Aurora, CO — Saving a person's life by rushing them to the hospital after they've been shot should not be a punishable offense much less get you beaten and kidnapped. However, for OyZhana Williams, who dropped a man at the emergency room who'd just been shot, that is exactly what happened—thanks to Aurora police officers. Now, however, because of a defunct system, the taxpayers—not the officers—will be held accountable for the abuse.
Last year, Williams, 23, filed an excessive force lawsuit against the Aurora police department whose officers, Sergeant Michal Hawkins, Jordan Odneal, and Jose Ortiz, were seen on video allegedly choking, slamming and stomping the innocent woman just before making up bogus charges against her, according to the lawsuit.
Adam Frank, an attorney for Williams said in a statement on Tuesday that the settlement of $335,000 illustrates what happens when police officers fail to recognize their own emotions and cannot de-escalate tense situations, according to the Denver Post.
“It’s the ultimate case of contempt of cop,” Frank said. “It’s obvious the most dangerous thing you can do is not break any laws but make a cop mad at you.”
On Dec. 22, 2015, Williams took Blake Newton to the hospital after he'd been shot. For this innocent act, she was met by Aurora police officers who told her they were now legally in their right to impound her car as part of their investigation.
As ABC 7 reported at the time, the officers, tasked with investigating the shooting, told Williams that her car would be towed so it could be searched and examined, the lawsuit says. Williams was initially cooperative with the investigation until Sgt. Hawkins demanded Williams “give him the keys to the car,” which police had no legal claim to seize, the suit alleges. While the vehicle the shooting victim was transported in might be considered a secondary crime scene, which police had the right to seize, the keys were not considered evidence, the lawsuit contends.
“The important part is he had no legal right to demand the keys,” Frank said.
Williams had committed no crime, nor did she present any threat to the cops. However, this was no protection against her unlawful assault as captured on the University of Colorado Hospital's surveillance camera.
According to the lawsuit, Sgt Hawkins became “aggressive during this conversation, pointing his finger in Ms. Williams’ face.” Naturally, this frightened Williams who, at that point, “under duress from Sgt. Hawkins’ threats,” dropped her keys on the ground to comply with the officers and allow them to take them. However, this only served to further infuriate the brutal cops who then attacked the small woman.
Hawkins then grabbed Williams out of the back of the patrol car where she was sitting. For pulling her arms back from her alleged attacker, Hawkins escalated force against Williams. As the video shows, the three Aurora police officers then choked her, slammed her to the ground, and "stomped on" her head, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, during the attack, “Hawkins put his forearm on Ms. Williams’ throat and forced her to bend backwards over the trunk of the car while he choked her with his forearm.” Williams did put her hands up during the melee but this appeared only to be an attempt to stop the officer from strangling her.
After the incident, Williams was arrested and charged with assaulting a peace officer. However, the suit alleges the officers involved in the arrest deliberately misled prosecutors by including false information in the probable cause affidavit. As a result, Williams was locked up for several days, including over the Christmas holiday, which caused her to lose her job, the suit says.
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The multiple charges Williams faced carried a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.
Proving the mother of two was innocent, however, all charges were eventually dropped.
For their role in the assault on an innocent woman, none of the officers faced any disciplinary action. When Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz got word of the lawsuit, Hawkins was merely placed on desk duty at the time while the other two officers remain on the streets.
According to the Post, however, Hawkins retired from the Aurora Police Department in January, said Sgt. Chris Neiman, a police spokesman. Odneal and Ortiz remain on the police force, but an internal affairs investigation is pending, he said.
“Officer Odneal and Officer Ortiz should have reported Hawkins’ brutality and taken a completely different tact,” Frank said. “Instead, we saw two officers defend their sergeant and Ms. Williams had to fight for her freedom for nearly a year.”
Naturally, the government is denying any wrongdoing and released a statement Tuesday noting this.
“This case was settled for the reason that many cases are settled – to avoid the cost of prolonged litigation,” the statement said. “That cost would have far exceeded the value of the settlement.”
When the video was released last year, the Aurora PD put out the following statement.
The post on the Aurora Police Department's page is full of people calling Williams a "money hungry" "dumb" person for filing the suit. They claim that waiting so long to bring the suit somehow implies that the cops who attacked her did nothing wrong. Sadly, that mentality seems to prevail, largely due to ignorance and lack of empathy.
People are unable to empathize with the fact that Williams had done nothing wrong. Her only crime was being upset at cops for wanting to take her vehicle which she needs to get to her job. While the armchair quarter backs denounce the woman as some gold digger, the reality is that it isn't very easy to walk into a police station where three cops work who just attacked and kidnapped you for no reason and file a complaint.
Furthermore, it's not exactly a cake walk to obtain surveillance video of your assault — much less an attorney. This woman was beaten, kidnapped, held in a cage for days, and lost her job as a result of this treatment and these apologists claim that because she waited a year to file the lawsuit that she is some money hungry piece of trash. Shameful indeed.