Oklahoma Cops Taunted Mentally Ill Black Veteran as he Died

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

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.

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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 healthcare 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 that 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 mistaking his 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, “—- your breath.”


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 Earl, 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 brought 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.


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.

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SOURCE: The Daily Beast – Kate Briquelet

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