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The Investigators: Former Memphis police officer criminally charged for pepper spray incident

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 10:44 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A former Memphis police officer is now facing a felony after he repeatedly pepper sprayed a handcuffed man while on duty in 2019.

36-year-old William Skelton was indicted by a grand jury on an official oppression charge more than a year after the alleged crime took place.

The charge comes after the WMC Action News Five Investigators looked into dozens of excessive force complaints, and requested body camera footage of the incident involving Skelton.

The body camera footage shows Skelton pulling into a South Memphis gas station January 10, 2019. He was responding to a vandalism call.

Skelton encountered a then 28-year-old Drew Thomas, who had a history of mental health and drug issues, according to his family.

During Skelton’s second encounter with Thomas that night, the officer handcuffed him and put him in the back of his police vehicle.

“I said you’re under arrest ****** ******,” Skelton had said at the time. “Get the **** over here.”

After Thomas kicked Skelton’s window, the former officer pepper sprayed Thomas four times.

“Will you let the window down?” Thomas is heard asking.

“For you? Hell no,” Skelton said.

Skelton did not roll down the window for Thomas, nor did he or the other officers on scene respond to Thomas’ cries for help.

“Help! Help. Water!” Thomas yelled.

Skelton was later charged with excessive force and other violations by the Memphis Police Department’s Inspectional Services Bureau, but he resigned before his formal hearing could take place.

The Investigators looked through more than 120 excessive force complaints that had been filed against Memphis police officers between 2015 and 2019.

We found only two of those complaints were sent to the attorney general’s office for criminal review and that six officers were allowed to resign, including Skelton. Only one officer was shown to be terminated.

We didn’t find that a single officer was criminally charged during that time.

A grand jury indicted Skelton last November, less than three months after our initial report aired, but more than a year and a half after Thomas was repeatedly pepper sprayed at the gas station.

Skelton is facing an official oppression charge, which is a Class E felony and is used when a public official, acting under the color of office or employment, is accused of committing an offense.

Skelton was booked December 14, 2020 and released on his own recognizance. His next court date is May 19.

We reached out to Skelton’s attorney, who said through his assistant that he was tied up in court and could not respond.

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