Every day, our journalism dismantles barriers and shines a light on the critical overlooked and under-reported issues important to all North Carolinians.
Before you go …
If you like what you are reading and believe in independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism like ours—journalism the way it should be—please contribute to keep us going. Reporting like this isn’t free to produce and we cannot do this alone. Thank you!
ASHEVILLE — The Asheville Housing Authority had banned Jai Lateef Solveig Williams from all of its properties due to weapons charges at the time police fatally shot him last month.
Jayden Gurney, co-director of property management for the Asheville Housing Authority, confirmed that the ban on Williams had been in effect since June 2012. He explained the reasons for it in a Tuesday email to Carolina Public Press. CPP inquired about the restrictions on Williams after viewing a copy of the authority’s Trespass “Ban” List from June 2016, which included Williams’ name under the variant spelling “Jaila Teef.”
“Mr. Williams was originally placed on the Housing Authority’s Trespass ‘Ban’ List in 2012 as a result of our being notified by the Asheville Police Department of his being charged with the following crimes: possession of a stolen firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a concealed weapon within 300 feet of a school, discharging a firearm within city limits, resisting arrest and reckless driving,” Gurney said.
As CPP previously reported, police also arrested Williams in May 2014 after he broke into the residence of a former girlfriend at Deaverview Apartments and fled from officers on foot. The courts later dismissed those charges after the victim failed to show in court. But with police describing a criminal violation of Williams’ ban from the property, the Housing Authority acted to restrict him further.
“As a result of his being charged with a crime (that) occurred on Housing Authority property while he was on the Ban List, the Housing Authority decided to renew his ban, extending it another five years,” Gurney said.
Facts in case disputed
The events leading to Williams’ death on July 2 are the subject of differing accounts.
Williams was black. The officer who shot him is white. At a time when national attention has focused on shootings of black citizens by white officers, the case has drawn substantial interest, including from advocates who see the situation as yet another example of police using unnecessary force against a black suspect who posed no real threat.
Williams struggled with a passenger on July 2, according to police, while fleeing from police at a high speed through West Asheville. Then his vehicle went off the road at the Deaverview Apartments, a property of the Asheville Housing Authority. At that point, police say, he showed an AR-15 rifle and police shot him.
People claiming to be witnesses have told a variety of other stories in media accounts, disputing that Williams showed anything other than his empty hands. Some accounts have suggested police planted the rifle at the scene after Williams was dead. Some media reports have also questioned whether Sgt. K. Tyler Radford was pursuing him at 70-plus miles per hour, as Radford described on the radio.
The officer had no body camera or squad car camera. The Deaverview Apartments lacked surveillance cameras. But CPP has learned that cameras at another site in the July 2 incident may provide investigators with crucial clues.
The State Bureau of Investigation is probing the case, which could potentially result in charges against Radford.
Old police files
Back in 2012, Williams faced serious charges from June 4 incidents at two locations. The charges Gurney listed in his email, stemmed from activity on South French Broad Avenue in Asheville. But police also charged Williams a few blocks away on Walton Street with possession of stolen goods, carrying a concealed weapon, a drug offense, resisting an officer, a city ordinance violation and other traffic offenses. Possession of a stolen firearm and the drug offense both represented felonies.
But Williams received a court deal that prevented him from becoming a felon. His only conviction was on the single charge of stolen good possession, a misdemeanor that netted him a suspended sentence and probation.
In the 2016 incident that led to Williams’ death, police received a call about a man firing a gun at Pisgah View apartments. The SBI is analyzing the shell casings from that site to determine whether they are a match for the rifle found beside Williams’ body.
David Nash, the chief operations officer for the Asheville Housing Authority, told CPP Wednesday that there were cameras at Pisgah View. He wasn’t certain that the cameras pointed in the right location to obtain a clear image of the man firing shots.
The SBI is also seeking any private recordings of the shooting and preceding chase. But no such footage has emerged publicly. The SBI has told CPP it cannot comment on whether it has obtained such video, though the agency indicated it has requested or obtained all known videos that could be relevant to the case.
Advocates disputing police’s description of events have said Williams was not armed and was not the man firing a gun at Pisgah View. Others, including family members, have said he didn’t use guns.
But the 2012 incidents show Williams firing a stolen Beretta Model 96 pistol.
CPP asked police about their involvement with the ban on Williams at Housing Authority properties, including at both Deaverview and Pisgah View.
“The Asheville Housing Authority maintains the ban list and determines who will be banned from their property,” said Christina Hallingse, public information officer for the Asheville Police Department, in an email to CPP.
“The Asheville Police Department assists the Asheville Housing Authority in enforcing those that have been banned.”
No one was attempting to enforce the housing property ban during the events leading to Williams’ death, based on information CPP has received from the police and the Housing Authority.