Two Deaths and the Cult of Compliance

Two deaths of disabled men at the hands of law enforcement have been in the news lately.

One was black, a veteran, and a mental health crisis spun him into custody, where an officer (allegedly) broke his neck. The other was white, nonverbal, autistic, and walked away from his group at a park, where an officer (allegedly) slammed him to the ground and caused his death.

Here are the stories.

Elliot Williams died in 2011, but a new lawsuit and released surveillance video have made it news.

Elliott Williams spent the last five days of his life in a Tulsa County jail, paralyzed and lying on the cold concrete floor. But despite the 37-year-old Oklahoma man’s pleas for help, guards did nothing to save him, a lawsuit claims.

At one point, jailers dumped Williams’s limp body into a shower and left him there for an hour. The dying inmate “would not stand up but we did give him a shower anyway,” a captain later testified, according to a sheriff’s office internal report.

Another officer saw Williams face down in the shower, screaming, “Help me!” according to the internal report.

“He’s acting like he’s paralyzed, but we know he’s not,” a mental health worker told Williams’s dad, court papers allege.

Detention officers, nurses, and even a jail psychiatrist accused Williams of “faking” an illness. His family says they declined to administer medical care or transport Williams to a hospital—until it was too late.

Williams died in a pool of his own saliva and vomit. Notice that although he had psychiatric disabilities, what killed him was an officer deciding that a threatening step required slamming him to the ground, during which he suffered the neck injury.

Meanwhile, just Wednesday, Paul Gianelos walked away from his group at a park, so his caregivers called the police to help find him. For reasons that aren’t clear, when Gianelos wouldn’t quickly comply with orders to get in the car, the officers – at least one of whom had Crisis Intervention Team training – decided to escalate the situation (instead of, for example, calling for help from the professionals who cared for Gianelos). From WUSA9 in DC:

Fairfax police say a 20-year veteran officer with crisis intervention training, spotted
Gianelos along Annandale Road, about a mile from the park. Police say the officer tried to talk him into coming back to the group home outing. Gianelos apparently refused, and police say he became combative and began to struggle with the officer. Gianelos was handcuffed, and fell, hitting his head. Rescue crews were called and police say when Gianelos was being transported, he went into cardiac arrest and died.

We don’t have more details yet, but I’ve read a lot of these reports, and I suspect we’ll find out that the officer simply decided that compliance, rather than patience, was mandatory.

For new readers, here’s some information on the cult of compliance and law enforcement.

 And many more. 

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