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Bodycam video: Distressed man in police custody waited 19 minutes for N.C. ambulance

A Charlotte Fire crew, not EMS, was dispatched after police first called for help; once on scene, firefighters called Medic to treat Jovontay Williams, who later died


Screen grab/Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police

By Kallie Cox
The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police on Thursday released body camera footage showing a nearly 19-minute wait for Medic to respond to a 32-year-old man who was struggling to breathe, on the ground, after being arrested.

Jovontay Williams, 32, died in police and hospital custody at Atrium Health Cabarrus on June 13, 2022 from causes so far not publicly disclosed. In total, 22 videos were released by police.

Around 2 a.m. on June 13, police responded to a 911 call from a woman hiding in a closet in her room. She said she heard shots fired outside her door in the 300 block of Featherstone Drive in northeast Charlotte, The Charlotte Observer previously reported.

Officers arrived at the home and found Williams, who was seen yelling and “acting erratically, exhibiting stress and delirium,” according to CMPD officials. A CMPD officer is seen in the footage confronting Williams with his gun pointed at him as Williams stood on the porch of a home (close to the home where the 911 call came from).

A breakdown of the footage by CMPD says Williams was originally in the fetal position and jumped up when officers approached him.

After seeing Williams was not holding a gun, the officer quickly moved toward him and is seen in the video — along with another officer — maneuvering him to the floor of the porch.

Body camera footage shows that Williams was quickly placed in handcuffs and put into a “recovery position” while visibly in medical distress.

But ultimately, it would take Medic nearly 19 minutes to arrive in an ambulance after police officers called for emergency medical help.

Police used what they described as a “soft, empty hands” technique to take him into custody. This means officers do not use weapons or strikes, a police spokesman told the Observer at the time. The recovery position is when officers place someone in medical distress on their side, and monitor the person.

The footage released Thursday shows no apparent struggle or fight as officers handcuffed Williams. The video shows Williams groaning, slurring his speech, and saying he has double vision while being held down by several CMPD officers.

Subdued on the porch, Williams says he is lightheaded and asks to be let go. One officer is heard encouraging him to take deep breaths. That officer says to another “he’s stiffening up like a board.” Amid periods of screaming and groaning, Williams occasionally spoke to the officers and asked them to get off him. At one point he says “let me up.”

In the video, it’s clear officers are tightly holding Williams’ arms and legs while squatting beside him.

Charlotte Fire —instead of an ambulance — was sent after CMPD first called for medical help. But firefighters — once on scene — called Medic back in order for Williams to get medical treatment.

The call was originally treated as a “non-emergency,” according to information provided by Medic. That may have affected the speed of medical response.

This delay caused CMPD to hold Williams on the ground for an extended period of time while fire personnel stood near them and talked with officers, the video footage shows. Charlotte firefighters are seen in the videos standing near Williams and the officers but did not provide medical aid.

After Medic arrived, those first responders treated Williams for about five minutes on the porch before carrying him to a stretcher and rushing him to the hospital with “life threatening injuries.” He was first taken to Atrium Health University then transferred to Atrium Health Cabarrus where he was pronounced dead just before 10 a.m., according to police.

Jovontay Williams’ death

The exact cause of Williams’ death is not clear.

Williams did not have a history of any medical issues, his mother, Christa Williams wrote on gofundme.

She says his family is still waiting on an autopsy report from the state Medical Examiner’s Office. The Observer also requested Williams autopsy report from the Medical Examiner’s Office and has not received a response.

Christa Williams has shared photos with the Observer and online showing bruises on her son’s arms and legs and a photo of his face appearing swollen while hospitalized. It’s not clear if the bruises are solely from police holding him down, or what caused swelling on his face.

Officers found a gun and drug paraphernalia at the scene, CMPD said in a news release following Williams’ death. They told Christa Williams they found a “white powdery substance” laying beside Williams.

The State Bureau of Investigation investigated Williams death in-custody. An SBI spokesperson told the Observer earlier this week that the investigation is complete and the findings were sent to District Attorney Spencer Merriweather.

CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings said the Mecklenburg DA review concluded no criminal charges were appropriate against the officers involved.

The District Attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment about the case.

Officials respond to Williams’ death

Medic released a statement Thursday following the footage being release saying they are “committed to the Medical Incident Review process that upholds our high standards of care.”

It’s unclear what that review or investigation will include.

“To the family and loved ones of Mr. Williams, we express our deepest condolences for your loss,” Medic said.

Jennings said an internal CMPD investigation found officers followed policies and no disciplinary action was taken against officers.

“I want to assure our citizens that after thoroughly reviewing the evidence in this case, I am confident that our officers performed their duties appropriately regarding the treatment of Mr. Williams which included seeking a higher level of medical care for him immediately when they realized he was experiencing a medical emergency,” Jennings said.

Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson said the department takes the death of Williams “very seriously” and is “exploring thoroughly.”

“We are dedicated to our community in service and are resolute in our mission of saving lives,” Johnson said. “As our community comes together during this difficult time, we hope for peace and healing for the family and loved ones of Mr. Williams.”

Who was Williams?

Williams had a 3-year-old son at the time of his death and played football at Johnson C. Smith University from 2012 to 2014, the Observer reported previously.

“Jovontay was a good father, a man of integrity, loyal to family/friends, and a great person,” his mother wrote on gofundme. “Jovontay would light up a room with his wit and smile. Jovontay never met a stranger, those who knew him would agree.”

Williams was self-employed and provided for his son and family, Christa Williams said.

His football coach, Steven Aycock, told the Observer after his death, Williams taught him about “humility” and “patience” — two principles he will always cherish.

“He was one of mine,” Aycock said. “He was a solid individual who would do anything for you. That’s just who Jovontay was.”

Williams’ family hired an attorney, a private investigator, and John Barnett a civil rights activist.

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