At the end of 2011, cops were called to a Tulsa Marriott Hotel to respond to call regarding a mental disturbance. When they arrived on the scene, they found 37-year-old Elliott Williams of Oklahoma, who appeared to be having a psychological break down. After arresting and detaining him, the officers transported Williams to a local jail. Five days later, Williams was found dead on the concrete floor of the cell.
Elliot Earl Williams was an Army veteran who had a substantial history with mental illness. While at the hotel, he was seen talking to himself, throwing food, pulling up dirt and disturbing those around him. When police came to investigate, they took the actions they saw fit to handle a mentally disturbed individual. Instead of taking Williams, who admitted to the police that he was suicidal, to a health facility, they were reportedly seen using force and kicking their knees into his spine.
After arriving at police headquarters, Williams repeatedly acted out by banging his head against the wall and reiterating his suicidal thoughts. Now, I’m no expert, but I’m almost certain if someone poses a risk to their own life, they should be immediately transferred to a mental health treatment center. And if that’s not the rule, then we need to make serious changes.
Later, Williams was booked and transferred to a Tulsa County jail. Officer Jack Wells slammed him to the ground in order to cuff him. Although Williams cried out in pain, Wells claimed that Williams “appeared to be fine with no injuries."
What comes next is hard to process. For the next five days, Williams made numerous efforts to inform other officers, nurses, guards and staff members that he was in critical pain and could not move his legs or anything below his neck for that matter.
Everyone ignored him, positive he was faking it. So he lay there, on a cold concrete floor, in excruciating pain. He would try to reason with the officers, but there was no reasoning with the law.
To make matters worse, when he would use the bathroom on himself, guards wrapped him in trash bags and dragged him to a shower, where he continued to lay face down.
Eventually his limp and lifeless body was dragged to a holding cell with a surveillance camera. In the video, guards can be seen taunting the man and throwing water on him. It wasn’t until he finally died that any significant medical attention was given to him, and by then it was too late.
The sheriff’s office involved has often been criticized for their unethical handlings of prisoners. However, besides public scrutiny and a hefty lawsuit from the Williams family, no real legal action was taken against the jail or anyone involved.
Although what happened to Williams occurred nearly five years ago, just like in the cases of Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland, his story will never be silenced and never be forgotten. Police brutality against Black men is a problem, but the ignorant treatment and dismissal of people with mental illness is also a problem. Williams was a Black veteran who, due to his mental issues, was feared and misunderstood. He was doomed the minute the police arrived. Let us all hope that the resurgence of his story forces officers and jails in Tulsa and around the country to reevaluate their detention protocol.
Video of the event can be seen below and here’s a link to The Daily Beast’s illuminating exclusive on the story.