An unarmed man who was assaulted and killed by Temple, Texas Police on Thursday evening reportedly suffered from an intellectual disability, sickle-cell anemia, and chronic pain.
Officers responded to a disturbance call near Wayman Manor Apartments in the 1800 block of East Avenue K around 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Officers made contact with a man they incorrectly believed to be responsible for the disturbance, but they claimed he was uncooperative and appeared intoxicated., reported Seattle Times.
Neighbors say the man, Stephen Gayle, 40, was cheering for children practicing football while walking home from the store and was not causing a disturbance.
Wanda Nichols, pastor of The Garden of Gethsemane International Church Ministries who lives in the East Temple neighborhood, said she saw the man walking down the street and yelling before the police arrived, reported Temple Daily Telegram.
“The young man, he was actually coming down the sidewalk, and he would yell — he would say something that was unintelligible, then he would stop, and he would start walking again,” Nichols said. “I thought that he was trying to get the attention of one of the little football players that were over there at the (Meridith-Dunbar) school, practicing. Next thing I know, an officer’s car pulled up.”
Temple Police Department spokeswoman Shawana Neely said the officers got into a confrontation with the man.
“The male subject was very uncooperative with the officers. … He appeared to be under some type of influence of some type of substance,” Neely told the Telegram late Thursday. “The officers attempted to make contact and detain him and he began to struggle with the officers. During that struggle, he actively resisted. During the struggle, he started showing signs of medical distress and the officers summoned EMS.”
Gayle’s sister, Tiffany Nuckols, said that her brother suffered from an intellectual disability and sickle-cell anemia, and had nerve pain in his legs that caused them to lock up and kick sometimes.
“My brother, he wouldn’t hurt nobody,” Nuckols said. “That’s why all the kids loved him. … My brother was a good person.”
Neighborhood children said that Gayle would cook fried chicken for them sometimes.
The Texas Rangers were called in to investigate the incident that led to the man’s death, Neely said.
The police department said there are no indications the officers did anything wrong. Of course that means they have either chosen to ignore the witness statements, or they see no problem with police brutality.
Neely wrote in an email. “At this stage of the investigation, there are no obvious indications that our officer(s) acted outside the scope of their duties.”
“It is the position of the Temple Police Department that any time a member of our community dies while in our custody, a third party, in this case the Department of Public Safety Texas Rangers, come in to conduct a complete and independent investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident,” Neely said. “Our department has, and will continue to cooperate fully with the Texas Rangers in the investigation of this incident.”
Nichols said that when the first officer arrived at the scene, he asked for identification, which Gayle provided.
“Then they handcuffed him, and then as they were taking him back to the car, he did that little yell again, and it was at that point that they decided that they would take him down,” she said. “They actually got him down on his stomach, and one officer kept his knee in his back and the other one was down at the front, kneeling in front of him.”
Wayman Manor resident Lashae Johnson said she came outside to find out what the commotion was about.
“When I stepped outside, I heard a man screaming,” Johnson said. “The police were trying to put him in handcuffs but he wouldn’t budge. They walked him over to the middle of the street with his hands behind his back.”
Nichols saw another police car pulled up and an older officer got out, after walking around and observing, he then got out some ankle shackles, she said.
“They put the ankle shackles on him,” Nichols said. “Then the three of them attempted to put him in the car; he would not go in the car — he was on his knees at that point — and the male officer that was there first began to knee him in his back…and then he kind of straddled him and he started punching him in his face.”
Nichols said she started shouting at the police to stop beating the defenseless man, which made the officers hesitate briefly.
“I said ‘Please don’t do that;’ I said ‘The man is defenseless!’” she said. “They were trying to get him in the car, and they kind of pushed him in, and I believe, once they pushed him in — because he was so tall — they slammed the door on his head.”
Nichols and other witnesses interviewed by the Telegram said that the officers, who are white, pulled Gayle, a black man, back out of the patrol car soon after putting him in, and he did not appear conscious at that time. EMTs were called.
“Once they got there, they began to compress his chest,” Nichols said. “They did this for about 40 minutes. … I was like, ‘You know what, why don’t you all stop? Y’all know he’s dead. You all know what you’ve done — just stop.”
Gayle was not officially pronounced dead until 9:07 p.m., after he arrived at Scott & White Medical Center-Temple. An autopsy was ordered to determine the cause of death.
“I’m just trying to figure out what happened, what led them to do that to a precious — he was a sweet person, he was real good with my kids,” Ockleberry said.
Johnson said that Gayle was shouting and screaming but not actively fighting the officers.
“He wasn’t fighting them; he was saying ‘I haven’t did anything wrong, get off me,’” she said. “They were saying ‘Sir, calm down, calm down,’ and he just was trying to get them off of him, but he couldn’t, so they just threw him to the ground. It took maybe four officers — they were kneeing him in his back, and he could not move.”
Johnson also said that the officers punched Gayle.
“The officer that I saw, he’s kind of heavyset and I didn’t get his name, but he is the one that was kneeing him — he was the one that was being more abusive,” she said. “I feel like they went about it the wrong way.”
Johnson recorded the event with her cellphone, but the video is dark and at a key moment, a police car pulls in front of her, blocking the view.
Johnson allowed the Telegram to review the video, which recorded Gayle’s cries in an urgent but raspy voice.
“I got video footage of how the beginning started,” she said. “When I did try to get the part of them kneeing and punching him, a police officer asked another officer to move in front of my phone so I couldn’t get that part. He was like ‘Pull up right here — right here!’”
Nichols, who said Friday afternoon that she was on her way to speak with the Texas Ranger charged with investigating the case, found the incident very upsetting.
“I respect the law to the utmost, but when you’re wrong you’re wrong, and they were wrong,” she said. “That boy was totally defenseless. He was shackled at his ankles, and his hands were handcuffed behind his back when that officer … straddled him and began to punch him in his face.”
(Article By Jeremiah Jones)