Woman alleging excessive force files complaint against police, jail

She says illegal search led to injuries, arrest


March 12, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Westminster woman has filed complaints of excessive force against the city Police Department and the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, alleging that city officers manhandled her during what she called an illegal search in her apartment last week.

She also alleged that county correctional officers pepper-sprayed her and knocked her unconscious at the detention center.

Teneshia T. Williams, 21, of the last block of S. Church St. filed the complaints Wednesday, saying that she suffered a split lip and bruises when she was arrested and held in jail.

Authorities say they are investigating the incident, and Westminster police detectives told a starkly different story in charging documents.

Police have charged Williams with three counts of second-degree assault and one count of resisting arrest. Her brother, the subject of the police search, faces drug possession charges.

According to charging documents, three Westminster police detectives, who said they smelled marijuana coming from Williams' apartment, arrested her Friday night.

Williams said the officers were attempting to search her apartment when she resisted, and they responded by pinning her down and choking her before taking her in handcuffs to a patrol car. She said her 1-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son witnessed the arrest.

In her complaint to the Sheriff's Office, she said correctional officers used pepper spray in her eyes and then knocked her out. When she awoke, she said she remembered the guards carrying her from her cell and was standing in a shower at the Carroll County Detention Center with a busted lip. She was released early Saturday on $300 bond.

Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding declined to comment on what he said was a personnel matter but added that he has launched "a full and impartial investigation."

"If it's found officers acted inappropriately, we'll deal with it," he said.

He said an internal affairs officer has been assigned to the case, and he expects a written report within 30 days.

Warden George R. Hardinger said he would also assign someone to investigate the complaint against the correctional officers. "Anytime anyone is alleging the excessive use of force, it is a serious allegation," he said.

John Lewis, president of the Carroll County chapter of the NAACP, said his organization would also start an investigation, though he said previous complaints against Westminster and county law enforcement ended with findings justifying police actions.

"We've also gotten some roundabout complaints about police harassing people," Lewis said. He said it happens in predominantly African-American areas - such as the neighborhood in which Williams lives.

In an interview this week, Williams said she was rocking her daughter to sleep about 7 p.m. Friday when three plainclothes officers walked into her living room through the front door, which was unlocked.

"Two officers wanted to go to my brother's room after I told them no," Williams said. "I told them they couldn't search anything without a warrant. I told them to leave and not to come back until they had a warrant."

Melissa Hockensmith, a Carroll County assistant state's attorney, said that under certain circumstances - such as witnessing a crime in progress - officers could enter homes without a search warrant.

Williams said that when the officers approached her brother's bedroom, she blocked the entrance.

She said the three officers then pushed her to the floor and held her in a corner of the living room between two containers of toys.

She said she could barely breathe while the men struggled to handcuff her. One officer was choking her, she said, while another was "bending me every which way for about 10 minutes."

Williams, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 170 pounds, said she doesn't remember being read her rights.

"They're supposed to be on our side, not against us," she said.

Charging documents state that detectives smelled marijuana coming from a window of Williams' apartment, although the apartment number listed in the documents repeatedly identifies a unit around the corner.

The documents also state that Williams invited the detectives inside the apartment and then provoked the officers by kicking and punching them.

The detectives retrieved a marijuana cigar and marijuana stems from the bedroom of Williams' brother, Jasmone Williams, 25, the documents state. He was also arrested.

A next-door neighbor who said she witnessed Teneshia Williams' arrest gave a different account.

"I walked outside when they were dragging her out," said Kasey Decheubel, 20. "She was trying to get up, and they wouldn't let her. There was no reason, no need for that."

Teneshia Williams said she was also abused while she was incarcerated.

In a handwritten complaint submitted to the Sheriff's Office, she said she was in a holding cell, cuffed at the ankles, when several male officers came into the cell after she yelled that she couldn't breathe. She said she has claustrophobia.

"I looked up and felt something cold hit my eyes and began to burn instantly. I put my hands over my face, and that's when I feel something ram me with enormous force - force so hard it knocked my head against the cell wall," Williams wrote in the complaint.

Jasmone Williams said he heard his sister struggling and saw her bleeding as officers carried her past his cell. When she woke up , she said, her lip was swollen and her head throbbed.

Her sister, Tiffany Williams, 39, took her to Carroll Hospital Center early Saturday after she was released. Hospital records show she suffered multiple contusions.

"It was unbelievable," said Tiffany Williams, who said her sister has never been in trouble.

Tiffany Williams said she cannot accept what happened to her sister. "Police can't go beyond their authority," she said.

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