Former Texas running back and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams was searched by Tyler (Texas) police in the parking lot of his hotel after he went for a walk in the city on Jan. 11.
Williams was in town for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Awards. He was staying at a Courtyard Marriott on the south side of the city and decided to go for a walk to kill some time before the ceremony that evening. As he returned to his hotel, he was stopped by multiple officers responding to a report of a “suspicious person.”
The 1998 Heisman winner said he went to walk in a wooded area near the hotel, but then thought better of it when he saw houses that backed up to the woods and heard a dog barking.
“I realized at the moment I’m a black man walking in the south and there’s a dog barking,” Williams told Austin radio station KLBJ on Wednesday.
” … I started to realize there’s something going on here. So I say ‘OK, I’m not going to walk over here because it doesn’t feel comfortable’ and I turn and I just take a walk around the neighborhood.”
Williams said he was gone for about an hour, and when he returned, he saw police in the parking lot.
According to a statement from Tyler police, a person whose property abuts the hotel property saw “a black male wearing all black crouched down behind his wire fence in a green belt area that backed up” to the hotel.
The homeowner made verbal contact with the subject who asked the owner if he was looking for his dog. The subject then continued a short distance to the north climbing over the fence into the Colonial Hills Baptist Church rear parking lot. After the subject left the area the homeowner called the police.
While checking the area police contacted a construction worker with Saltgrass Steak House and were advised that a person matching the description had been seen in the area. The worker stated that the person picked up a tape measure and was going to walk off with it. He told the subject that the property did not belong to him and it was returned.
The man who made the initial call told KLTV that Williams “didn’t threaten me in any way.”
Tyler police have released the dash cam of the incident and Williams was asked to put his hands behind his back, empty his pockets (including his room key) and spread his legs so one of three officers visible on the video could frisk him. He was not arrested, and said he said he had to stop himself when he started to get upset with the situation.
Police also asked Williams in the dash cam video if he hopped a fence. Williams responded that he didn’t climb a fence and, when asked about the tape measure, replied he was going to give it back to the worker after he saw it on the ground.
After the exchange about the tape measure, the officer tells Williams that “I know more than what you think I know. I know you were in the back of somebody’s yard back there. Williams’ response is muffled by the wind, though his body language suggests confusion.
Williams mentioned in the radio interview that he was told by an attorney friend that he was illegally searched. He said he had to stop himself from being agitated about the situation as it was transpiring. Williams’ interaction with police took about seven minutes and said police eventually apologized for stopping him.
“I said listen, you don’t know what it’s like to be a black man,” Williams said. “This isn’t the first time this has happened to me that cops have harassed me when I haven’t done anything.”
Williams also said an officer told him that his presence in the area was plausible since he was staying at the hotel vs. being from another part of the city.
“And he said if you’re staying at the hotel it makes sense why you were walking here,” Williams said. “But if you came from North Tyler it doesn’t make sense. And I looked at him and said ‘I don’t even know what North Tyler is.'”
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