Community members, family members of Jai Lateef Solveig Williams and supporters of Asheville Black Lives Matter gathered in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse at Pack Square Park on Tuesday, July 5. Williams, who family and friends say went by the name “Jerry,” was shot and killed on July 2 by Asheville Police Department Sergeant Tyler Radford at Deaverview Apartments.
Sharon Pearson Williams, who said she was a first cousin of Mr. Williams, addressed the crowd of about 60 at a rally that was also announced as a press conference on the Asheville Black Lives Matter Facebook page. Williams said the shooting was an unjustified use of force carried out “in broad daylight, with children outside, execution-style.” She said the victim was shot seven times in the head. Other attendees confirmed the number of shots and also said Mr. Williams’ body was left lying in place for about three hours, guarded by officers with rifles.
Ms. Williams blasted the media, especially television news crews, asking them to move back. “Why are the cameras on us and not on them?” Ms. Williams asked, gesturing toward the government buildings that line the park. She also referred to footage she said bystanders had filmed of the incident, saying that the police were closing ranks to obscure details about the shooting, but that Mr. Williams was not holding a gun at the time he was shot.
Updated at 4:28 p.m., July 5:
John C. Barnett II of the Civil Rights Office of True Healing Under God (T.H.U.G.) said he will be serving as the spokesperson for the Williams family. Barnett, who is based in Charlotte, said he will be arriving in the Asheville area this evening. He plans to meet privately with witnesses to the shooting, including some who have video footage. One of those he plans to interview is Williams’ girlfriend, who was in the vehicle with Williams at the time of the police chase and the shooting, Barnett said. The testimony of the witnesses contradicts claims made by police officers, according to Barnett.
Barnett said he had been contacted by Mr. Williams’ mother, Najiyyah Avery Williams. At a press conference scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on July 6 in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse, Barnett said he will announce the attorney who will represent the family and will lay out his organization’s civil rights strategy in the case.
Barnett said his organization was involved in the case of Jonathan Ferrell, a black man shot and killed by a white police officer in Charlotte in September 2013. Though the officer was eventually acquitted by a jury, Ferrell’s family eventually received a $2.25 million settlement from the City of Charlotte, Barnett said.
(end of update)
At today’s rally, Delores Venable, an organizer of Asheville Black Lives Matter, said no black family has been left untouched by excessive police force and violence. She said Mr. Williams’ shooting marked “…a season of change. This is a new Asheville.” The black community, she said, is united, despite media portrayals that have suggested otherwise. She then asked the media to leave, saying, “This is a time of grief, not a time of media.”
Before the rally got underway, family friend Jackie Bryson said, “[The police] killed this man in cold blood. Every time this happens they try to find an excuse.”
“He isn’t a criminal,” said the victim’s sister, Danielle Williams. “The police are the most vicious gang in America.”
Quwiivonte Timmons, who lives in Candler, said, “Every time something happens with a black man, they get shot. The police need to receive training to handle these situations better.” He said that, as a black man, this shooting and others like it make him feel unsafe. “Officers can do whatever they want to, because they have a badge,” he explained.
Former Asheville mayor Terry Bellamy, who now handles community relations for the Asheville Housing Authority, said it will take time for details to emerge about what happened. She said she had spoken to District Attorney Todd Williams about the investigation of the shooting, which is being handled by the State Bureau of Investigation. Williams released a statement on Tuesday morning: “It is important to determine what happened last Saturday night competently and accurately. Therefore, a thorough investigation may require a significant amount of time. In this case, as in all cases, I pledge to conduct a full and fair review of the investigation.”
The Asheville Police Department released the following statement on July 2:
Today at approximately 7:00 p.m. the Asheville Police Department responded to a call for shots fired in the vicinity of Pisgahview Apartments. While enroute officers were provided with a description of the suspect’s vehicle and while on-scene the vehicle was located. After attempting to stop the vehicle the suspect fled the scene and a pursuit ensued. During the pursuit officers witnessed a female passenger in a struggle with the driver. Police continued to pursue the vehicle into Deaverview Apartments where the vehicle came to a stop. The officer began giving the driver commands and when the suspect displayed a weapon, deadly force was used.
No additional injuries were sustained by the passengers of the vehicle or to officers.
The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) is on-scene and will be investigating the incident. In addition, the Asheville Police Department’s Professional Standards Division will be investigating the incident to determine that policies were followed. Per Asheville Police Department protocol the officer involved has been placed on Administrative Leave pending investigation.
Police Chief Tammy Hooper released an additional statement on July 4:
It has come to my attention that there is misinformation circulating in the community regarding some of the circumstances in the Saturday, July 2 officer involved shooting at Deaverview apartments.
The incident is currently under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation. We are fully cooperating with the investigation and cannot release specific details. However, I would like to clarify information originally released.
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.
Any death represents a loss to the community and is particularly devastating for members of the family. We are asking for the community’s patience and help as the SBI continues their investigation. Anyone who witnessed the incident is urged to contact the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) at 828-654-8901.