Federal authorities announced Tuesday that they would not charge Gwinnett County sheriff's deputies in the death of a prisoner who died after being shocked with a Taser stun gun.
Frederick Williams, 31, died in May 2004 after being shocked repeatedly with the device during a struggle with deputies at the Gwinnett County Jail. His death and a growing nationwide controversy over the use of Tasers brought charges of racism, brutality and a cover-up by the sheriff's office and Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter.
Porter had declined to bring criminal charges against the deputies.
"The decision by the U.S. attorney vindicates the actions of this office and the Gwinnett County grand jury, and I was confident that this decision would be reached," Porter said Tuesday. "It was never more than a marginal criminal case in terms of provability."
Porter was criticized for not showing the Gwinnett grand jury a videotape of deputies shocking a handcuffed Williams multiple times. The grand jury heard only the results of a police investigation of Williams' death.
Federal authorities said that, to bring charges, they would have to prove that the deputies "willfully" used unreasonable force against Williams. A joint statement by U.S. Attorney David Nahmias, FBI Special Agent in Charge Gregory Jones and Bradley Schlozman, who heads up the civil rights division of the Justice Department, said they lacked sufficient evidence.
"Accident, mistake, negligence and bad judgment is not sufficient to prove a violation," the written statement said. "After a careful and thorough review of the events leading up to Mr. Williams' death, including examination of the videotape, showing use of the Taser, we have concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to prove that a willful violation occurred."
A Williams family member lashed out at the federal decision.
"We are very disappointed," said Edgar Railey, Williams' uncle. "I completely disagree with the district attorney and federal authorities. I've watched the tape over and over, and nobody can tell me that that was not murder."
Williams' widow, Yanga Williams, could not be reached for comment.
The family says they called the police for help because Williams had quit taking his medication for epilepsy and the withdrawal put him into a rage.
"What are we going to tell his four young kids?" asked Railey, of Lawrenceville. "All we can say is that their daddy was sick and that we called the police for help and he was killed. Every time I see those kids it breaks my heart."
It took seven Gwinnett and Lawrenceville officers to subdue Williams, Porter said. At the jail, he was turned over to deputies and continued to struggle even after they strapped the handcuffed Williams' legs to a chair.
Williams was the second Gwinnett County inmate to die in an eight-month period after being stunned with a Taser. Ray Charles Austin, 24, died in September 2003 after being shocked repeatedly by Gwinnett deputies during a jail scuffle. Lawyers for Austin's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Gwinnett Sheriff's Department last week.
After Williams' death, critics said Taser International had overstated the safety of the stun guns, causing police to use them improperly. Amnesty International said more than 103 people died between 2002 and March of this year after being shocked with Tasers.
The Arizona manufacturer of the weapon continued to staunchly defend it as a non-lethal alternative for police. By June, however, the company warned police that shocking subjects multiple times could lead to death.
Despite electing not to file criminal charges in the Williams case, federal authorities urged local police agencies to review Taser's new guidelines.
"We encourage law enforcement agencies in Georgia to review their policies on the use of Taser," the federal authorities' statement said.
"Cops that lie, need to die!" A police officer that lies to get an arrest or send someone to prison should be shot.
"In the U.S., a cop with a gun can commit the most heinous crime and be given the benefit of the doubt."
"The U.S. Government does not have rights, it has privileges delegated to it by the people."