A petition campaign is under way in Albany County demanding the district attorney drop all criminal charges against Ellazar Williams. Williams is paralyzed from the chest down after being shot by an Albany police detective during a foot chase August 20th. An internal police investigation and an Albany County Grand Jury cleared the detective.
Attorneys representing Williams, led by James Knox, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging Detective James Olsen used excessive force. "Following the D-A's press conference, I was frankly surprised at some of the statements that were made during that press conference in light of what I understood the video of the incident to show, and that was largely because we had had the video forensically enhanced. We were working with what I believed to be the same source material that the District Attorney's office had and I assumed that they would have obtained the same level of forensic enhancement that we did. We released that video. It appears to contradict the statements that were representative of having been made by the officer, and it appears the D-A had relied on those statements in making their presentation to the grand jury, based on their press conference."
Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins issued a statement saying he was satisfied with both the internal police and grand jury's findings, which were announced by District Attorney David Soares.
The Times Union reported the unit that probed the Williams shooting has a "half-dozen ex-Albany cops" on staff.
Alice Green, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Justice, says the two investigations are based on what Detective Olsen "might have believed:" that his life was in danger. "Grand juries and district attorneys tend to believe police officers, and I think that's what happened in this particular case. Which is not to say that we don't believe Mr. Olsen. It's just that, you know, people's beliefs are based on a lot of different things. It could be based on stereotyping, could be based on experience, training, fear..."
The Center For Law and Justice says video recordings clearly show Williams was shot in the back while fleeing from police, hence there is no basis for felony menacing and weapons possession charges lodged against the 19-year old.
The Center's campaign to gather signatures of Albany County residents is taking place online via The Action Network, which bills itself as "a progressive online organizing platform."
A spokesperson for the D-A's office emailed WAMC a single sentence statement: "As the matter is open and pending, we are unable to comment at this time."
The petition has gained momentum thanks to additional support from several area organizations including Citizen Action of NY and the Albany NAACP, whose president is Gwen Pope, speaking on behalf of the Albany Branch and the state conference: "The NAACP is totally opposing the decision not to charge Office Olsen and certainly gives the appearance of a conflict of interest and that's troubling and very disturbing to us. We consider it to be unfair to Ellazar as well as to the community. You know, we've tried to work for years to break down the barriers between law enforcement and the community, and this, unfortunately, could end up being a step backward when we're trying to move forward. At this point it looks like there's no way that this young man will ever receive justice or be treated fairly, just based upon the way the deck is being stacked against him."
Again, Williams’ attorney Knox: "I would encourage anyone who's been following the case to sign it, because I think the video makes clear that the current charges that are pending against Mr. Williams are unjustified."
The group plans to deliver signed petitions to the D-A's office. Having passed the original goal to collect 400 signatures by Saturday, a new goal of 1,600 now appears on the website.
You can sign the petition below (smartphone users click HERE) :