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Enraged MPD officer pepper sprays handcuffed suspect, won’t provide medical help despite his pleas

Case is among those not sent to prosecutors to weigh criminal charges against officers

William Grant Skelton was annoyed. The veteran Memphis patrolman had been called once before that day to deal with Drew Thomas, a man with a history of trespassing and other petty offenses that tried the patience of police and convenience store managers alike.

But nothing may adequately explain the profane venom Officer Skelton spewed that winter day in 2019 when he answered a vandalism complaint at a Shell station littered with busted shelves and scattered groceries, and then spotted Thomas in the parking lot.

“I said you’re under arrest [expletive]. Get the [expletive] over here,’’ Skelton yelled as his body camera rolled.

Skelton handcuffed Thomas without incident and put him in the back of his squad car but grew angry again when Thomas began kicking at the car door. According to an internal investigation report, Skelton emptied 62 grams of chemical irritant foam at the handcuffed detainee in four separate shots, the last coming as he held Thomas to successfully spray him in the face.

<strong>William Grant Skelton</strong>
William Grant Skelton

Skelton remained enraged even after a supervising lieutenant arrived.

“At that time you removed your camera from your chest, turned it around to your face and said, ‘I foamed the [expletive] out of him,’ ’’ reads a statement of administrative charges filed against Skelton. “ ‘I’ll tell the camera I foamed the [expletive] out of him. I told him I was going to foam the [expletive] out of him.’ ’’

Facing administrative charges of excessive force, misconduct and failure to comply with regulations governing the use of weapons, Skelton, 35, resigned.

“I appreciate your interest, but I am no longer with the Memphis Police Department. I resigned in January and now (happily) work in the private sector,’’ Skelton said in an email, declining an interview. “Best of luck with your story.’’

His case is one of six identified in a running investigation by The Institute for Public Service Reporting and The Daily Memphian involving substantial excessive force allegations that weren’t referred to prosecutors to determine if actions by officers violated criminal laws.

An MPD spokeswoman confirmed late Monday, July 27, the Skelton case wasn’t referred for criminal review despite questions about the harsh treatment of a detained citizen.

According to a 16-page internal report by MPD’s Inspectional Services Bureau, Thomas was denied water or fresh air for several minutes as he sat locked in the back of Skelton’s squad car screaming for help as a chemical irritant burned into his face.

“Officer Skelton stated he did not roll the windows down because he was angry and he felt like Drew Thomas did not deserve to have the windows rolled down,’’ the report states at one point.

<strong>Jonathan Sharman</strong>
Jonathan Sharman

Though MPD’s Policy and Procedures Manual says, “the best first aid for exposure to chemical irritant agents is fresh air and copious amounts of clean cool water to flush out the eyes,’’ the ISB report says Skelton denied Thomas assistance as did other officers on the scene, including Jonathan Sharman.

“On the body-worn camera footage of Officer Sharman, Drew Thomas can be heard screaming for air, help, or water nine times prior to the ambulance arrival on the scene. At 19:01 on his BWC footage, Officer Sharman is drinking water from a bottle as Drew Thomas can be heard screaming for help in the background,’’ the report says.

“Officer Skelton commented that Drew Thomas asked him to roll the windows down and Officer Sharman said, ‘Make that [expletive] burn.’ ’’

Another officer, Jonathan Halteman, also denied assistance to Thomas, the report says.

<strong>Jonathan Halteman</strong>
Jonathan Halteman

“Officer Halteman commented, ‘I bet that stung like a [expletive],’ and ‘it’s rough back there’ referring to the pepper spray and the back seat of the squad car,’’ the report says. “Officer Halteman did not assist with the decontamination process or provide any water to Drew Thomas.’’

Overall, “five minutes and 55 seconds passed from the time Drew Thomas was sprayed until the time a window was rolled down by Lt. (Alexander) McGowan,’’ the report says.

A statement of charges was filed against Skelton in February 2019, accusing him of violating departmental regulations involving personal conduct, use of weapons and use of force. The administrative charges cite MPD policy forbidding use of chemical irritant agents on an individual who “has been taken into custody and has been handcuffed’’ or who has “merely destroyed property’’ among other provisions.

Skelton resigned 11 months later before receiving a hearing date.

The ISB report says Sharman and Halteman also violated compliance with weapon regulations. Available records don’t say if those charges were upheld in administrative hearings.

Marc Perrusquia
Written By

Marc Perrusquia is the director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis, where graduate students learn investigative and explanatory journalism skills working alongside professionals. He has won numerous state and national awards for government watchdog, social justice and political reporting.

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