Civil rights advocate: APD used excessive force in Williams shooting, failed to render aid

Najiyyah Avery, mother of Jerry Williams, is comforted by family members at a July 6 press conference. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Speaking on behalf of the family of Jerry Williams, who was fatally shot by an Asheville police officer on July 2, civil rights activist John Barnett of Charlotte called today for an end to the excessive force that he said often results in the deaths of black men at the hands of police.

“America is very excited about cutting checks for the souls of African-American men,” Barnett said at a press conference in Pack Square Park, citing settlements following the deaths of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Tamir Rice and Charlotte’s Jonathan Ferrell. Barnett also listed Trayvon Martin, who was killed by a private citizen, George Zimmerman.

“So we ask today that the police in Asheville be very sensitive to the loss of life,” Barnett continued. “I don’t know if there was a gun pointed at the officer. Maybe he had a gun.” Even when a person is guilty of a crime, using excessive force is unjustified, Barnett continued. Later in the press conference, Barnett and family members also questioned whether police officers rendered appropriate aid to Williams after the shooting.

Williams family members and supporters gathered for a press conference at Pack Square Park. Photo by Virginia Daffron
Williams family members and supporters gathered for a press conference at Pack Square Park. Photo by Virginia Daffron

According to a statement released by the Asheville Police Department, officers were first dispatched to Pisgah View Apartments after 911 callers reported hearing shots. Police officers identified the vehicle and followed it into Deaverview Apartments, witnessing during the chase “a struggle with a female passenger.” When Williams failed to follow police commands and “displayed a weapon,” the department’s account continues, “deadly force was used.”

Police Chief Tammy Hooper later released a second statement to clarify what she called misinformation in the community: “Mr. Williams was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. Shell casings were recovered in Pisgah View apartments where the initial call for service for shots fired originated and the weapon was recovered from Mr. Williams at the scene in Deaverview.”

Barnett asked Kecia White to speak about the 2006 death in Asheville of Lacy Pickens, III, who White said was killed by police officers as he was attempting to drive away from them.  After shooting multiple rounds into Pickens’ car, White said, police officers “…put him in handcuffs and gave him a last shot to the back of the head to be sure he was dead.” White said that Pickens was the father of her children.

Kecia White describes the 2006 shooting death of Lacy Pickens III by Asheville police officers. Photo by Virginia Daffron
Kecia White describes the 2006 shooting death of Lacy Pickens III by Asheville police officers. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Williams’ aunt addressed the crowd on behalf of his mother, Najiyyah Avery. “My son was not a man of violence. He was a hardworking American who took care of his children,” she said. “[Williams] would not have ever pulled a gun on a cop,” his aunt said on behalf of his mother. She also said that no member of the police department or the city administration had spoken with Avery to explain what had happened.

Avery also spoke briefly and with emotion. “They told me that I couldn’t see him,” she told the crowd. “They didn’t think that the way that I would see him would be the image that I would want to be the last image of my baby. When my baby was born, he was covered in my blood. When they shot him down in the street, he was still covered in my blood.” Avery cried, “I want to see my baby. I want to see what you did to him.”

Asked about city policies for connecting with families affected by police actions, APD Public Information Officer Christina Hallingse responded by email: “Yesterday afternoon Chief Hooper, and other representatives from the Asheville Police Department, met with members of the Racial Justice Coalition, Inter-Denominational Ministerial Alliance, Baptist Ministries Union, NAACP (Asheville Branch), Christians for a United Community, Residents Council and the Stop the Violence Coalition. During the meeting Chief Hooper asked members of these organizations who are in touch with the immediate family of Jai Williams to help facilitate a meeting with them when they feel ready to discuss the incident with APD. We are awaiting a response at this time, and will be available at their convenience.” Hallingse also attached a copy of the department’s policy for providing services to victims or witnesses to crime.

Barnett explained that Williams’ body is now in Wake Forest. At 3:48 p.m., Barnett sent out a text message saying that the SBI had notified the family that Williams’ body is ready to be returned to Asheville.

Civil rights activist John Barnett is speaking on behalf of the Williams family. Photo of Virginia Daffron
Civil rights activist John Barnett is speaking on behalf of the Williams family. Photo of Virginia Daffron

In response to a question asking whether the family was disputing the police department’s account of the altercation between Williams and the female passenger, Barnett said he had not discussed the issue with them. “I do know it don’t take so many bullets to kill someone,” Barnett continued. “The truth of the matter is there is a form of excessive force that goes on in this country. One bullet is enough. That’s what we’ve been disputing. We haven’t really been disputing what happened prior to that.”

Asked about bystander videos, Barnett said he had seen three or four videos filmed after Williams had been shot. In one, he said, the police rolled Williams’ body over and Williams took his last breath. Press conference attendees stated that when officers approached Williams to turn him over, they also placed a rifle near his body.

Summarizing one of the videos he had viewed, Barnett said, “A woman was screaming,’Why aren’t they doing something?’ You know, life is precious. So even if somebody was doing something wrong, if they are on the ground, gasping for air. I mean, every police officer is trained in CPR … On the video, they just rolled him over and the lady saw him take his last breath. And the hospital isn’t that far away. What did it take, 30 minutes, for them to get there?”

Barnett announced that attorney Christopher Chestnut, who represented the family of Jonathan Ferrell in a Charlotte case that led to a $2 million settlement, is reviewing Williams’ case. Barnett also said that, if the State Bureau of Investigation report fails to satisfy Avery, he will be asking the federal Department of Justice to intervene.

Several local advocacy groups were represented at the meeting, including Black Lives Matter, the Center for Participatory Change, Showing up for Racial Justice, Thug Life, We’re Not Invisible and the Save Our Children Movement of Gastonia. Barnett announced a justice rally on July 7 at 6 p.m. at the Nazareth First Baptist Church at 146 Pine St.

Tami Forte Logan of the Center for Participatory Change closed the press conference with a prayer. Logan called on God to help those affected by Williams’ death heal from the hurt they were feeling. “And not just this hurt,” she continued, “but the daily hurt that we experience as black people. We need healing. Only you can heal us. We need our white brothers and sisters to confess. We need them to be willing to reconcile with us and we need to be willing to reconcile with them.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

22 thoughts on “Civil rights advocate: APD used excessive force in Williams shooting, failed to render aid

  1. boatrocker

    I’m not sure which is more pathetic- that a supposedly civilized country like the US had declared open hunting season on minorities or the soon to follow comments which stick up for the lying thugs (the po-lice).

    Strange how this would never happen in Biltmore Village.

    Always film any and all interactions between police and the rubes who pay their salary. Film en masse, by the way= multiple cameras, multiple angles, try to get as good sound quality as possible and always upload it to at least 2 secure servers ASAP so when the cops smash your phone it is online and cannot be taken down.

    That is apparently the only way cops will ever learn who answers to who. Accountability and transparency are not just cute internet memes.

    • Fin

      Actually two men were shot by another man in Biltmore village a while back, drug related. Black on black crime….. Soooo there’s that.

    • Danesia miller

      Ok let me tell the truth about Asheville 1988 I can remember my aunt coming banging on the door telling my mother to come on well to make a long story short the police killed my uncle shot him between the eyes he was an unarmed man and they took his life and a few months later my grandma died from grief he was her only son now the police has been killing off black men its time to stand up

      • Najiyyah Avery

        Please contact me by email…. I would like to talk to you…. about the murder of your uncle…. my son was murdered by a racist white cop Tyler Radford…. there is a huge cover up

    • My father

      Man that’s my dad and y’all have a nerve to say some stuff like that man put your self in my shoe what if y’all daddy or cousin or anything gets shot by a police officer and y’all would have had a fit so there for y’all should have respect on the one who gets killed by a police officer for no reason

  2. Lulz

    Problem with modern day blacks is the system tells them they are victims AND that if they act out, it’s racist for others to react. That’s a blatant lie.

    Guy shoots up the joint with an AR. He was a direct threat to the public welfare. And if the cop didn’t shoot him, someone else should have. Period. His skin color is no excuse.

  3. boatrocker

    “Problem with modern day blacks”…

    Hit the ground running, buddy. Do you prefer the 2.0 Reconstruction version when they ‘knew their place’ or when they answered to Toby instead of Kunta Kinte ala 1.0?

    • Lulz

      By all means, go hang out at PVA. Again, anyone that plays the race card will quickly change their tune when up close and personal to thugs withq guns.

      • boatrocker

        Define thug as it was originally meant to be described please, as in the Thuggee tribes from India and leave the hyperbolic name calling to Don Yelton and Donald Trump.

        The ‘race card’ exists in the minds of those who originally voted for Wallace. I can feel uncomfortable with any group of humans, as humans generally suck in groups larger than 5.

        I’m more fearful of my physical safety among NRA members than any member of any other gang. Gang members don’t shoot their own children by accident at gun ranges in public- they do it in the privacy of their own homes which I do not frequent.

        Black people, to stay on topic, die at the hands of American police in disproportionate numbers compared to others.
        Location and weapons (if any) involved are irrelevant. Show me and the public who pays their salary the primary source un edited body camera footage.

        I could mention Gov. Ronald Reagan’s legislative efforts in 1968 to disarm blacks in CA, but I wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

        • Lulz

          LOL, blah, blah, blah. You suppose that because black culture is one of violence to begin with? After all, they become too much like whitey if they like learn something in school. Or let me guess, not enough money for schools but when we have charter school lotteries in which blacks seem to want into and compete fiercely for, people like you ignore that. In fact a black President closes those schools down because the quality of students they produce makes their public versions look like just what they are. Money pits of failures.

          Blacks are where they’re at because of the government. From the welfare and housing carrot that’s gives them no motivation to better themselves, to the lies that are told about them. You point out police shooting yet refuse the Chicago ones. But that’s the narrative that allows left wing loons to keep their power. But that can’t last forever. The cracks are showing and results are terrible.

  4. Virginia Daffron

    Folks, when you leave your comments, express your differences with the ideas rather than with the person presenting the ideas. Personal attacks aren’t allowed under the Xpress terms of service and will be removed.

  5. Matt mcclure

    Wow, AR-15. That’s an intense gun.
    I appreciate reading these statements from Barnett and the surviving family members. They really make sense to me. My condolences to the family and loved ones of Mr. Williams.

    I appreciate the police force of Asheville as well, I can’t imagine carrying the responsibility they carry daily. Unfortunately though they do scare me sometimes, both personally (I have been hazed and harrassed on two different occasions by them.) and just in general. We need lots of police, but some or many of them do not have proper training to de-escalate, or to relate nonviolently. I wish there were fewer guns…police wouldn’t need so much fire power then; it’s like an arms race within our own society with the NRA laughing all the way to the bank. (I’m not necessarily advocating or criticizing gun control here. Just saying ineish there were less guns).

    • Lulz

      Wow, an AR shoots a .22 caliber bullet. Not so intense when the standard M1 rifle of WWII shot a 30-06 round. Not so intense when a shot gun with 00 buckshot can easily kill 10 people within distance with one pull of the trigger.

  6. Yep

    Police officers are 18 times more likely to be shot by blacks than an unarmed black being shot by a cop…latest research by Heather McDonald and featured on the Rush Limbaugh program Thursday…see and read the transcript for the REAL numbers!

  7. Funk

    Actually an AR 15 uses a .223 round with a much larger powder charge than a .22 . And is designed to “tumble” on impact. BTW your comments do have a certain racial slant.

    • Funk

      I mean really, saying black culture is violent is a bit of a jump. Violence is present in almost every facet of American society and is by no means limited to the black community.

  8. Tsalagi

    Five hundreds years of white power gets you a country where killing the poor is still what those white folks do
    Aville is a racist town..

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.