Charlotte man waited 22 minutes for medical attention after CMPD’s call for help
Jovontay Williams died in police custody. Officers called for help. New video shows it was slow to come.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It took 22 minutes for MEDIC, Charlotte’s ambulance service, to respond to a man in police custody struggling to breathe.
Jovontay Williams was arrested by CMPD officers early in the morning of June 13, 2022. Officers were responding to a call that someone had fired shots into a house and was banging on the door.
Williams died at a hospital hours after being taken into custody.
WBTV’s Chief Investigative Reporter Nick Ochsner went to court and pushed to get the body camera video of Williams’ arrest released to the public.
The video paints a picture of officers encountering a man clearly in distress, calling for medical assistance and firefighters and EMTs responding slowly.
CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings tells WBTV his officers did everything right: arresting Williams without force, recognizing he needed medical attention, and leaving him laying on his side — in what is called the recovery position — while they waited for MEDIC to arrive.
In response to questions for this story, Charlotte Fire Department and MEDIC have offered little explanation but did confirm Thursday afternoon that the incident is now the subject of an official medical incident review.
22 minutes to get help
Police were called to the 300 block of Featherstone Drive just before 2:00 a.m. on June 13. A resident called 911 to report gunshots and someone banging on her door.
Internal dispatch records from CMPD show officers arrived on the scene at 2:01 a.m. They encountered Williams for the first time on the back porch of the home at 2:09.
Body camera video of the incident shows officers radioed to request MEDIC for the first time at 2:12 a.m., while they were trying to coax Williams off the porch but before they had taken him into custody.
Two minutes later at 2:14 a.m., Williams was tackled to the ground and handcuffed. An officer radioed for MEDIC a second time and said the scene was secure.
But, internal MEDIC dispatch records show, a fire truck was initially dispatched instead of an ambulance.
Dispatch records show firefighters arrived on the scene at 2:20 a.m. but the body camera video doesn’t show firefighters on the porch where Williams is laying until 2:23 a.m.
All the while, officers are holding Williams on the ground as he alternates between periods of calm and excitement; he repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe.
When firefighters arrived, the body camera video shows, they shined a light on his stomach but didn’t take a pulse. They did nothing else to care for Williams as he laid on the porch struggling to breathe.
MEDIC dispatch records show firefighters downgraded the ambulance response to non-emergency. EMTs arrived on the scene at 2:31 a.m., dispatch records show, and reached the porch at 2:34 a.m., 22 minutes after officers first radioed for MEDIC.
By the time EMTs arrived, Williams is lethargic and laying quietly on the porch.
“When an officer radios to send medic, what do they expect is going to happen?” Ochsner asked CMPD Chief Johnny Jennings.
“The expectation is that MEDIC would be dispatched and sent to the scene,” he said.
The body camera video shows officers—standing around with firefighters—discussing the delayed response from MEDIC. At one point, an officer calls MEDIC “useless f**ckers.”
“It’s difficult,” Jennings said of the officers’ comments captured on camera.
“Every second counts, every second is an eternity for the officers that are out there trying to get help for Mr. Williams.”
But, in his interview with WBTV, Jennings praised the actions of his officers overall.
“I think our officers acted appropriately and admirably,” he said. “They were dealing with a criminal situation that they quickly identified as a medical situation and then based on that they did what they were supposed to do.”
WBTV presented the situation to Marc Brown, a law enforcement officer who now works as a consultant on police tactics.
“I don’t know if there was much more they could have done, you know, because they got him medical attention, they tried to keep him stable,” Brown said.
A mother searching for answers
Christa Williams, Jovontay’s mother, still wants answers about how her son died.
“There is no explanation how my son died. They say that it’s a medical problem,” she told WBTV.
Williams talked with WBTV on January 16, her son’s birthday. She scrolled through photos of Jovontay on her phone, including ones capturing his life as a son, father and former football player at Johnson C. Smith University.
The grieving mother faults everyone involved in her son’s arrest early on the morning of June 13 but questions, especially, why it took EMTs so long to respond.
“By 2:35 my son was really dead. They said that he was still warm, but he was dead by that time,” she said.
Jovontay Williams was taken to Atrium Health University hospital, records show.
Doctor’s notes from the emergency room show by the time he arrived, at nearly 3:00 a.m., he needed assistance breathing, was tachycardic and doctors had trouble getting a blood pressure reading.
He died hours later.
“My son is gone and it’s a tragedy and it’s awful how this had to happen to him, you know, but I’m not the only one,” Christa Williams said.
“I’m not the only parent out here that something just happened in custody of the police.”
‘Of course it’s devastating’
Spokesmen for both Charlotte Fire Department and MEDIC declined to answer questions on camera. The agencies issued a joint statement Thursday afternoon saying the incident was under review.
CFD Chief Reginald Johnson issued the following statement:
“We take the death of Mr. Williams very seriously and are exploring thoroughly. Every day members of Charlotte Fire bravely protect the residents of Charlotte, the place we call home. We are dedicated to our community in service and are resolute in our mission of saving lives. As our community comes together during this difficult time, we hope for peace and healing for the family and loved ones of Mr. Williams.”
MEDIC Executive Director John Peterson said the following:
“The very reason for Medic’s existence is to serve our patients with compassion, and we are honored to do so. We have been entrusted with the health and safety of our community and are committed to the Medical Incident Review process that upholds our high standards of care. To the family and loved ones of Mr. Williams, we express our deepest condolences for your loss.”
The statement did not say when the two agencies’ review of the response to Mr. Williams’ case began and WBTV’s follow-up question asking for that information had gone unanswered as of press time.
Jennings, the police chief, said he and his officers never want someone to die in their custody.
“Anytime you have somebody that we’re dealing with or in our custody—or that we’re out with and you see somebody that’s in medical distress, and they that person ends up passing away—of course, it’s devastating,” he said. “You don’t ever want that outcome with our profession.”
Copyright 2023 WBTV. All rights reserved.