It’s probably pretty fair to say that Cletis Williams didn’t have a whole lot of respect for the law.
With a rap sheet as long as his Arkansas drawl, including an alleged “previous altercation” with local police, Williams’ literal and legal contempt for the court system of Jonesboro, Arkansas had earned him a whopping 23 arrest warrants.
Even at the tender age of 57, the 6’2″ 250 pound Williams was not a hard man to find, and it wasn’t long before Jonesboro PD came looking for their version of southern justice.
It was Halloween in 2011, just before 5pm when Patrolman Nick Holley came across the warrant-dodging Williams standing outside of a mobile home on Warren Street.
There are only two indisputable facts as to what happened next:
1. There was a physical altercation between Officer Holley and Cletis Williams that evening
2. Cletis Williams was shot several times during the scuffle, and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
To rely on the local media at the time of the event, Williams was portrayed as a dangerously violent ex-felon, even printing the Jonesboro Police Department’s incredibly ridiculous justification for the shooting that the 5’9″ 180 pound Officer Holley was bullied by the much larger Williams.
They failed to mention then that all 23 warrants were for non-violent misdemeanor offenses, ranging from minor traffic violations to simple pot possession. Hardly the threat that the media tried to paint him as.
Officer Holley’s story is that as he approached Williams on the day in question, Williams immediately became aggressive. Holley says he attempted to call for backup but the channel was in use. Dagnabbit Roscoe P. Coltrane!
Reports are unclear as to whether the actual fighting began inside the trailer, or outside, but Holley says that although Williams refused to let him inside, he was able to gain entry by grabbing Williams’ arm as he tried to retreat through the door.
Clearly outmatched physically, Holley deployed his Taser in a failed attempt to subdue the larger man, but he says that Williams, unfazed, simply pulled the barbs out of his skin and disarmed the officer of his Taser.
Officer Holley’s official incident report said that Williams turned the Taser on him, pressing the active electrified prongs of the weapon into the left shoulder of the officer as their struggle took them both to Williams’ couch. It is at that point that Officer Foley reports he was sat upon as the Taser was pressed deeper and deeper into his now-disabled left arm.
Holley stands by his story that he was able to use the same left arm to shift the suspect off of himself just enough to draw his firearm with his right hand. Pressing it to Williams’ gut at point blank range, he claims he gave the suspect a verbal warning to quit resisting.
Holley says that Williams grabbed the barrel of the gun, much like he had the Taser just moments earlier, but six on-target shots later, the suspect lay dead. “On-target” is accurate, but still generous, considering the 250 pound target was less than three feet away on all six pulls of the trigger.
Holley says that after two point blank hits, Williams kept attacking. Even after a half a dozen rounds from arm’s length, responding officers found Williams’ body outside the trailer after he reportedly stumbled outside, bullet-ridden, before collapsing.
Now, nearly three years later, Cletis Williams’ daughter is suing Officer Holley for use of excessive force resulting in the death of her father. In standard operating procedure, Holley immediately filed for immunity in the civil case, trying to use his badge as a shield.
But in a stark decision, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals denied Officer Holley’s request for immunity, specifically citing what they referred to as “inconsistencies” within his story when compared to subsequent investigations and the analyzing of the coroner’s report on Williams.
Most notably was the fact that the court told the world that independent investigators could not find any marks on Officer Holley’s uniform, or the flesh of his shoulder beneath, where the active Taser was allegedly pressed for minutes on end.
Instead, it was Williams with the defensive wounds, with rounds passing through his forearms in what implies a typical victim’s posture.
The Court’s decision to hang Officer Holley out to dry may seem excessive, but then again, so is 23 arrest warrants for a 57-year old man busted for some parking tickets and few bags of weed.