CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Minutes after 18-year-old Tanisha Williams wrapped a seatbelt around her own neck in the back of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) PD squad car, officers who were completing paperwork outside the vehicle discovered her unconscious and cut the belt from around her neck. For their efforts, Williams’ family is contemplating a lawsuit against the department, claiming officers should have prevented Williams from hurting herself.
Williams had reportedly “reacted violently” after she was arrested and accused of stealing a garment from a local shop. She was taken into custody, cuffed, and placed in the back of the squad car, while CMPD officers worked the outside the vehicle.
Fortuitously, one officer had pointed the in-car camera toward the back seat at the outset of the incident, and now, in an effort to dispel accusations of officer misconduct, the department has allowed the Williams family’s attorneys and local media to view — but not record — the videotape. According to reports, the video tape shows Williams smashing her own head against the side window of the squad, then smashing her head into the Plexiglass divider between the front and back seats.
“Maj. Andy Leonard told reporters that officers determined that they needed to restrain Williams, so they went to another officer’s car to get a restraining device,” according to the Charlotte Observer.
It was at this time, said a report by TV station WCNC-36, that “Williams can be seen looping the middle seat belt around her neck. It took her less than ten seconds to wrap it three times. The teenager quickly slumped over in the seat.”
An attorney for the family has said that Williams “is essentially brain dead” and “not expected to improve.”
CMPD officers are not required to restrain suspects with seatbelts if the patrol car is parked. The officers involved in the December 5, 2011 incident have returned to duty, but detectives for the department are continuing and investigation into the matter, and the PD is reportedly reviewing its policies.