Rare glimpse in Houston Police lockup; head bashed, blood-smeared floor

Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Graphic surveillance video shows suspect getting bloodied
EMBED <>More Videos

A DWI suspect struggled when police attempted to take his blood in early morning hours; soon after his head is slammed into jail door frame and falls to floor, bloodied.

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- After his arrest for alleged drunk driving, Reuben Williams was handcuffed in the Houston drunk tank surrounded by police officers.

He struggled when police attempted to take his blood in the early morning hours of Dec. 8, 2014. Police reports describe Williams as being uncooperative with DWI tests. Officers also claimed he spit and urinated in the back of a police car.

He was ultimately strapped to a gurney.

"I'm not going to do this man," Williams screamed at one point, according to video obtained by Ted Oberg Investigates. At another point he screams: "I feel like a [expletive] criminal." And yet another: "I can't breathe. He's killing me."

SEE ALSO: Criminal investigation into inmate found in cell amid bugs, trash and feces

A few minutes later, as he was handcuffed and escorted to a cell, the officer said Williams tried to spit on him, according to reports. Then the officer said he pushed Williams away.

And in a moment that makes many viewers of the video cringe, William's head slams against the jail door frame.

Seconds later, Williams drops to the floor with blood from his head smearing the wall and floor of that cell deep red.

"Cops can do whatever they want because this video was never supposed to surface," Williams told abc13.

Williams sent Instagram messages about the incident to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on July 10. Williams said Turner did not reply. Williams also said he called Turner's office repeatedly. No return calls from the mayor's office, Williams said.

SEE ALSO: Harris County jail employees indicted for falsifying document

Neither did Turner reply to abc13, citing the possibility of litigation by Williams. Turner's communications office instead sent abc13 a copy of his op-ed that ran in the Houston Chronicle on July 8 telling us it contains his thoughts on how to build community-police relationships.

You can see that exchange between abc13 and Turner's communication office here.

Minister Robert S. Muhammad, an activist who watched the video with Ted Oberg Investigates, described the moment where Williams' head strikes the door as "disturbing."

"It's obvious that he pushed him," Muhammad said. "His head hit the metal jail cell frame. It's obvious he didn't inflict the injury on himself. You can see plainly he was pushed into the wall. It's very disturbing. No one deserves that kind of treatment when you're in the custody of the state."

Eyewitness News spoke by phone with the officer involved. Ted Oberg Investigates is not naming him since he was neither charged nor disciplined and is not a party to any lawsuit. At the time, he said he would seek department permission to discuss the case with abc13. The officer has not called back. We will update this report if we speak with him.

"I think the part his head got pushed into the bars was misconduct," Muhammad said. "Prior to that, I think they followed the spirit and the letter of the law. But that one incident caused the man an injury and if the shoe had been on the other foot, and I did that to a member of law enforcement... what then would I be charged with?"

Willard Oliver, a criminal justice expert at Sam Houston State University and former police officer who reviewed case records and the video before the abc13 interview, has a different view -- one that the police officer might have been thinking.

"They're thinking in this particular case he might have communicable diseases," Oliver said. "I don't want to be spit on... He's going to spit. I'm going to stop him. I think it's reasonable."

The officer in question claimed he didn't think the push was that hard.

The officer, in his statement to internal affairs, suggested "(Williams) purposefully propelled himself forward."

"They're basically saying I ran myself into the door," Williams said, laughing in denial.

Muhammad questioned the police internal statement of the incident, too, in which the officer states that Williams may have "purposefully propelled himself forward."

"They're very good at creative writing," he said of the internal affairs report. "It almost reads like a good novel."

Two inmates in the jail who claimed to see it all denied the spitting.

It "looked like the lawman knocked him over his head," one of Williams' fellow inmates told abc13.

"I didn't have nothing to do with spitting," Williams said. "I was in handcuffs. I had no way of reacting to a man behind me."

The case was investigated by Houston Police.

The punishment? The department gave the officer counseling.

In addition, a Harris County Grand Jury cleared the officer on June 4, 2015. The officer is back on the job.

"Although the video is disturbing, the ultimate question for the grand jury was whether, after looking at all the evidence, the officer's conduct rose to the level of a crime," according to a statement from the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

The DA's office also noted that the grand jury that cleared the officer was a diverse swatch of the community, with four African-Americans and two Hispanics on the panel. Also, none of the jurors were current or retired police officers, officials said.

"A diverse grand jury apparently concluded it did not. It should be noted that we reserve the right to represent a case to a grand jury if new evidence comes to light that would change the outcome of the proceeding."

The DA also points out that Williams remains a fugitive on his charges.

"We encourage him to resolve the matters pending against him as quickly as possible if he wants to present additional information," according to the statement.

See the full statement from the Harris County District Attorney's Office here.

Simply seeing this video, though, is a rare opportunity to look at how Houston Police investigates cases like this -- and how transparency appears to not be a top priority.

It took HPD six months to produce it for Williams' former attorney and, when the department did, HPD asked a judge to order "the (video) is not intended for public dissemination." The District Attorney's Office did not fight to keep the video secret, officials said.

The Williams' family shared the video with abc13.

"I am trying to get my story heard," Williams said.

And while the video may be disturbing, experts in criminal justice told us, it's far from proof of bad police behavior.

"Don't jump to conclusions," Sam Houston University's Oliver said. "This isn't instant replay in terms of... professional football. This is reality and a lot of times reality isn't so clear."

He said that's a problem with mass promulgation of police video.

"The issue is that some people will look at it and they'll say, 'Oh it's police abuse' and other people look at it and say, 'You know it was the demeanor of the suspect.'"

Muhammad questions that rationale.

"What's important is transparency," he said. "We've got to have transparency. If you're selective in what you release, what can we trust?"

Neither District Attorney Devon Anderson, nor the police department, nor Mayor Sylvester Turner would comment on any of it citing Williams' pending criminal charges for allegedly spitting on an officer and the possibility of a civil lawsuit from Williams.

However, it did not stop Williams from speaking to them.

"Mayor Sylvester Turner came in saying he was going to make a difference," he said. "I saw him the day after he was elected filling those potholes. If he can't take the time to make his police force right, he has a bigger problem than potholes."