the store with officers.

McComb and another officer attempted to detain Colbert but he resisted arrest, Wilkins wrote. Colbert has said McComb came at him “like a bat out of hell” and never attempted to get his side of the story.

After leaving the hospital, the officers took Colbert to the Merced County Main Jail. McComb wrote Colbert began to resist again and fought for several minutes against McComb, Wilkins and corrections officers.

In his report, McComb described Colbert as 6-foot-3, 250 pounds “and extremely strong.”

Colbert has 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.

Colbert had a dislocated thumb, swollen eyes, lacerations to the face and other injuries, according to police reports.

Both Wilkins and McComb note their body cameras were filming multiple times during the arrest. Prosecutors have denied a public records request from the Merced Sun-Star for the footage or jail surveillance footage.

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.

Colbert is due back in court on Sept. 25.

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