CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nearly one month after 18-year-old Tanisha Williams slipped into a coma while in police custody, her family’s attorney was allowed to view the video from the patrol car.
Members of the media were later invited to watch that same footage, but not permitted to record it.
Williams was arrested December 5 for allegedly stealing a $14 shirt from CitiTrends on Freedom Drive. The in-car video began shortly after police said she became combative in the backseat of the patrol car. Williams was handcuffed, but not restrained with a seatbelt.
CMPD said the officer pointed the camera to the backseat, began recording and then got out of the vehicle to complete some paperwork around 7:01 p.m.
About one minute later, the video showed Williams violently banging her head against the plexiglass window. She hit the window so hard it cracked down the middle. Officers were heard shouting at Williams in the vehicle. CMPD said the officers then went to get additional restraints.
It is at that time that Williams can be seen looping the middle seat belt around her neck. It took her less than ten seconds to wrap it three times. The teenager quickly slumped over in the seat.
Officers would not notice the seatbelt around her neck for several minutes.
While Williams was passed out in the seat, officers can be seen holding another form of restraint through the back window. One officer attempted to ask Williams several questions during that time period. He repeatedly asked Williams her name. When she did not respond, the officer informed Williams he could still book her as Jane Doe.
CMPD said even when an officer flashed a light on Williams, he could not initially see the seatbelt around her neck due to her hair.
Six minutes after she did it, an officer noticed the seatbelt wrapped around Williams’ neck. He shouted an expletive in obvious distress, and called the other on-scene officers for help. They cut the belt off Williams’ neck.
The Williams family attorney said even though the video showed that Tanisha Williams hurt herself, he didn’t feel the video proved police did enough to help. William Harding told NewsChannel 36 he thought it was irresponsible of CMPD not to immediately restrain the teenager with a seatbelt in the backseat. He said the video made him feel like CMPD failed to intervene in a timely manner.
“It’d be no different if I was suicidal. You don't put me in a room full of ropes or knives or guns. You protect me from me,” said Harding. “I counted two officers next to her. I could see them as close as you are to me, while this was happening.”
CMPD said its officers are not required to restrain suspects with seatbelts if the patrol car is parked. CMPD also said, even though there is an ongoing internal investigation, at this time it appears the officer did not violate protocol.
WCNC’s legal analyst, Melissa Owen, said she does not believe there is any evidence of intentional police misconduct in the Tanisha Williams case.
Owen did not view the dash-cam tape but heard the description provided by NewsChannel 36.
Owen said the incident sounded more like a possible case of negligence. “Once you are arrested and in the custody and care of the police officer, at that point they have a general duty to provide safe keeping of you while they transport you to the jail,” she said.
Owen said she expected CMPD would move quickly to review its policy on placing a suspect in a police car. “The factors they are going to be looking into are going to be whether or not the police officers violated the general standard of care,” said Owen.
Harding said he will discuss what the next step will be with the family. He also planned to ask Williams’ grandmother, sister and cousins if they, too, wanted to see the video.