A man who died after being stunned and arrested by Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies, following a vehicle pursuit into Baltimore County last week, had a history of brushes with the law, including one conviction for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
The dead man, Arvel Douglas Williams, 30, also had a second case involving an almost identical charge that he beat, when courts ruled the discovery of drugs in his car came as the result of a tainted traffic stop, ostensibly for illegally tinted windows. Both earlier cases, in 2003 and 2006, involved the Sheriff's Office.
Williams died on the evening of Aug. 20. The Sheriff's Office says he suffered an unknown medical emergency after resisting arrest and is suspected of having ingested cocaine.
Because the death occurred in Baltimore County, it is being investigated by the Baltimore County Police Department, which has not released any additional information.
Other than issuing its own statement about the incident, the Harford Sheriff's Office has thus far declined to comment on the case other than to say the deputies involved have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
The number of deputies involved and their names had not been released and as of Tuesday afternoon, none of them had been interviewed by the Baltimore County investigators, Sheriff's Office spokesperson Cristie Kahler said.
According to the statement, Williams — who had a Baltimore address but also had lived in Edgewood — and his vehicle were observed involved in suspected drug activity in the area of Routes 7 and 152 in Joppa around 8 p.m. on Aug. 20.
When deputies attempted to stop Williams' vehicle, he refused and drove off on Route 7 into Baltimore County. On Cowenton Avenue at East Joppa Road in Perry Hall, Williams crashed his Ford Ranger pickup truck into a Baltimore County Police Department cruiser that was assisting in the pursuit, disabling both vehicles, police said.
"Williams then exited the vehicle and resisted arrest," according to the Sheriff's Office statement. "Deputies were forced to deploy their Tasers in an effort to safely place Williams under arrest."
Following the arrest, according to the statement, Williams appeared to be in medical distress. He was uncuffed and CPR was administered by deputies until an ambulance crew arrived. He was taken to an unidentified local hospital where he was pronounced dead at 9:05 p.m.
According to the Sheriff's Office, Williams had a white powdery substance covering his face and more was found inside his vehicle. The substance was field tested and reacted positively for cocaine.
"Preliminary findings indicate Williams consumed the substance prior to being arrested," the Sheriff's Office's statement says.
No police officers or civilians were injured in the incident. Williams' body was taken to the Office of the State Medical Examiner in Baltimore for an autopsy.
According to court records, Williams had four arrests from the 2001-02 period for charges such as theft, obstructing and hindering police and second-degree assault. He was convicted of the latter charge and placed on probation. Charges in the other cases were dropped, according to court records.
In early 2004, Williams pleaded guilty to a single charge of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
He had faced three charges and a maximum of 33 years in prison stemming from a March 2003 search of a hotel room in Edgewood, where police say he was found in possession of cocaine and packaging materials. In their application for the warrant to conduct the search, members of the Harford County Task Force stated they had received confidential information about drug activity in the hotel room rented to Williams. The seized drugs were valued at $3,350, according to police.
Williams was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with all but three years suspended, plus five years of supervised probation, by then-Harford Circuit Judge Thomas Marshall. Court records indicate Williams was paroled in January 2005.
Early on the morning of May 8, 2006, Williams was stopped in his vehicle by a Sheriff's Office patrol deputy after exiting I-95 at Route 152 in Joppa.
According to court charging documents, Williams was stopped because the deputy believed his rear window tinting did not meet safety requirements. The charging documents also noted the deputy summoned backup because Williams had "numerous cautions to include resisting arrest, possession of CDS and armed with weapons."
The backup included a police dog, which conducted a narcotics scan of the exterior of Williams' vehicle. When the dog alerted, according to the charging documents, the deputies searched the inside of the vehicle and found suspected crack cocaine, powered cocaine and marijuana inside a shoe box, wrapped in a black plastic bag in the trunk of the Mercury sedan, according to the charging documents.
Williams was charged with multiple counts of drug possession with intent to distribute. His lawyer, Warren Brown of Baltimore, challenged the admissibility of the drug evidence on the grounds the traffic stop was not a basis for probable cause to search the vehicle.
Retired Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill, who conducted the suppression hearing, agreed and ruled the drugs inadmissible. The prosecution appealed, and on Sept. 7, 2007, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the Circuit Court, ruling in its opinion that the traffic stop was invalid because the deputy had no way to determine if the window tinting was illegal. The state then dropped all the charges against Williams.
In a phone interview Saturday, Brown said Williams was found with "a nice quantity of cocaine." Brown said he was surprised the courts threw out the drug evidence, though possibly not as surprised as Williams.
"He wasn't too happy with me early on the case, as I recall," the lawyer said. After he won the motion to suppress, however, Brown said Williams' "view turned around."
Brown said he had no direct contact with Williams in recent years but believes he once saw him working with the Downtown Baltimore organization that places street guides on along many of the streets near Brown's office in the city.
In a typewritten letter sent to Marshall from prison in March 2004 that is in the case file, Williams apologized for his illegal activity and asked the judge to modify his sentence in his first drug conviction so he could obtain his GED.
"I also want to work and start a new way of life for myself first and, one day, reach out to other young men," he concluded. The modification request was denied, the judge explaining Williams' plea bargain with prosecutors was binding and Marshall had no authority to change it.