Carolina Public Press reports: Jai Lateef Williams had previously faced felony charges, questions mount

Jai Lateef “Jerry” Williams died July 2, 2016, when he was shot by police. Facts of the case remain under SBI investigation. Photo via Facebook

By Frank Taylor, Carolina Public Press

This story is from Carolina Public Press, a nonprofit online news service focused on in-depth and investigative reporting in Western North Carolina.

ASHEVILLE – Contrary to several previous news media reports, Jai Lateef “Jerry” Williams had faced charges of serious criminal activity prior to July 2 when an Asheville Police Officer shot him, Carolina Public Press has learned from multiple sources.

Rondell Lance was among the officers who responded to Deaverview Apartments early on the morning of May 19, 2014, where Williams had broken into the home of a former girlfriend. Lance, who has since retired from the Asheville Police Department and now works for the Fraternal Order of Police, talked by phone with CPP about the case late Thursday.

Although Lance remembers the 2014 incident well, prior to speaking with CPP he had not realized that the man arrested in that case was the same one whom police shot last month at the same apartment complex.

Lance said the woman awoke to find Williams was in her apartment, having broken in. When Lance and other officers reached the scene, Williams fled on foot. They finally caught up with him at a creek a short distance to the north. Williams faced multiple charges from the incident, including felony breaking and entering, felony larceny after breaking and entering, resisting public officers, second degree criminal trespass and domestic criminal trespass.

Williams was never tried on those charges because the case was dropped in July when the victim didn’t appear in court. Several sources have told CPP that this is not unusual in domestic cases, in which victims may be reluctant to testify due to their previous or ongoing relationship with the defendant or due to fear of reprisal.

CPP has confirmed that the State Bureau of Investigation, which is handling the inquiry into Williams’ death, is aware of the 2014 incident, as are the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office and Asheville Police Department. A spokesperson for the police told CPP on Thursday that no news media organization has previously asked the agency for information about Williams’ criminal past.

The charges against Williams in 2014 undermine assertions by some activists that he had no criminal history. While less serious than the charges that were dropped two years later, Williams was also convicted in 2012 on a misdemeanor charge of possessing stolen goods and received a sentence of probation. The case may not have drawn public attention because the N.C. Department of Corrections incorrectly split up the components of his name as “Jaila Teef” instead of “Jai Lateef.”

Williams additionally had a previous civil case involving a conflict with another former domestic partner in 2010, when he faced a demand for child support.

However, it’s the May 2014 criminal case that may offer eerie parallels with the police’s account of what happened in July 2016.

Police version of shooting

Police have released limited statements about Williams’ death because the SBI is handling the investigation. The officer who shot Williams, Sgt. Tyler Radford, could theoretically face charges.

But the general narrative, according to police statements and radio traffic, has been that police received an anonymous call July 2 from a person at Pisgah View Apartments who reported that a man in a white Cadillac was firing a gun.

Radford responded to this call and encountered Williams driving a white Chevrolet, a potentially similar looking model. Radio traffic indicates that Radford pursued Williams at a high speed.

Williams drove off the road near the Deaverview Apartments as Radford reported observing a struggle between Williams and a woman riding in the front seat. Another woman carrying a child fled the backseat of the vehicle. Police said Williams “displayed” a gun and the officer shot him.

Several media outlets have reported that the woman in the front seat had been his girlfriend and is pregnant with his child, though CPP has not confirmed this.

Police have said they recovered an AR-15 rifle near Williams’ body and that shell casings were found at Pisgah View. Neither police nor the SBI would say whether the shells matched the rifle, but that analysis has presumably been done or is underway.

As in the 2014 incident, the police account has Williams committing a domestic crime against a current or former girlfriend. Both accounts have him engaging in criminal activity at the Deaverview Apartments. Both have him posing a threat to unarmed women, then fleeing from police until cornered. In 2014, this resulted in him being taken into custody, while last month’s incident ended in his death.

But the police version of Williams’ death is not the only one that has emerged.

Rival narratives

Witnesses who have spoken with various news media outlets have disputed multiple aspects of the police account.

They have claimed Williams was not the person firing a gun at Pisgah View and said the gun at Deaverview was not his, but was planted there after he was dead. They have said he reached out the window with empty hands to surrender when he was shot. They’ve also denied that a “chase” occurred and that there was a struggle between Williams and the passengers in the vehicle.

Police and the SBI are not responding to most of these counterclaims, though police are sticking by the key details they have released: Williams fled at a high speed, struggled with a passenger and displayed the AR-15 rifle prior to being shot.

Asheville Police told CPP they released some of those statements only after checking with the SBI to be sure that the public information would not harm the independent investigation into Radford’s actions.

This doesn’t mean that the SBI automatically accepts the version of the facts released by police, according to SBI spokesperson Shannon O’Toole, who talked with CPP on Thursday about the case.

“We’re not going to tell another agency what to put out there,” he said. But he made it clear that not blocking a statement’s release didn’t mean the SBI assumed all its factual claims were correct. And he said the SBI is working on a very thorough investigation of the shooting.

The news media have widely reported that police were due to begin using body cameras a few days after the incident. O’Toole’s squad car was not equipped with a camera and no Asheville Housing Authority surveillance cameras exist at Deaverview. But less information has been clear about the existence of video from earlier locations related to the incident.

O’Toole said he couldn’t confirm which surveillance footage has actually become part of the investigation, but he said the SBI has requested or received every known video relating to the situation, potentially including the early aspects of the case at Pisgah View and points that Williams and Radford may have passed through en route to Deaveriew.

If video at Pisgah View captured a man firing shots, this could show definitively whether it was Williams, as well as how the passengers happened to be in the vehicle he was driving. If government or possibly private video, such as from a bank security camera, happened to capture Williams driving to Deaverview, it could demonstrate whether he was fleeing at a high speed.

At the same time, O’Toole welcomed anyone with additional evidence to come forward. Someone could have recorded amateur video or obtained some other evidence that could prove important to the case. He invited anyone with information to contact the SBI’s district office in Fletcher at 828-654-8901.

Both the SBI and police sources who talked with CPP this week have been unwilling to clarify one potentially important contested aspect of the story.

Police have not directly stated whether Radford had reached Pisgah View when he encountered Williams and thus are unclear about whether police can actually place Williams at the site of the reported shooting. This appears to be one subject that the SBI is likely to explore further in its inquiry.

On the other hand, not every allegation from “witnesses” that have appeared in the news media is being taken with equal seriousness – hardly a surprise since some of the statements criticizing the police have described mutually exclusive versions of the facts, differing over details such as whether Williams’ backseat passenger and her child were still in the vehicle when Radford shot Williams.

Some more outlandish allegations drew stronger rejection. “The SBI is never going to prevent a mother from viewing the body of her son,” O’Toole said in response to one claim that has appeared in other media. “That’s ludicrous.”

Toxic context

The case has received national attention in part due to the toxic conditions created by multiple cases in which white officers fired on and killed a black suspect. As in those cases, Radford is white and Williams is black.

Protesters marched through downtown Asheville last month, calling for “Justice for Jerry.” Signs in the crowd announced solidarity with the national “Black Live Matter” movement, which has drawn attention to police violence against blacks. The movement has drawn controversy after several recent deadly ambushes of police that some have blamed the activists for inciting.

While no incident takes place in a vacuum, each possesses its own circumstances that may not be shared with the others.

Unlike most of the other cases, the police version of events in the Asheville case has Radford acting to protect two women and a child, also black, from an armed man with a history of domestic crimes.

CPP has requested additional records in this case and plans to follow-up with additional information as it becomes available.

This story, originally appearing here, is from Carolina Public Press, a nonprofit online news service focused on in-depth and investigative reporting in Western North Carolina.

 

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14 thoughts on “Carolina Public Press reports: Jai Lateef Williams had previously faced felony charges, questions mount

  1. boatrocker

    Conflicting details- check, community outrage-check. Welcome to America, Asheville.

    All I know is that it will be a good day when every law enforcement officer is required to wear fully operational body cams from the moment they clock in till the moment they clock out.
    As for the bathroom thing, well one can always just use their hand to cover it up I suppose
    as I’m not interested in that part of their day.

    After all, with the passage of the Patriot Act which gave law enforcement such expanded powers (some of which are actually legal under our Constitution), we the ‘Merican people ( aka the Enemy) were told “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide”.

    Body cams, people.

    • bsummers

      The NCGA passed, and Gov. McCrory signed three weeks ago, a bill declaring that body camera footage is NOT a public record. People who are videotaped (and only those people, or their attorneys) can jump through hoops to ask to view the video, but the law enforcement agency can refuse for all sorts of reasons:

      “If the recording contains information that is otherwise confidential or exempt from disclosure or release under State or federal law.
      If disclosure would reveal information regarding a person that is of a highly sensitive personal nature.
      If disclosure may harm the reputation or jeopardize the safety of a person.
      If disclosure would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial, and orderly administration of justice.
      If confidentiality is necessary to protect either an active or inactive internal or criminal investigation or potential internal or criminal investigation.”

      A creative law enforcement agency attorney might deny disclosure simply because it would “harm the reputation” of the officer who recorded it. If you’re denied for any of these reasons, you can hire a lawyer and go to court & try to persuade a judge to make them show you the video. He can only do so if he finds they have abused their discretion, not if he thinks they have a right to it.

      In any case, even if you do get to see a video record of your encounter with law enforcement, you can’t make a copy or otherwise disseminate it, without a separate court order.

      Sure, body cams are great, but we don’t get to see the records without a lot of money for lawyers.

  2. MoreImportantly

    It is essential to pressure District Attorney Todd Williams to publicly release the entire report Prior to it being issued. He, and HE alone can make this decision. If he sticks with DA Moore’s philosophy of not releasing reports; the public will never know what is purported to be the investigative truth.
    Also the APD’s secrecy and poor handling of the march and sit in are extremely concerning and poorly reflect on Chief Hooper and City Manager Jackson and the entire city council and the City of Asheville as a whole.

    • Lulz

      LOL, you are talking about a government entitiy that thinks it’s above you. Do you not understand that big government is an oppressive government?

  3. Jason

    I trust the APD to internally investigate themselves for procedural professional standards ; as much as I would trust McDonald’s to internally investigate themselves for sanitation standards

    government agencies are completely self-serving

  4. HRH

    Mr. Williams was father to EIGHT children, by several women, NONE married to him of course. typical.

  5. Fallin Black

    Having a criminal history doesn’t mean you deserve to be murdered by police. This piece puts an unfair spin on the case. It’s actually quite irrelevent. If Williams had gone to court for endangering someone, his previous DROPPED charged would never have been dropped up. This writer is a vulture.

    • c

      Fallin Black, next time maybe the civilians of Asheville will let you go arrest him and take him in, and if you see a gun in his hand, don’t worry about it – we have faith in you.

  6. Dave P

    Congrats Mountainx and CPP for joining the other media around the country in smearing dead men’s names in deference to police propaganda and government PR. A phone call from an FOP employee, huh? Amazing. I’m actually disappointed Carolina Public Press stooped to this – MountainX? Meh. You been sliding for years.

    For anyone who may be reading these comments: the Fraternal Order of Police is just another front group for white supremacist activity. Stay in denial if you want or just search “FOP is the KKK.”

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