Albany DA drops charges against Ellazar Williams

By Jacob Perasso
January 21, 2019

ALBANY, N.Y. — Opponents of police brutality and cop frame-ups won an important victory here Jan. 9 when Albany County District Attorney David Soares announced he was dropping charges against 19-year-old Ellazar Williams. Williams, who is African-American, was shot in the back and paralyzed from the chest down as he was running away from police officer James Olsen Aug. 20.

The Center for Law and Justice, one of the groups that sponsored a petition drive to get the charges dropped, hosted a press conference after Soares’ announcement. “The DA didn’t do Ellazar Williams any favors by dropping the charges. There was no evidence to support them,” Alice Green, the center’s executive director, told the press.

“I think it was the more than 2,000 signatures we got from the community” said Jamaica Miles, state organizing director of Citizen Action, “that got DA Soares to drop the charges.” A county grand jury had cleared Olsen of any wrongdoing Dec. 14, following a 16-week investigation led by Soares. The investigative unit included at least six former employees of the Albany Police Department. Olsen is Caucasian. 

Olsen told investigators that Williams charged at him carrying a hunting knife and he had to shoot to defend himself. Williams had been charged with menacing a police officer, a felony. 

On Dec. 17, Williams’ attorney James Knox released a video clip that clearly shows Williams running away as Olsen shoots him in the back from a distance of 20 feet.

Even District Attorney Soares had to admit there was no indication Williams ran at the cops. “That was not the evidence that was presented to the grand jury,” he told the press Dec. 14.

Knox filed a lawsuit against Olsen and other cops, charging them with excessive force, false arrest and other charges. Olsen retired Jan. 4. 

Williams’ companion Katia West spends most of her time taking care of him. She quit her two jobs to do so, organizing his medications, giving him shots, dressing his wounds and getting food. The cop’s bullet is still lodged in Williams’ spine. 

They told the Albany Times Union  they’ve gotten a lot of help from Alice Green and others who fought to get the charges against him dropped.

Williams and West are trying to get a motorized wheelchair, accessible housing and adequate food and medical supplies. With Green’s help, they’ve set up a fund: the Ellazar Williams Donation Account, SEFCU, 700 Patroon Creek Blvd., Albany, NY 12206. 

The petition drive was supported by more than 10 organizations, including the Center for Law and Justice, the Albany NAACP, Capital Area Action Against Mass Incarceration, Citizens Action of New York and the Socialist Workers Party.

There have been a number of fights against police brutality in the area over the last couple of years. Protests were organized to respond to the 2017 shooting of Dahmeek McDonald and the police killing of Edson Thevenin in 2016 in Troy, New York, across the Hudson River from Albany. 

In nearby Schenectady, cops were caught on video slamming Nicola Cottone’s head onto a bench while her hands were cuffed behind her back in 2016. Cottone won a $360,000 settlement this past October.