WOOD 8 TV reported that local man Willy Winters was found innocent of charges of “hindering and opposing” police officers during a incident involving a traffic stop. The all white jury decided to take the word of Mr. Winters, an eighteen year old African American over the five police officers who were involved with the arrest. Reportedly, the jury was swayed by the injuries that Mr. Winters sustained to his face, hands and knees as well as police video footage showing officers spraying mace at Mr. Winters. The video shows Mr. Winters exit his car and walk toward the officer who sprays him while several feet away. Also shown in the video is Mr. Winters Mother who approaches the officers, and who, according to testimony, was taken to the ground and handcuffed by officers as well.
While this was the first mention of Willie Winters in the local TV news, it was not the first time the footage had been used. In a previous news deconstruction, GRIID looked at the story of the Urban League’s report on disproportionate arrest rates for African Americans by the GRPD for hindering and opposing. In these stories the footage of Mr. Winters being sprayed with mace was shown without any explanation of what the particulars of the case were. The footage was shown multiple times by all three local TV stations as background footage while the news readers talked about hindering and opposing arrests. At the time that this footage was originally shown, none of the stations gave any information about the particulars of Mr. Winters case, or even that he was on trial and that a verdict had not yet been reached. When Mr. Winters was found innocent, Channel 8 ran a story about it, unlike the other two local stations. So essentially, for two of the local news stations, this footage was used only when they needed to show a black man “hindering and opposing the GRPD. When that same man was found innocent of those charges, they choose not to run that story.
Newsreader #1 – Not guilty…a Grand Rapids teenager says he will sue the Grand Rapids Police Department for physical and emotional damages.
Newsreader #2 – A jury yesterday found 18-year-old Willie Winters not guilty of criminal charges…charges that some people say police are trumping up and abusing.
Newsreader #1 – Twenty-four Hour News 8’s Dray Clark is live tonight outside police headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids to bring us the latest on this story…Dray?
Reporter – Well Suzie, from day one Willie Winters said he was not guilty and would fight the criminal charges all the way to court. It was his word against that of five Grand Rapids Police officers. The case was left in the hands of seven jurors who came back with a “not guilty” verdict. We want to warn you…some of the images you’re going to see in this story are graphic.
B-Roll – “…9:40 AM, you’re on the line with Robert S. …”
Reporter – He’s off the hook, and now on the airwaves. Eighteen-year-old Willie Winters thanked the community for its support.
B-Roll – Winters: “…I love you, thanks…”
Reporter – Winters’ story begins last September on Fox Avenue. Grand Rapids police, dashboard cameras rolling, pull over a car for speeding…Winters’ neighbor is the driver. The officer first tells the passenger to sit down.
B-Roll – Police: “Get in the car!” Winters: “Man, take me…”
Reporter – Seconds later, the driver jumps out.
B-Roll – Driver: “Man, f*** you motherf***ers! F***! Man, f*** you!”
Reporter – The officer draws back and sprays Mace.
B-Roll – Winters: “Hey man! *time elapse* my Mom…she’s handicapped.”
Reporter – Here you see the driver’s mother, wearing a robe, confront officers, but she’s taken away. Winters says when his mother tried telling police the woman was handicapped she was handcuffed, and when he rushed over to help his mother he claims he was cuffed, pushed to the ground, and beaten.
Willie Winters – I was scared…I didn’t thing I was gonna make it through the night.
Reporter – Winters’ mouth was busted, his hand were bloody, and his leg was bruised. Winters’ attorney Kevin Floyd.
Lawyer – This young man has sat in this chair in my office with his mother and just, you know, sheer tears, him and his mother, sheer tears over this whole incident.
Reporter – Winters was charged with hindering and opposing and creating a disturbance. He rejected a plea deal in favor of a trial. Five officers testified; two of them claimed Winters pushed an officer and had to be forced to the ground. But that was the one thing the police video didn’t show, which hurt their defense. Police chief Harry Dolan.
Police Chief Dolan – They can only capture what’s occurring in front. The officer can’t stop or call a time out, go back to the car and turn the camera.
Reporter – But an all-white jury didn’t believe the officer’s testimony and delivered not guilty verdicts for Winters.
Winters – I said “thank God”…thank God.
Lawyer – I think the jurors ultimately made a…a call to accept the facts based on a human given testimony.
Reporter – But Chief Dolan says despite the verdict the truth is in the tape, which he says clearly shows Winters and his neighbors turned on police.
Dolan – This case has been resolved. We conducted a complete and lengthy investigation into this matter, and the officers have been exonerated. They used appropriate force given the totality of the circumstances they were confronted with.
Winters – You just can’t do that to everyone and think nothing is going to go unjustified, you know?
Reporter – And Willie Winters’ attorney Kevin Floyd says someone has to pay for his clients pain and suffering, so he plans to file a civil lawsuit against the Grand Rapids Police Department. Willie Winters says at the very least the officers involved should offer him an apology. We’re live in downtown Grand Rapids—Dray Clark, 24-Hour News 8.
Newsreader #2 – Thanks you, Dray. Meantime, the Grand Rapids City Commission is considering now an ordinance to, it hopes; better define the charge of “hindering and opposing.” The proposal would allow charges against anyone who willfully and, now here’s the key word, “knowingly” impedes, interferes, or obstructs an officers investigation. The word change comes at the recommendation of County Commissioner Paul Mayhew…we ought to know more in a few weeks.