Her Boyfriend Was Shot and Then Cops Roughed Her Up — on Camera

An Aurora police officer bends OyZhana Williams over a squad car by Aurora Police Department Sergeant Michael Hawkins, as seen in a video on view below.
An Aurora police officer bends OyZhana Williams over a squad car by Aurora Police Department Sergeant Michael Hawkins, as seen in a video on view below. Courtesy of Frank & Salahuddin LLC
OyZhana Williams is suing three members of the Aurora Police Department over a 2015 incident during which she was roughed up and had her head stomped in the parking lot of a hospital where her boyfriend was being treated for a gunshot wound, apparently because a cop lauded for heroism during the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting didn't like the way she dropped her keys. The violent exchange was captured on a video that's on view below.

"This was a completely innocent person who took a loved one to the hospital in a life-threatening situation, and this is what happened to her," says Adam Frank, who represents Williams in the suit. "It's shocking."

The suit, which is also accessible here, outlines accusations against two officers, Jordan Odneal and Jose Ortiz, as well as Sergeant Michael Hawkins — credited with trying in vain to save the life of six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan after spiriting her out of the Aurora Century 16 following the July 2012 attack — in relation to a series of events that began unspooling during the early-morning hours of December 22, 2015, when Blake Newton, Williams's significant other, was shot.

Williams was terrified, the suit notes, as she raced Newton to the UC Health emergency room, located at 15300 East Mississippi Avenue.

click to enlarge A portrait of OyZhana Williams. - COURTESY OF FRANK & SALAHUDDIN LLC
A portrait of OyZhana Williams.
Courtesy of Frank & Salahuddin LLC
Upon his arrival at the facility alongside Odneal and Ortiz, Hawkins spoke to Williams for around five minutes, after which he told her that the car in which she transported Newton would have to be towed "so it could be searched and examined," the narrative maintains. Williams responded by walking with Hawkins to the vehicle and allowed him to "search it without interference."

The pair returned to the emergency-room lobby at around 3:50 a.m. on the 22nd. Williams then accompanied Newton's gurney as it was being wheeled to an ambulance for transfer to the main UC Health hospital, where he would receive further care.

Williams and Hawkins subsequently got into what the lawsuit describes as a "verbal disagreement" that escalated a few minutes later when the sergeant asked for the keys to the car. The suit states that Hawkins "had no legal right" to make this request, and attorney Frank calls it unnecessary: "I don't know why he wanted her keys. He didn't need her keys to impound the car. There doesn't seem to be a strong rationale for why he wanted them. He just decided that he did, and that was the core dispute."

Although the video of the exchange has no sound, it's clear that the conversation between Hawkins and Williams was heated. In the clip, the sergeant can be seen pointing his finger in Williams's face before she raises her keys and theatrically drops them to the ground.

Here's the clip:

Hawkins doesn't seem to have liked this gesture much, since the video shows him grabbing at Williams, dragging her from the back seat of a police cruiser, into which she'd retreated, and bending her over the vehicle's trunk as he allegedly "choked her with his forearm," the text allows. Next, Hawkins tried to "throw Ms. Williams on the ground by her neck," getting an assist from Odneal, who "tackled Ms. Williams over Sgt. Hawkins's extended leg."

The latter move "drove Ms. Williams's head into the pavement," the suit goes on. At that point, Ortiz and another, unnamed officer joined in, essentially piling on Williams while handcuffing her. As for Hawkins, the suit says he "walked to where Ms. Williams's head was pinned to the ground, lifted his left leg and stomped on Ms. Williams's head while she was laying on the pavement." According to the suit, the impact of Hawkins's foot caused facial bruising, days worth of ringing in her ears and migraines that recurred for months.

This wasn't the end of Williams's ordeal. Based on what the lawsuit characterizes as "numerous false and/or deliberately misleading statements" in police reports submitted by the APD personnel, she was arrested on suspicion of assaulting the cops, and thanks to a $50,000 bond placed on her, she spent Christmas in jail. The bond was lowered on December 28, but prosecution for second-degree assault on a police officer continued until November 4, 2016, when the matter was finally dropped. But during the intervening period, Williams lost her job because of the false charge and wasn't able to get a new one until after the case's dismissal.

click to enlarge APD Sergeant Michael Hawkins. - AURORA POLICE DEPARTMENT
APD Sergeant Michael Hawkins.
Aurora Police Department
There's not much Frank can do about the ten and a half months it took for Williams's name to be cleared, since "prosecutors have a form of immunity that covers actions they take in prosecuting a case," he acknowledges. But the scene captured on video is another story.

"This is a woman who'd just been through horrible trauma," he says. "She'd just taken her boyfriend to an emergency room with a gunshot wound, just watched him go out on ambulance to the hospital. He's recovered, but at that point, she didn't know if he was going to be all right or what would happen. And at that moment, for whatever reason, this officer decided he was going to assault her. He throws her out of the car, chokes her with the forearm across her throat, bends her over the back of a police car, sticks his leg out so that he and the other officer can throw her to the ground, and then looks at her head, picks it up, steps on it and then calmly, nonchalantly walks away. And that's beyond the pale."

Neither the Aurora Police Department nor the City of Aurora is named in the suit. But during the discovery phase of the case, Frank says, "we will be demanding documents that show what Aurora's policy and practices are to see what happened to these officers after they assaulted Ms. Williams — and if it turns out that the Aurora Police Department decided these officers acted in accordance with their policy and training and stands behind what these officers did, we would very likely add a claim against the department as a whole. We intend to do everything we can to find out what led to this incident and why not only did these Aurora officers feel it was okay to do what they did, but that they also felt it was okay to try and cover it up."

Click to read the OyZhana Williams v. Michael Hawkins, et. al. lawsuit.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts