CHESTER — The father of black scholar-athlete twins is calling for the firing of Chester Police Chief Andre Williams after the chief pulled over his sons, and officers drew guns on and handcuffed the teens during a traffic stop on known gang turf.
It’s the first skirmish in Chester County’s police war on gangs that has boiled over since the Nov. 4 drive-by shooting death of City Councilman Odell Williams. Five alleged gang members were charged in connection with the shooting.
The incident comes amid national protests and concerns about how police deal with black men.
And on Monday night, more than 100 people crowded into Chester City Hall, where Carlos Williams, father of the twins, spoke to the Chester City Council about what happened and his concerns with Chief Williams’ leadership of the police department.
What is clear is that Chief Williams, who is black, pulled over Cardan Williams, 16, who was driving with his brother Caymen, 16, at about 8:20 p.m. Nov. 21. Andre Williams is not related to the Williams twins or to Odell Williams, and the Williams twins are not related to Odell Williams.
What is in dispute is the manners Chief Williams and other officers used during the stop in a Chester neighborhood known to police as “E-block” gang territory.
The police chief said he saw the car Cardan Williams was driving pull out in front of another driver in an unsafe manner, and that when he turned on his blue lights and tried to pull him over, the teen did not stop for more than a half-mile. Failure to stop for blue lights is a felony in South Carolina.
Carlos Williams, Cardan and Caymen Williams’ father, says drawing guns on and handcuffing teens who did nothing wrong is “excessive force.”
The problem is not a racial crisis similar to other places in the country, but the violence and problems police in Chester have with gangs in the almost-all black neighborhood of Chester where it happened are without question one reason it did happen.
Police are employing even more safety measures in the streets, concerned for their own and others’ safety after gang members made death threats against officers following the shooting of Odell Williams, who was himself a retired police officer.
Carlos Williams said his sons had driven from the family’s home on Foote Street and were on their way to another family member’s home when they were pulled over.
“This is not a black/white issue; this is a right/wrong issue,” Carlos Williams said. “This was excessive force. I feel the chief is arrogant, dismissive and egotistical.”
The Rev. Ina Harris, the pastor at Chestnut Grove AME Zion Church, where Carlos Williams and his sons attend, told the council that the police and city owe the teens an apology because they were “judged by the color of their skin.”
Carlos Williams, 39, is a Marine Corps veteran who grew up in the neighborhood where the traffic stop happened. He said his sons did not have an opportunity to pull over after realizing the police’s blue lights were for them and not for another traffic stop that was going on nearby. After they did pull over, he said they were shocked to see that officers had drawn their weapons. He estimated the distance the boys drove after seeing the blue lights as 250 feet.
Cardan and Caymen Williams take advanced placement classes and play varsity football and wrestling at Chester High School, where both also are junior class officers and members of the Beta Club, an academic honors program.
The twins told their father they said, “Yes, sir,” to officers several times during the stop, and pulled over as soon as they realized the blue lights were for them.
So far, Carlos Williams has talked to a lawyer and several city officials about his concerns, but he has filed no formal complaint. He wants a “full investigation.”
Chief Williams, who has led the Chester Police Department since 2011, gives a different version of events. He attended the council meeting but did not address the allegations.
But in an interview with The Herald, the chief said the incident happened on a Friday night, when he and other command staff were observing patrol officers as they dealt with gang problems and other calls. He said he spotted a driver turn unsafely from Foote Street, in front of another car on Saluda Street.
Williams said he passed the other car and pulled in behind the twins’ car, turning on his blue lights and siren. He said the driver did not stop for two blocks on Saluda Street, and did not stop after turning onto Oak Street. The driver stopped only after making another turn onto Crosby Street, he said.
By that time, Williams said he had called for backup and initiated a felony traffic stop, because he did not know who was driving or why they would not stop. The chief said he and two undercover narcotics officers did have their weapons out for their own safety and the safety of others. Williams said he kept his weapon at his side. Another officer, Maj. Gene Gilmore, also arrived at the stop.
“In a felony traffic stop, we do have guns out,” Williams said. “In light of this neighborhood and what has been happening with gangs, I am not going to put myself and my guys in danger.”
Williams said the two undercover officers had badges out that could be seen, and their vehicle’s blue lights also were flashing.
The teens were told to get out of their car and asked to walk backward toward the chief’s car, Williams said, and they were placed in handcuffs. Their car was searched, he said, which is standard practice when a driver who has not stopped for police is pulled over, but nothing out of the ordinary was found.
Chief Williams said that after talking with the teens, he recognized them and knew they were not affiliated with gangs, so he had the handcuffs removed and told one of them call their father, who came to the scene. The chief said he displayed the brightness of the lights and loudness of the siren for Carlos Williams, who seemed to be pleased with the outcome.
“He even shook my hand,” Chief Williams said.
Chief Williams said he decided not to write Cardan Williams a ticket or arrest him for failure to stop for police, but he explained that any time they see blue lights or hear a siren, they should pull over and wait for police instructions.
“I have kids,” the chief said, “and I teach them the same things.”