The Merced, Calif., Police Department has launched an internal investigation after a black man was brutally beaten and injured while in custody.
William Colbert’s arrest photo shows the 39-year-old’s face bloodied and bruised and one of his eyes swollen shut.
“I have spoken with Mr. Colbert and collected all the statements about what he said had transpired,” Police Capt. Bimley West said on Wednesday, according to the Merced Sun-Star. “This is a formalized internal-affairs investigation into this particular matter.”
To make matters worse, Colbert says that his arrest and subsequent injuries resulted from a store clerk’s decision to call the cops on him after he demanded a refund.
The incident occurred back on March 12.
Colbert, who works as a welder and pipe fitter, said that he had just left Mercy Medical Center after having an allergic reaction to medication when he went to the ampm store to buy some tea.
That was when he got into an argument over payment with the clerk and demanded to have the money put back on his credit card. The argument persisted until the clerk called the police, claiming that Colbert was armed. Colbert denies having any sort of weapon on him.
When police arrived at the scene, Colbert was outside the store, having been locked out by the clerk. Colbert recognized one of the officers as Joseph Opinski, who he said went to Merced College with him. Opinski went inside to talk to the clerk and then, according to Colbert, the other officer, whom he identified as William McComb, rushed him “like a bat out of hell.”
“Why would you be arresting me when I haven’t committed any crime?” Colbert recalled asking officers.
McComb and at least two other officers “bum-rushed” him, he said, throwing him face-first into a puddle. Colbert insists that he wasn’t resisting arrest, but he was also trying to get his face out of the water so he could breathe.
“I’m afraid to fight for my life,” he said.
But his troubles didn’t end there.
Eventually he was let up and put in the back of a cruiser in handcuffs, but the cuffs were so tight that he started to lose feeling in his hands.
Acknowledging that “I’m no saint,” Colbert said he kicked the squad car’s door to tell the cops that he needed the cuffs loosened. That’s when officers reportedly dragged him out of the car and pressed their knees into his back.
“There should be no reason I come out of that cop car,” he said.
Colbert started to request medical attention, whereupon McComb insinuated that he knew Oopinski because he was a “snitch bitch gang member,” which Colbert said made him “irate.”
“I don’t want him going to the hospital with me,” Colbert recalled. “I’m feeling violated. ... He’s the one that caused this.”
McComb, however, did stay in the hospital room with him. An annoyed Colbert acknowledged being “obnoxious” toward the officers, calling them “cowards” and calling one a “bitch.”
Colbert received a splint for his thumb at the hospital and was taken from the hospital to the county jail. There they were greeted by another officer, whom Colbert identified as Brandon Wilkins.
That was when yet another altercation occurred. Colbert said that officers “aggressively” shoved him from behind unnecessarily, and so he did what he could, which was step aside as an officer attempted to push him, causing the officer to stumble.
The 39-year-old said that he went to the ground to avoid any more trouble, but officers still began kicking and punching him from behind. One officer reportedly raked his arm with handcuffs.
“This is the shit people talk about on the news that I think will never happen to me,” Colbert said. “I’m thankful to be alive.”
Ultimately, Colbert was handed over to deputies at the county jail, only to be sent back to the hospital for treatment. Still, he is facing charges of resisting arrest, threatening an officer and battery on an officer.
Capt. West has declined to officially release the names of the officers being investigated in Colbert’s case. The Sun-Star’s request for surveillance footage from the jail was denied by the Merced County Counsel Office because of the ongoing investigation.