This week, the horrific treatment of Elliott Williams gained national media attention five years after his torturous death.
On Saturday, October 22, 2011, 37-year-old Elliott Williams sustained a debilitating spinal injury while in the custody of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office.
Williams, who was also a veteran with no criminal record, was suffering a mental breakdown after his wife left him. Owasso police were called to a hotel where he was staying where Williams was talking to himself and God, eating dirt and threatening to commit suicide.
A police officer called a mental health professional, though still proceeded to pepper spray Williams and arrest him rather than wait for the mental health team to arrive. From there, Williams was not placed on suicide watch but instead placed in a holding cell in Owasso where he took off his clothing, screamed and barked like a dog, and hid under the cell’s metal bench.
Williams was then taken to the Tulsa Jail, where he refused to comply with orders and officers slammed him to the ground by his head and neck. After that, he could not stand and said he thought his neck was broken. He did not receive medical attention and died 51 hours later.
Over five days, William’s father was denied contact with him and jail officers and health professionals accused him of “faking” being paralyzed. Williams was dumped into the shower where he didn’t and couldn’t move and then 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 just out of reach for him.
Williams spent the last five days of his life in jail, paralyzed and lying on the cold concrete jail floor. Despite his pleas for help, guards did nothing to save him.
The medical examiner ruled Williams died of “complications of vertebra spinal injuries due to blunt force trauma” and that he was dehydrated.
“This guy went almost six days and never got taken to the hospital with a broken neck,” the Williams’ family attorney, Dan Smolen, 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.”
“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.”
See also The Frontier’s blog post from Ziva Branstetter on how this story was the number one trending topic on Twitter due to a social media plagiarism spat.