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Chokehold by Inglewood Officer Hospitalized Earlier Suspect

July 31, 2002|KURT STREETER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two weeks before slamming a handcuffed teen onto the hood of a police cruiser, Inglewood Police Officer Jeremy J. Morse was directly involved in a violent, near-deadly altercation--hitting a 32-year-old man with a baton and then helping apply a chokehold that knocked him out.

Morse's participation in the beating of Neilson Williams, which has received far less notice than the minutely scrutinized Donovan Jackson arrest of July 6, is detailed in a police report obtained by The Times and in interviews with Williams and a witness who claims to have seen much of what happened.

Medical records show that Williams spent three days in intensive care after the June 23 encounter. He suffered severe respiratory injuries, apparently caused by the chokehold.

In the police report, Morse says the use of force was justified because Williams was drunk and resisted handcuffing. "We felt in fear for our safety and believed he was preparing himself to physically attack us," he wrote.

Williams, whose family filed a complaint with the Police Department as he lay in the hospital, denies the accusations. He was not arrested, although police now say they have issued a warrant on charges of resisting officers and battery.

Last week, Williams filed a $75-million claim against the city of Inglewood, accusing Morse of abuse. Inglewood officials have refused to comment and have officially sealed the incident report, citing ongoing investigations by their internal affairs wing and the district attorney.

Morse's lawyer characterizes Williams' legal claim as a "nothing case" spurred by opportunism. The officer himself has been advised not to talk. Williams, who initially spoke freely to a reporter for this story, has also stopped talking on the advice of his legal team.

Unlike the Jackson case, in which a video recording led prosecutors to charge Morse with assault and another officer with fabricating his incident report, all that exists in the Williams beating are disparate narratives: one told in Morse's report, another by Williams, still another by what may be the only witness not involved in the altercation, a teenager who corroborates parts of Williams' story.

What is known for certain is that Williams, who had been drinking, encountered Morse and another police officer after he left a barbecue at Inglewood's Ashwood Park late in the evening on June 23. A short time later, he was in the hospital, legally intoxicated, bruised, bloody and fighting to live. "I thought he was going to die," said a medical worker at the hospital.

Since spending three days in intensive care at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, Williams, who stands near 6 feet 4 and weights about 250 pounds, has spent most of his days shuttling between his mother's Inglewood home and doctors' and psychologists' offices.

*

As Williams recalled that day, he spoke of a bright, lazy Sunday afternoon. He and a group of about 20 spent most of the day at Ashwood Park, a small pie-slice stretch of grass and pavement that bumps up against the San Diego Freeway.

Ashwood is usually filled with a mix of Latino and black families and kids. Gang members, Bloods mostly, go there on occasion--drinking, talking big, shooting hoops and sometimes smoking marijuana. In this tough, working-class neighborhood they are merely part of the fabric, not necessarily welcomed, not particularly shunned.

Williams and his group, a mix of teens and adults, spent most of the day grilling chicken, ribs and steaks, he said. Hip-hop blared from boomboxes, some people played dominoes, some dashed up and down the basketball court.

Williams, who grew up in the neighborhood, was dressed in black khakis and a white shirt, and though he disputed the notion that he was drunk, he admitted that he nursed a few beers through the afternoon.

By around 10:30 p.m. the party was over. Williams said he and another man whose name he does not know began cleaning up trash, then left the park shortly thereafter. They walked through a small entry to the park, near two tennis courts.

Williams was pleased with how the day had gone. He'd had a chance to impart some of his hard-earned street knowledge to a crew of young kids.

Known in Inglewood by his street name "Be Upon," Williams is a onetime street tough who says he turned his life around as a teenager in the late 1980s after a series of run-ins with police that included a drug-possession conviction.

Morse said in the report that he recognized Williams as a gang member. There are no indications in court records that Williams has had any legal trouble in the last 12 years.

Those who know him say that over the last decade, Williams has become a much-respected force in the neighborhood by working to stop gang violence, organizing turkey giveaways for Thanksgiving, fighting to keep kids in school and helping produce the music of home-grown rap artists.

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