Memphis, TN — It is quite evident from the thousands of articles on this website that many police officers in America have anger issues. It is also quite evident the many cops — despite training — have no idea how to deal with people who are mentally ill. As the following incident out of Memphis illustrates, often times, these officers will release their anger on entirely unwitting mentally ill individuals. Memphis Police Department Officer William Skelton was the angry officer and Drew Thomas was his victim.
For his actions which took place over a year ago, Skelton was indicted by a grand jury on an official oppression charge — a felony. Last year, Skelton resigned before his administrative hearing to avoid accountability, but thanks to a changing landscape in policing and accountability, his past caught up with him.
According to the Memphian, Skelton was secretly indicted by a grand jury in November. Under Tennessee law, an indictment does not become public information until the person charged is in custody. Skelton was booked in mid-December, as the holiday season started, and the charge against him remained under the news media radar for months.
Illustrating just how difficult it is to hold cops accountable, WMC5 looked through more than 120 excessive force complaints that had been filed against Memphis police officers between 2015 and 2019. According to their investigation:
only two of those complaints were sent to the attorney general’s office for criminal review and that six officers were allowed to resign, including Skelton. Only one officer was shown to be terminated.
We didn’t find that a single officer was criminally charged during that time.
Official oppression is a Class E felony and is used when a public official, acting under the color of office or employment, is accused of committing an offense. In the video below, the word "oppression" is an accurate description of what was taking place.
To be clear, on that evening back in January 2019, Thomas admitted to committing a crime. He appears to have a history of trespassing and vandalism related to a mental illness and that night, he had trespassed and made a mess inside a local Shell station.
When police showed up, Thomas didn't run or resist in any way.
“Come on. You're under arrest," said Skelton.
"I am going home," said Thomas, apparently unaware he'd done anything wrong. That's when Skelton got angry.
"You’re under arrest mother f***er. Get the f*** over here. Get your mother f***ing a** over here," said Skelton.
At no time did Thomas resist arrest or do anything to warrant the aggressive tactics from Skelton. Nevertheless, Skelton continued to escalate, throwing Thomas around and eventually shoving him in the back of the police cruiser. As Skelton shoves Thomas into the cruiser, he verbally demeans him.
"Put your feet in. Eat a d*** mother f***er," said Skelton.
Later, while in handcuffs and placed in the back of the squad car, Thomas starts knocking on the car door with his foot. That caused Skelton to snap.
"Kick my car again. I'm going to foam you. You understand me d***head. I will spray the f*** out of you. You worthless piece of incestuous s***," said Skelton.
It goes on, unprovoked, Skelton opened the car door again. This time Skelton said, " S*** my b****, d***head."
When Thomas' foot touched the door again, Skelton pepper sprayed him not once, not twice, but four times and then left him locked in the enclosed space, handcuffed, covered in the chemical agent.
Skelton then grabs his own body camera, points it at his face and brags to the camera that he "foamed the f**k out of em!"
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Pepper spraying a handcuffed man who is under arrest for misdemeanor and is no threat to anyone because he is locked in the back of a police cruiser, is undoubtedly against the Memphis police policy. Despite this fact, the other officers on the scene simply stood around and smiled as they watched this crazed officer torture a handcuffed man with pepper spray for no reason.
Skelton then laughed about not rolling down the window and forcing Thomas to breathe in the fumes. Moments later, Thomas starts screaming for help as he struggles to breathe. He's heard begging for help for several minutes and no one so much as rolls down the window for him.
"Help, help, help," said Thomas. " Water, help." He can be heard gasping and coughing and making his pleas for help nine times before an ambulance arrived.
“He wanted me to roll the window down, uh, I probably should," said Skelton. In the internal affairs file, Skelton said he didn't feel Thomas deserved to have the windows rolled down.
Eventually a lieutenant pulls up and rolls down the window allowing Thomas to breathe. Thomas had suffered for over five minutes, inhaling the fumes of the pepper spray.
But none of the officers even check on Thomas. Instead, they stand around talking about making up felony charges so they can put him in jail.
"You need to say it’s going to be $500 today, sir," said Skelton, noting that he would need the store manager to lie in order to get a felony charge to stick against Thomas.
"It’s a $1,000," said another officer on scene, laughing about framing a man for a crime he did not commit.
“OK it’s going to be $1,000 today, sir,” said Skelton.
Another MPD officer jokes, “you caused quite a bit of damage in there.”
The officer writing the report questions if it will be accepted.
“I mean go ahead and say it and see what happens," said Skelton.
A supervisor then opens the police cruiser door, which was not damaged at all and said, "Go ahead and charge him with felony Vandalism. We don’t know how much damage he did to the door."
All these cops had no problem being recorded on their body cameras, lying about charging a mentally ill man with crimes he did not commit.
As Local 24 reports, Thomas was charged with Vandalism, Trespassing, and Disorderly Conduct. According to the police affidavit, he did more than $2,000 worth of damage. Officers said he did $1,000 of damage inside the store and $1,100 to the squad car. Problem is: the amounts were fabricated. According to the internal affairs report, it wasn't true. The internal investigation found no damage to the squad car, and $350 worth of damage in the store.
For making up charges that put a man in jail for nearly six months for crimes he did not commit, the officer who wrote the exaggerated report and the lieutenant involved were both suspended without pay for just 3 days.
The internal affairs department charged Skelton with excessive force for torturing the handcuffed man with pepper spray, but he was allowed to quietly resign a week before his hearing. But now, two years later and it has finally caught up with him.
Skelton is due in court on May 19.