Ferguson shooting suspect gave false confession, lawyer says

Jason Sickles
Ferguson shooting suspect Jeffrey Williams when he was booked into jail. (St. Louis County Police Department)

The suspect charged with shooting two police officers during a demonstration in Ferguson, Mo., last week is now recanting a confession that he was the gunman, his lawyer told Yahoo News on Tuesday.

“He told me that he never fired a weapon,” said Jerryl T. Christmas, attorney for Jeffrey Williams.

Christmas said Williams, 20, was scared and in a “tremendous amount of pain,” having allegedly been pistol-whipped before being questioned by detectives.

“I think under those circumstances he would have said anything,” Christmas said. “Anytime someone is questioned without counsel and then I see that kind of bruising, then I'm suspicious about any statements that he may have voluntarily given.”

The lawyer said the injuries can be seen in the jail mug shot of his client.

“He had bruising … you see the redness on the right side of his face,” Christmas said. “I don't see how they are denying it, it’s right there on their own mug shot.

A photo Jeff Williams posted of himself on Facebook late last month.

St. Louis County police have denied the abuse allegations for two days. On Tuesday, a department spokesman again called the accusations “completely false” without offering any potential explanation for apparent marks in Williams’ booking photograph.

Sgt. Brian Schellman said Williams was immediately transported to police headquarters and interviewed by detectives, which was recorded on video and audio. At the jail, he said, a nurse evaluated Williams as part of the intake process.

“The nurse released Williams as fit for confinement and he was subsequently turned over by detectives to the custody of Justice Services,” Sgt. Schellman said.

But Christmas and a cousin of the suspect said Williams has been in the jail’s infirmary since arriving there Sunday.

Terrain Williams told Yahoo News by email that he spoke to his cousin on the phone Tuesday morning.

“Hell [no, he’s] not doing OK,” Terrain Williams said. “They whipped his ass.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Christmas got a court order to have Williams escorted to a jury room so that one of his investigators could photograph the alleged injuries. The prosecution was granted the same access to take similar photos.

Christmas said officers struck Williams in the face, neck, back and head while arresting him at his girlfriend’s house late Saturday.

“He has a knot on the back of his head where he says they hit him with the butt of a pistol,” Christmas said. “He doesn't deserve that.”

Terrain Williams said officers swooped in on his cousin when he stepped outside his girlfriend’s home to go to her car.

Yahoo News asked police for the address where Williams was arrested and the names of any witnesses.

“Will not release due to it being an active investigation,” Sgt. Schellman replied by email.

Nor would he disclose the number of officers who took part in the capture, but the sergeant said, “Mr. Williams did not resist arrest.” The officers involved were not wearing body cameras to video the arrest, he said.

Police and protesters square off outside the Ferguson Police Department the night two officers were shot amid the demonstrations. (AP/Jeff Roberson)

Complicating Williams’ retraction is that he didn’t just admit being the shooter to police. On Sunday and Monday, St. Louis pastor and Ferguson activist Derrick Robinson told reporters that Williams expressed remorse to him during a jailhouse visit.

“He told me that he shouldn't have done it," Robinson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He was embarrassed.”

By Tuesday, Robinson quit discussing the case and reportedly referred questions to Christmas.

An online public database providing St. Louis County Jail information doesn’t indicate what time the mug shot was taken or when Williams was received into custody.

Yahoo News requested the booking sheet for when Williams arrived at the jail. It often lists charges, arrest details, next of kin, arrival time and other information. On Monday, a jail employee said the document wasn’t releasable in the Williams case. When pressed for an explanation, the jail employee said it would be made available shortly. As of late Tuesday afternoon, it had not been sent.

Williams, who is being held on $300,000 bail, made no statement during an initial court appearance on Monday. He is charged with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle and three counts of armed criminal action. He faces up to life in prison if convicted. Both officers Williams allegedly shot are recovering at home from non-life-threatening injuries.

On Sunday, prosecutors and police officials said Williams told detectives that he had been at a demonstration in front of the Ferguson Police Department before Wednesday’s shootings. According to a criminal complaint, Williams was in a 2003 Pontiac Grand Am just after midnight when he fired three shots in the direction of the police department. Two of the three shots struck officers standing in a police riot line.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch told reporters on Sunday that Williams admitted firing the gun but claimed he was involved in a feud and that the shots were in connection with that dispute. McCulloch said investigators recovered a .40-caliber handun during the arrest which matches evidence found at the scene.

“I’m not sure we completely buy that part of it,” said McCulloch, who also credited the public's help in identifying Williams as the shooter.

A message seeking McCulloch’s comment Tuesday regarding Williams' retracting his statement was not immediately returned.

The shooting of the officers came one week after a critical Department of Justice report accused the Ferguson police force of excessive force and unconstitutionally targeting black residents. The St. Louis suburb is still in negotiations with the federal government regarding the findings, but one suggested solution has been to have the county police department that arrested Williams take over policing in Ferguson.

(This story has been updated since it originally published.)

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).