Did California police use a Taser on an unarmed, legless man in a wheelchair?

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 21, 2009 

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Greg Williams, 40, of Merced, California, is shown here being questioned by Merced police officers while handcuffed and with his pants down. Williams, who lost his legs in 2004, says he was tased twice by officers during an incident last week.

HANDOUT — (Merced Sun-Star/MCT)

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MERCED, Calif. — The Merced Police Department's Internal Affairs Division is investigating whether an officer twice used a Taser on an unarmed, wheelchair-bound man with no legs.

The man who was Tasered, Gregory Williams, 40, a double-leg amputee, spent six days in jail on suspicion of domestic violence and resisting arrest, but the Merced County District Attorney's office hasn't filed any charges.

Williams is black, and the two main arresting officers are white, but it's unknown whether race played any role in the incident.

Williams, who was released from jail on Friday, said he was manhandled and Tasered by police, even though he said he was never physically aggressive toward the officers and didn't resist arrest.

Williams said he was humiliated after his pants fell down during the incident. The officers allegedly left him outdoors in broad daylight, handcuffed on the pavement, nude below the waist. Williams said the Sept. 11 arrest also left him with an injured shoulder, limiting his mobility in his wheelchair.

A handful of residents in Williams' apartment complex said they witnessed the incident and supported Williams' charges. A short video clip, shot by a neighbor and obtained by the Sun-Star, shows Williams sitting on the pavement with his pants down, his hands cuffed behind his back.

A Merced police report, written by the responding officers, says that police tried to reason with Williams before the arrest, to no avail. The officers wrote that Williams was uncooperative and refused to turn his 2-year-old daughter over to Merced County Child Protective Services, among other allegations.

In the report, police also say a hostile crowd gathered as the officers tried to perform their duties.

The Merced Police Department spokesman declined to comment on the matter, saying he can't discuss it because the investigation is internal. Both the officers remain on duty.

Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sept. 11, Williams said, he and his wife, 28-year-old Demetrice Shaunte Phifer, were arguing when a marked Merced Police Department patrol car arrived at the couple's studio apartment.

While one officer spoke with his wife, Williams said, another officer arrived and ordered him, "Go back to your house!"

Williams, who had his 2-year-old daughter Ginni in his lap, said he rolled his wheelchair back to his apartment.

The officer, who's identified in the police report as John Pinnegar, approached him in the doorway of his apartment. Pinnegar said that his wife had accused him of striking her, which Williams denied.

Shortly afterward, police Sgt. Rodney Court and a worker with Merced County Child Protective Services entered the room, Williams said. "I'm trying to tell him nothing happened. We were just having an argument," he said.

Pinnegar grabbed William's 2-year-old daughter from his lap, handing her to the CPS worker. "I said, 'What are you doing? I haven't done anything!' " Williams said.

Williams said Pinnegar unholstered his Taser, jammed it into his rib cage and shocked him twice. Williams said he fell from his chair onto his stomach on the ground outside his doorway.

While he was down, Williams said, Court put his knee on his neck, and one of the officers then cuffed both of his wrists. At some point after he fell out of his chair, Williams said, his shorts slid down his legs.

With his hands cuffed behind his back, Williams said, he was unable to pull his pants up. He said police left him for five to 10 minutes in that position on the pavement, with his private parts showing as neighbors and onlookers watched.

Williams, a lifelong Merced resident who's married with three children, said that both his legs were amputated in 2004 after he was diagnosed with deep-vein thrombosis that led to gangrene in both legs.

Doctors amputated both his legs below the knees when he was 34. Now only withered stumps of skin hang where his lower legs once were. He lost his job as a truck driver and now supports himself and his family from a Social Security disability allotment of $1,004 a month.

To read a fuller account of this story, visit www.mercedsunstar.com.

(Victor Patton reports for the Merced Sun-Star.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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