Cops Taunted Black Veteran as He Died
As Elliott Williams lay on the jail floor, paralyzed and begging for help, staff dropped water beyond his reach and accused him of faking an injury, a lawsuit claims.
Elliott Williams spent the last five days of his life in a Tulsa County jail, paralyzed and lying on the cold concrete floor. But despite the 37-year-old Oklahoma man’s pleas for help, guards did nothing to save him, a lawsuit claims.
At one point, jailers dumped Williams’s limp body into a shower and left him there for an hour. The dying inmate “would not stand up but we did give him a shower anyway,” a captain later testified, according to a sheriff’s office internal report.
Another officer saw Williams face down in the shower, screaming, “Help me!” according to the internal report.
In the days that followed, Williams’s father tried in vain to contact his son. He was denied visitation “because of Elliott’s condition.”
“He’s acting like he’s paralyzed, but we know he’s not,” a mental health worker told Williams’s dad, court papers allege.
Detention officers, nurses, and even a jail psychiatrist accused Williams of “faking” an illness. His family says they declined to administer medical care or transport Williams to a hospital—until it was too late.
Cops arrested the Army vet, who had a history of mental illness, at a Marriott hotel on Oct. 21, 2011. Hotel staff called the cops after Williams, who was with his parents, appeared to have a mental breakdown in the lobby. At the time, his only alleged crime was misdemeanor obstruction.
But he paid with his life.
“This guy went almost six days and never got taken to the hospital with a broken neck,” Daniel Smolen, an attorney for Williams’s family, told The Daily Beast. “They’re throwing food at him and making fun of him in the cell while he’s going through a horrific death. You wouldn’t do that to an animal or any living thing.”
Most of the horrors Williams endured in the jail were captured on the facility’s surveillance footage. The shocking video was released in 2013, two years after the Williams family filed a federal lawsuit against then-Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
The complaint also targeted employees of the private health-care company contracted to operate the jail’s medical services. The firm, Correctional Healthcare Management, settled out of court two years ago, but the county didn’t. Smolen expects the Williams case to go to trial.
“It’s a slow, torturous death,” Smolen said, adding that Williams’s case is the worst civil rights violation he’s seen captured on film. “You’re cognizant of it the whole time. It’s like a nightmare.”
The Tulsa County sheriff’s office told The Daily Beast it would not comment on cases that are pending litigation and about to go to trial. But in one court filing for the Williams case, Sheriff Glanz’s attorney, Corbin Brewster, claimed, “Williams was surrounded by people in the jail who thought they were taking care of him.
“Despite medical staff’s incorrect diagnoses of Mr. Williams before his death, the undisputed evidence is that the medical professionals who examined and treated Mr. Williams sincerely believed he was faking paralysis,” Brewster wrote.
Williams’s legal team, Brewster added, “has not established any evidence at anyone at the jail… consciously refused to provide him with medical care.”
Meanwhile, the alleged scandals within the Tulsa sheriff’s department keep adding up.
Former Sheriff Glanz was in the spotlight last year after his fishing buddy and volunteer deputy, 74-year-old Robert Bates, fatally shot an unarmed black man at close range after Bates mistook his own gun for a Taser.
Bates has pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter. His trial began on Monday.
The fatal blunder swept the cable news networks in April 2015, when the high-rolling grandpa killed 44-year-old Eric Harris during a gun-buy sting operation. Bates was accused of being a “pay to play” cop for his donations to and vacations with Sheriff Glanz.
Harris’s family has filed a federal lawsuit against Glanz, Bates, and other officers, alleging excessive force in Harris’s death, as well as supervisor liability and deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. The case is still active.
Video footage showed the unarmed Harris running from officers, who then tackled and subdued him. As Harris lay face down on the ground, Bates shot him with his gun, rather than his electroshock weapon. “Oh! I shot him! I’m sorry!” Bates is heard saying on camera.
“He shot me! He shot me, man. Oh, my god. I’m losing my breath,” a dying Harris says, to which an officer responds, “Fuck your breath.”
A SON’S LAST WORDS
Before Elliott Williams was placed in the back of the squad car, he told his father he loved him. It would be the last time they ever spoke.
Williams’s marriage was on the rocks and he had been staying with his father since mid-October of 2011, court records show.
On the morning of Oct. 21, Williams became “somewhat argumentative” while riding in a car with his parents, Earl and Katha. Earl later told investigators with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) that he stopped by the Owasso police department to speak to an officer about Williams, documents state.
An Owasso cop agreed to give Williams a lift home so his parents could continue to a doctor’s appointment, but moments later, someone with the police department called Earl because Williams had locked his keys in the house.
The parents decided to come home, and according to an OSBI report, the “Owasso police department was very nice to them during this time.”
Later that afternoon, Williams checked into a Marriott hotel in Owasso and his wife phoned Earl. She couldn’t wake Williams up and feared he was dead. The parents rushed to the hotel and knocked on Williams’s door. He opened it.
Afterward, Williams joined his family at church. But when the family returned to the hotel, Williams chucked a fast-food bag in the lobby and ran back outside, knocking one of the front doors off track, the OSBI report says.
Two police officers arrived soon after. Earl told them Williams’s wife recently left him and he hadn’t slept for days.
According to Earl’s account to OSBI, Williams wasn’t making sense when he spoke to the cops, who called a mental health service to help him. Williams became agitated and disobeyed an officer’s repeated orders to sit down.
Officer Benjamin Wolery later recalled Williams “starting singing and talking to God,” and plucked some grass and dirt from the ground, saying “something religious and touched it to his tongue.” Then Williams said, “Going to be a beat down tonight, all the way down there to the ground.” He asked, “Do we know if we are going to wake up in the morning?”
Williams continued to make a scene outside the hotel. He told police he was going to kill himself and asked cops to shoot him. “I know what this is, a black male and two Owasso officers, homicide or suicide, take two bullets,” Earl recalled Williams telling the cops while tapping his chest, the document states.
“Eliah is out of my life, she is out of my life, take a shot,” Williams allegedly said, referring to his wife. “What is wrong with you all, are you scared? It’s a suicide; do I need to provoke you?”
Officer Wolery told OSBI that Williams took a “threatening” step toward him and fellow cop Jack Wells, who then pepper-sprayed Williams.
Wells knocked Williams to the ground, allegedly pressing a knee into his back, according to Earl’s OSBI report. Earl said he saw his son’s left foot drag when officers pulled him up and took him to a patrol car.
Earl asked the cops why Williams was being arrested. He was interfering with a police officer, one of them replied. EMS arrived on scene to wash pepper spray from Williams’s eyes, and the father and son said what would be their final goodbyes.
On Oct. 22, Earl called the Tulsa County jail to see if he could visit Williams but they said it was too early. The next day, the concerned father phoned again and was told his son was moved to the jail’s medical wing.
He reached John Lnuk, a worker in the jail’s mental health area, on Oct. 24 and asked how Williams was doing, OSBI documents show.
Earl told OSBI that Lnuk mimicked a weak voice and told him Williams said, “I want a drink of water.” Earl was worried Williams was sick, but Lnuk told him not to worry. “He’s acting like he’s paralyzed, but we know he’s not,” Lnuk said, according to Earl.
For the next two days, Earl tried to visit his son and spoke with a chaplain, asking him to check on Williams.
Finally on Oct. 27, another chaplin agreed to visit Williams and gave Earl bad news: Williams wasn’t responding well to him and Earl had better visit the jail.
Lnuk told Earl a short time later that staff were transporting Williams to the hospital. Then Lnuk became unreachable, Earl told OSBI.
When Earl got to Tulsa County jail that day, he was told Williams was dead. It would take years to learn what really happened to his son.
A LIVING NIGHTMARE
Williams’s apparent psychosis didn’t end when he got to Owasso police headquarters. He swayed and hummed and fell to the ground in the booking area. He indicated he was suicidal on an intake form.
Despite the check mark, Williams wasn’t put on suicide watch, lawyers claim. Instead, police put him in a video-monitored holding cell, pending his transfer to the Tulsa County jail, according to a federal lawsuit filed by his family.
He continued to exhibit behaviors of severe mental illness, including screaming, dancing aimlessly, and crawling on all fours. On several occasions, he slammed his head into the cell walls, court papers allege. Still, Owasso police did nothing to help him.
Things would only get worse in Tulsa.
When Williams arrived to the county jail’s booking area in the early morning of Oct. 22, Owasso officer Jack Wells slammed him to the floor while trying to handcuff him, according to the cop’s own interview with OSBI. Officer Wells told OSBI he “landed on top of Elliott’s shoulder and head,” but that the prisoner “appeared to be fine with no injuries.”
Still, the Tulsa sheriff office’s appeared to disagree. In an internal report, the sheriff’s department says Williams struggled after the fall, and that his condition was captured on booking cameras. “At this time it is obvious that Williams is having a difficult time standing,” the document stated.
In body camera footage exclusively provided to The Daily Beast, Williams is heard groaning in pain as he’s handcuffed on the floor of the booking area.
“Elliott, lay down on the floor. Stay laid down, do you understand me?” a cop orders as the inmate screams.
Throughout the footage, his cries are chilling.
“Goddamn,” an officer is heard on camera in response.
Sheriff Glanz himself later testified that his investigators, after watching surveillance video, were concerned Williams had broken his neck. Glanz added that he saw the footage, too, and shared their worry. “After viewing it, I think that the—the officers probably could have done more as well as medical to provide for his care,” Glanz said in a May 2013 deposition.
Williams screamed and said he couldn’t walk. “Cut it out of my belly,” he demanded of jail staff. He showed abnormal posturing in his hands, indicative of a serious brain injury, and also appeared to have a seizure, court papers allege.
He never completed the booking process.
According to court documents, Williams was taken to a holding cell, where he rammed his head into a glass window on the cell door, then hit the floor. A fellow inmate later told Sheriff Glanz no one checked on Williams for 20 minutes.
Williams told nurses he couldn’t move and felt like his neck was broken, court papers state. One nurse told sheriff’s investigators she massaged his neck for a bit, then left him in the cell. She told an oncoming nurse that Williams was “fine” despite his complaints, according to a disciplinary report for the employee found in court documents.
When a jail captain later checked on Williams, he had urinated and defecated on himself. The captain said it was clear Williams had mental health issues but concluded he was still “faking” the paralysis, court papers show.
A nurse eventually called a medical emergency, and jailers hoisted Williams onto a gurney lined with trash bags. He continued to scream and say something needed to be cut out of him. The behavior indicated “he had serious and emergent mental health and medical needs,” court papers allege.
When Williams was rolled to the medical unit’s shower, one nurse told him he should be “ashamed” of his behavior and to “quit faking.” She also told him to get his “nasty ass” in the shower, court documents say.
Jail supervisors tried to get Williams into the shower but he couldn’t move. One sergeant then dumped Williams off the gurney, a two- to three-foot fall, and the cops tore his pants off and removed his shirt.
The jail’s then-Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette, in an April 2013 deposition, admitted her employees “dumped” Williams’s body into the shower. When asked why she felt the jailers’ conduct was wrong, Robinette replied, “Because you don’t dump people off of gurneys.”
Staff admitted to leaving Williams alone in the shower for at least an hour, court papers reveal.
After the shower, Williams was placed in his cell, lying on his back and naked. He told an officer he couldn’t move or drink a cup of water left for him. “Look, there’s that water in the cup, and I haven’t drank it. I can’t move,” Williams told the cop.
The cop alerted a nurse to Williams’s claims but she wasn’t alarmed. “[Williams] continues to tell nursing staff here that he just cannot walk… Wants to be waited on,” she wrote in a progress report.
According to the complaint, not much is known about what happened to Williams on Oct. 23. He was placed in a general population cell but not separated from other inmates or assessed by a mental health professional, court papers state.
On Oct. 24, another nurse reported Williams was “lying on [the] bed without clothes [and] refusing to answer any questions.” A counselor came by and made a similar observation, noting Williams “acted as if paralyzed, saying ‘I want water.’”
That night, an officer reported Williams was repeatedly yelling. She told the nursing staff he “wants something” and asked they “at least go down there and look at him.” None of the nurses bothered to check on Williams, court papers allege.
The next day, mental health workers at the jail held a meeting to discuss Williams. Instead of seeking a neurological exam or other care, they decided to rule out paralysis by placing Williams in a video-monitored cell. They wanted to see if he was “faking” the injury, legal papers state.
At around 8:30 a.m., two officers dragged Williams on a blanket to his new cell and placed a Styrofoam cup of water at his feet, video footage shows.
“This was the only cup of water placed in [the cell] from October 25 to the time that Mr. Williams died on October 27,” court papers charge.
The psychiatrist met with Williams for the first—and last—time at 9:07 a.m. Williams claimed he couldn’t move, didn’t know where he was, and demanded a bucket of water to drink, the doctor noted, according to court documents.
At 10:11 a.m., staff tossed a food container onto the floor of the cell, out of Williams’s reach. He struggled to grab the cup of water between 1:15 p.m. and 2:12 p.m., court papers state. No one entered the cell to help him.
Jailers dropped a second food container into the cell at 4:41 p.m. Williams tried in vain to open the container and to lift the water cup, the cell’s surveillance footage shows.
When a nurse reported for her shift that night at 7 p.m., she was shocked by Williams’s condition. He had white residue on the side of his mouth and couldn’t get up. She asked detention officers to open the cell door so she could help him, but they refused, citing unspecified safety issues, court papers allege.
The nurse gave up.
A counselor visited Williams’s cell door around 7:30 a.m. the next day and jotted down her observations as “psychosomatic paralysis.” She began to taunt Williams, telling him “if he wanted to be bailed out by his parents… he would have to walk to the car,” according to court documents.
Three hours later, Williams desperately attempted to lift one food container within his reach and accidentally knocked over the cup of water. It was never refilled, court papers allege.
On Oct. 27 at 5:10 a.m., the third and final food container was dropped into Williams’s cell, at his feet and out of his reach, video shows. A resident physician shadowing jail staff spotted him three hours later, lying with saliva pooled under his head. The doctor saw vomit on the side of Williams’s mouth and the unopened food containers.
The doctor warned the jail’s medical director that Williams “looked sick, needed a CT scan and needed to go to the hospital,” court documents state. The medical director, however, took no action. The director later testified he didn’t remember the doctor’s conversation but “if it happened, it was my bad.”
Then he tried to explain away Williams’s treatment. “People just die sometimes,” he said, according to court records.
At 11:01 a.m., Williams was unresponsive. Two nurses made “cosmetic attempts” at CPR, court papers state. One of them said she would only perform the lifesaving maneuver while standing up.
Within moments, he was dead.
The medical examiner ruled Williams died of “complications of vertebrospinal injuries due to blunt force trauma” and that he was dehydrated. Regardless of what caused Williams’s fatal injuries, attorneys for his family argue Tulsa County’s “deliberate indifference” to his care led to his untimely death.
THE DEATHS PILE UP
It’s not the first time Tulsa County allegedly risked the lives of inmates. A review of court records shows at least a dozen lawsuits—many of them filed by Smolen’s firm—against the sheriff’s department alleging injuries to suspects and prisoners, as well as deaths over a lack of care. Two of these cases were dismissed, records show.
One case, filed by Terry Byrum in January 2016, claims volunteer deputy Bates used excessive force when tasing him after a traffic stop. Byrum voluntarily dismissed the case two days later for procedural reasons and expects to refile, his attorney, Smolen, told The Daily Beast.
Another lawsuit, filed by Destiny Holland over her father’s jail cell suicide, was also dismissed. The Daily Beast could not reach her attorney to determine what happened with the case.
In an affidavit for Williams’s case, the jail’s former director of nursing, Tammy Harrington, said she “witnessed numerous inadequacies” in the services provided to inmates with mental health issues, as well as a lack of leadership that trickled from the top.
Harrington said she and other nurses were directed to hide medical charts and records that would be unfavorable to auditors. During a 2010 audit process, she said she “saw medical charts being carried out of the jail.”
“The inmates were run through the booking process like ‘cattle in a chute.’ This was not a true medical ‘screening’ process,” Harrington added.
The former employee said several people died at the jail because of a lack of medical care. And when they did pass away, nurses would attempt to resuscitate them and call EMS to take them to the hospital, so the official pronouncement of death would occur off-site. That way, officials wouldn’t have to report a jail death, Harrington said.
Supervisors would also routinely direct nurses to falsify and backdate medical records, the nurse said. When inmate Lisa Salgado died of a heart attack in 2011, Harrington said, it was discovered her vital signs were never recorded in a chart. A supervisor ordered nurses to “doctor her medical records so that it would appear… vitals had been taken,” court papers show.
When the allegations surfaced in 2013, an attorney for the sheriff, Clark Brewster, told the Tulsa World he had “serious doubts about the veracity” of the records falsification claims, which he called “sensational.”
In 2013, families of deceased inmates Gregory Brown, Gwendolyn Young, and Lisa Salgado joined a lawsuit filed by Bridget Nicole Revilla, who claims the sheriff’s department’s allegedly inadequate supervision led to a suicide attempt.
The three prisoners “needlessly died” because of grossly deficient treatment at the jail, the complaint alleges. The case is still active.
Brown arrived to Tulsa’s pen Feb. 18, 2012, and made multiple requests to see a doctor, the lawsuit claims. He finally saw one four days later after his blood pressure and heart rate dropped dramatically and he spent the previous night vomiting, the complaint alleges.
The doctor, informed of Brown’s history of perforated gastric ulcers and gastrectomy, ordered meds and fluids, but refused multiple requests by Harrington to send him to the hospital. On Feb. 28, nurses saw Brown had black urine. The next day, his temperature shot to 102.9 degrees and he went to the ER. A surgeon concluded he had bowel perforation and a deadly inflammation of his abdomen and organs. He was placed in the ICU, where he died March 8, court papers claim.
In Salgado’s case, she was booked into the jail June 25, 2011, and died three days later. While staff were notified of her health issues, which included coronary heart disease, hypertension, and alcohol abuse, they didn’t take any vitals, the complaint alleges. When a nurse showed up to work June 28, he found Salgado unresponsive. She had been dead for at least four hours, court papers allege; rigor mortis had set in.
Young had complained of nausea, vomiting, and lower back and abdominal pain hours before she died of a heart attack on Feb. 8, 2013, yet jail staff did nothing to assess her deteriorating condition, according to court papers.
Instead, jail employees “falsified documentation to make it appear Ms. Young passed away after being taken from the jail by ambulance, even issuing a press release that falsely claims Ms. Young died at an area hospital,” the lawsuit claims.
State and federal authorities warned Tulsa County multiple times about its substandard care since 2009, when the Oklahoma State Department of Health conducted a probe into the death of Charles Jernegan, a 32-year-old inmate who hanged himself in his jail cell, and issued a notice of violation, court papers show.
The Tulsa lockup did “not meet Oklahoma jail standards” with regard to separating mentally ill prisoners from the general population, monitoring them and providing medical care, the document warned.
Jernegan hanged himself in a jail cell in July 2009. He had indicated he struggled with mental illness on a screening form, but penitentiary staff never evaluated or monitored him, a lawsuit claims.
Jernegan was known to his jailers, having been detained twice earlier that year. Each time, he notified personnel he had suicidal tendencies and one past suicide attempt, according to a lawsuit filed by his family.
Two days before he killed himself, Jernegan submitted a written request seeking treatment but his “cry for help was greeted with apathy,” the complaint alleges.
In another tragic case, 38-year-old inmate Michael Morittz died after repeatedly begging for his heart medications.
Morittz was booked on charges of burglary of an automobile and assault with a dangerous weapon in May 2006, court records show. A year before, he had surgery for an aortic valve replacement and was on multiple life-sustaining meds, a lawsuit filed by his daughter states.
“I have been here since 5-18-06. I had open heart surgery 1-18-05… I have not received any [medication for] blood pressure, blood thinner or pain pills. I am afraid of something happening to me (my heart) please help me!” he wrote in a May 25 grievance form, according to the lawsuit.
He submitted another form on June 12, 2006, that read, “D.O. [detention officer] says I can’t get my meds… I don’t understand the problem here,” court records show.
On Aug. 11, Morittz wrote a letter to his mother and sister, saying he had chest pain, could “barely breathe” and hasn’t seen a doctor. The staff “will not answer my sick call slips [and] I’ve [submitted] over 20,” he said, according to court papers. He concluded the letter by asking them to tell his 10-year-old daughter he loved her.
About two weeks later, Morittz was taken to the hospital ICU. His heart stopped beating and he was experiencing kidney failure. He remained on life support until he died Sept. 16, court papers state. His family’s lawsuit against the sheriff’s office is still pending.
The fatal shooting of Harris, Williams’s horrific jailhouse death, and the series of deadly medical errors are caused by a toxic cover-up culture within the sheriff’s office, Smolen told The Daily Beast.
“If you go back to a lot of this stuff, you’re looking at the falsification of records, whether it’s medical records, logbooks and welfare check records, or Bob Bates’s training records,” Smolen said in an interview on Friday, referring to former deputies’ claims, during grand jury testimony last year, that Bates was never properly trained and that his records were falsified.
“I see it as such a larger systemic issue, particularly with the Tulsa County sheriff’s office,” he added. “When you allow corners to be cut and view human life as less than human life, very evil, tragic things happen.”
AMERICA’S WORST SHERIFF’S OFFICE?
Allegations of corruption inside the sheriff’s office have been leaking out even before the start of Bates’s trial this week.
Last week, a former employee of Bates’s attorney, Clark Brewster, filed an affidavit in the Harris family’s civil case against Bates.
Michael Hardison, a gunsmith at a shooting range owned by Brewster, provided an affidavit claiming a manager, Eric Fuson, asked him in March 2016 to modify a gun for use in Bates’s criminal trial by reducing its trigger force.
“I told Eric ‘I have a problem with that.’ I then asked Eric several questions,” Hardison said in the court filing. “I asked Eric why I needed to do a trigger job on a gun that would be evidence in trial. I noted that it was improper to modify a ‘duty weapon.’”
Hardison asked why Brewster didn’t use the actual gun as evidence, and Fuson allegedly replied that the jury would be “too stupid to figure it out.”
“My impression from this was that the trigger was to be modified in order to fool or manipulate the jury in the Bates trial,” Hardison said in his affidavit, adding that he refused to do the job and resigned.
At an April 12 hearing, prosecutor Kevin Gray expressed concern that the sample handgun wouldn’t be identical to the weapon Bates used that day. “They will have the original gun, and I don’t see any reason to send any gun back with the jury that’s not Mr. Bates’s gun,” Gray said, according to court transcripts.
Brewster told the judge the replica gun would only be used by his experts and his office, not for a trial exhibit, court records show.
Brewster told Tulsa’s KTUL he never planned to present a replica gun in court. The notion that he would was ridiculous, he added.
On April 13, as part of the Harris family’s civil case against Tulsa County, Smolen’s firm filed an emergency motion asking the sheriff’s office to produce Bates’s gun for an expert “trigger weight” test to “prevent the spoliation of evidence,” stating that once the trial concludes, it will no longer be protected as evidence.
In response, Brewster’s firm accused Smolen of drafting a “frivolous motion” aiming to “prejudice Robert Bates’s right to a fair trial in a pending criminal matter which goes to trial Monday, April 18, 2016,” court records show.
Meanwhile, Glanz is also in the hot seat for at least eight active lawsuits—seven against him both personally and in his official capacity, and one against him personally—alleging inmate neglect at the county jail.
Last month, a jury awarded a 23-year-old woman $50,000 in damages over repeated sexual assaults she allegedly endured in Tulsa’s jail.
The woman claimed she was just 17 when detention officer Seth Bowers allegedly groped her and forced oral sex on her over a four-month period. She filed a federal lawsuit against Glanz and Bowers, who was subsequently dismissed after an undisclosed settlement was reached, the Tulsa World reported.
Bowers was never charged with a crime, despite the sheriff’s office recommending the district attorney prosecute him. The officer resigned in June 2010, a day before he was scheduled to take a polygraph test at the sheriff’s department, The Frontier revealed. The DA declined to pursue the case.
Glanz resigned last September—one day after a grand jury indicted him on two misdemeanor charges, including one for not releasing a 2009 internal report on Bates. A second charge stems from his use of a monthly travel stipend while using a county vehicle. Both charges are still active.
Tulsa activist Marq Lewis led the charge against Glanz. Oklahoma is one of six states that permits citizens to initiate a grand jury through a 5,000-signature petition. Lewis and supporters sought to remove Glanz from office and empanel a civil grand jury to probe for wrongdoing—and they succeeded.
During the grand jury testimony, more was revealed about Tulsa County’s alleged attempts to cover up the deaths of both Harris and Williams. Deputy Billy McKelvey said he and a chaplain were asked to meet with Harris’s brother days after the shooting to determine whether the family had hired an attorney.
“And I, honestly, I told him that attorneys convoluted these types of problems,” McKelvey testified, according to court transcripts.
McKelvey then used the Williams case as an example of how to discourage victims’ families from pursuing litigation.
“One of the strategies in that death investigation was for the sheriff’s office to make contact with the family members of Elliott Williams and try to get a settlement before attorneys get involved because it—it costs a lot more money to defend a civil case and usually the settlements are a lot higher,” McKelvey testified.
“And, so, that was a—a tactic used in that case and that was what I was told to do in this [Harris family] case…” he added.
Meanwhile, Smolen said revelations in the Harris case show the sheriff’s office is “just as bad” as it was when he began litigating against it a decade ago. “The Harris case is bringing to light all this stuff that’s going on behind the scenes but we could never prove,” he told The Daily Beast.
In February, Smolen vowed Harris’s death would finally expose corruption inside the sheriff department’s that went unchecked too long.
“When Eric Harris was shot, we came out publicly and said we’re going to show you what happens when you try to cover up a bad shooting,” Smolen told The Daily Beast at the time. “We weren’t just talking about that shooting… [or] Robert Bates or Stanley Glanz.
“We were talking about how, for a decade, this was a corrupt—and corrupt to the core—sheriff’s office.”