By Matt Bruce | April 9, 2021
For the past 11 months, a cloud of uncertainty has loomed above Brittany Chrishawn Williams’ head. The 30-year-old Black film producer was arrested inside her Jacksonville, Florida, home last May. Officers showed up after she called 911 to report a deputy who parked his squad car in her driveway and refused to leave when she asked him to vacate her property.
When other Jacksonville deputies arrived, they tackled the 98-pound woman, kneeled on her neck, slammed her face to the floor and fractured two of her teeth. Officers then arrested Williams amid accusations she brandished a gun, threatened to shoot officers, kicked a deputy in the hip as he placed her into custody and threw a spoon at the officer sitting in her driveway.
She was ultimately charged with battery on the two deputies. Both counts carry up to five years in prison.
In a pair of motions filed last month, Williams’ attorneys petitioned a judge to dismiss both felony counts of battery against law enforcement. They argued that if not dropped, the charges should be reduced misdemeanor battery charges.
“I don’t even want to accept even a misdemeanor, but that’s the strategy they’re taking” Williams told Atlanta Black Star during a phone interview Friday morning. “I get that because then we can work on getting the misdemeanors dropped. But I just need those charges dropped because it’s almost a year later, and I’m dealing with the emotional and mental stresses of having to fight this case. And having that held over my head, you know, that I could still be going to prison for something that’s so obvious. Like, I shouldn’t be dealing with this.”
Prosecutors from the Fourth Circuit State Attorney’s Office made a March 29 filing to strike Williams’ dismissal motions. Her attorneys said they will battle against that strike motion during a pre-trial hearing at 9 a.m. Monday inside the Duval County Courthouse.
“When the alleged batteries were committed, the officers were acting unlawfully,” Williams’ lead attorney Jeff Chukwuma told Atlanta Black Star. “So even if we believe that she allegedly committed a battery, the most she could be charged with is misdemeanor battery. So for both of the counts, this is a legal argument. One that’s not to go to the jury, but more so for the judge to decide. And that’s why we have to present it in the manner in which we did, as a motion to dismiss.”
Williams has maintained since last year’s ordeal that she was wrongfully arrested. She alleges it was she who was the victim of an assault by officers. In their motion, her attorneys argue deputies had no warrant to enter Williams’ residence and no legal authority to ambush the woman in her own home.
The incident occurred May 13. Patrol deputy Alejandro Carmona-Fonseca backed his cruiser into Williams’ driveway to check emails and finish up paperwork on a domestic dispute call he’d just handled. When she came out and asked him to vacate her property, he told her he was just checking emails and would be leaving shortly, according to an arrest report. But Williams said Carmona berated and threatened her, then refused to leave. When she told him she was calling 911, she said the deputy laughed and told her they’d just call him.
Williams was so shaken by the remarks that she went into her home and armed herself with a semi-automatic pistol while she spoke to dispatchers. Carmona remained in the driveway. Dispatchers relayed to responding deputies the message that Williams was armed and would shoot Carmona if he approached her property. When a backup officer C. Padgett arrived, purportedly to get Carmona to leave, Carmona told him to arrest Williams for tossing a spoon at him through his open window.
“She’s 10-15. So if she comes out and talks to you, she’s immediately, for throwing that at me,” he told Padgett as Williams yelled to the officers from her front porch. “She threw that in my car window.”
Ten codes for Jacksonville first responders list “10-15” as a code for “prisoner in custody.” Padgett wrangled Williams into custody moments after talking to Carmona. He tackled her in her front foyer as she retreated into her home. Her gun fell to the floor during the violent takedown, deputies alleged in the arrest report. Williams denies that claim.
“B—h kicked me in the leg,” Padgett said moments after the arrest.
Even after Williams was in cuffs, bodycam video showed Carmona defending his stance that he didn’t have to move from the property.
“Brother, this is a public access driveway,” the deputy told her husband. “It is not illegal for someone to stop here. It’s not.”
An internal investigation by the Sheriff’s Office seems to bolster the claims of Williams and her attorneys that she posed no threat. Following her arrest, deputies considered petitioning the court for a risk protection order, or RPO, which would’ve prohibited her from owning or possessing any firearms for up to a year. Law enforcement can ask a judge to impose the temporary weapons ban on a person who threatens violence, has recurring mental health issues or is deemed dangerous. It’s a provision of a gun safety bill that Florida lawmakers quickly passed in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018, which left 17 people dead. RPOs, also known as “red flag laws,” are commonly used to disarm mentally ill gun owners who pose a danger to themselves or others.
One of the deputies on scene repeated that Williams “threatened to shoot the police.” But Jacksonville Sgt. J.R. O’Neal reviewed Williams’ dispute with officers and determined there was no “credible threat” for an RPO. O’Neal, an investigator in the Sheriff’s Office’s RPO unit, reviewed the 911 calls, dispatch notes, radio transmissions and footage from three deputies’ body worn cameras. He found no recent history of violence, substance abuse or mental illness in Williams’ background.
O’Neal acknowledged that Williams’ told dispatchers she was armed with a weapon. During her 911 call, she made comments like, “…if I pull my gun on him and he shoot me and kill me, then, what I’m a do?” Deputies who responded to the call took those remarks as threats against them. But O’Neal said Williams “at no point made threats to use or brandish the firearm during her recorded interaction with officers.” She armed herself for protection inside her house, but never made any direct threats to shoot officers and didn’t brandish the weapon when she stepped on her front porch to argue with deputies, O’Neal indicated.
Chukwuma and Landon Ray, his co-counsel on the case, are both former prosecutors who spent four years trying hundreds of cases in Broward County, Florida. Ray said the evidence doesn’t support officers’ battery allegations against Williams and didn’t warrant the level of force they used to drag her out of her home. He also cited some of the “outrageous” comments deputies made at the scene, which were captured on body cameras.
“If we were the prosecutor on this case, we would have dismissed this case immediately,” Ray said. “And then once we started looking into it, I mean, one thing led to another and it just didn’t seem right.
“Just on the principle of fairness and equity, we were astonished that this case got to the point where it is right now,” he added.
Prosecutors did not file charges in the case until Oct. 30. Williams publicly released large snippets of the body cam footage on social media in December.
In last month’s motions to dismiss, her attorneys argued it was a “non-arrest” situation and Williams posed no danger or threat. They indicated neither Padgett or Carmona were engaged in their official duties as officers when the alleged battery incidents took place. According to the motions, Carmona was trespassing on her private property. Meanwhile, Padgett unlawfully entered Williams’ residence without a search warrant to make the arrest, and there were no exigent circumstances to justify the deputy’s entry.
“Padgett made it seem as if he were there to help Ms. Williams, stating that he was there to assist her because she called the police,” the motion stated. “Instead of helping her, Officer Padgett rushed into Ms. Williams’ home, grabbed her by her arms, tackled her to the ground, and started slamming her face into the ground.”
Assistant State Attorney Richard Giglio said Williams’ motion to dismiss is legally insufficient, in large part because Williams has never admitted that a battery against the deputies even took place.
“Defendant simply seeks to dismiss the state’s information without having to fully admit to the facts of her conduct under oath should her motion ultimately be unsuccessful,” Giglio wrote.
But Chukwuma maintained that the charges should be dismissed based on the use of force and damages alone, not to mention the injuries he said the officers inflicted on Williams.
“I mean, she’s 5’2” and 99 pounds,” he said. “That alone is reason enough to drop this case. You’re talking about somebody who has no prior criminal history. Someone who doesn’t have as much as a speeding ticket, who literally had one officer put his knee on her neck. Another officer sat on her, slammed her head into the ground causing her to lose two front teeth while twisting her arm. And you’re going to say, when all of that happened, she kicked you?”
Coping with tragedy through art
In 2019, months before her real-life drama, Williams co-wrote, produced and appeared in a film about police brutality called “Illville.”
She’s used her artistic expression as way to cope. Now she’s using it as a tool of empowerment to triumph over her wounds.
Williams recently launched the LMLM Network, which she envisions as a platform for women to speak out about the abuses they’ve endured at the hands on men, particularly male authority figures.
“It’s terrible when you feel like you’re alone and you’re the only one dealing with something. And it’s like you against the world,” Williams said. “That’s how I was feeling.”
LMLM is an acronym for “Love Me or Leave Me,” a reggae song that Williams heard often as child growing up with Jamaican roots. The song became a motto that she told herself whenever someone hurt her.
It’s part of the solace she’s always found in film and music. But Williams felt stripped of those creative outlets after last year’s ordeal. She had attorneys telling her to stay off social media and be quiet about the case. There was no sense of relief
“Without being able to create and speak through my art, I just was feeling so empty and I was feeling lonely, just really down and depressed,” Williams said. “I was dealing with a lot of just emotional struggles because I felt like I didn’t have any way to express myself and tell my story the best way I know how, which is through film and music.”
In September, Williams started working on a documentary to detail her own personal journey in the wake of her police encounter, focusing on the emotional trauma, paranoia, and ongoing struggles she dealt with. It was a way to provide herself some therapy. But other women began sharing their abuse stories with Williams, and she began incorporating their confessionals into the docuseries, which is titled “Survival Stories.”
The film will feature conversations with Florida State Rep. Angie Nixon, Jacksonville Community Action Committee co-founder Christina Kittle, Tanisha Crisp, the founder of BLM 5K in Jacksonville, and Diamonds Ford.
“I want it to be a global network of women who can have this support system and share their stories through film,” Williams said of LMLM.
Like Williams, Ford faces criminal charges from her own tumultuous run-in with law enforcement at her Jacksonville home last September. The 28-year-old woman opened fired when a Jacksonville sheriff’s deputies did a drug raid at her home while she was sleep. Ford claimed she fired her gun in self-defense and didn’t know it was law enforcement forcing their way into her home. She struck SWAT officer Robert M. Nauss IV three times in his bulletproof police vest and was charged with attempted murder. Ford is now out of jail on bond facing the prospect of life in prison if she’s convicted.
“I just feel like us joining forces, us working together, it makes us stronger,” Williams said. “Divide and conquer is something real, and us trying to keep our stories and our situation separate, that’s not going to help anybody. We have to join forces and speak out together and fight this thing together. Because we’re both fighting the same monster at the same time.”