The city of Raleigh will pay $37,500 to a woman who alleged her civil rights were violated by a Raleigh police officer almost two years ago when she was wrongfully arrested at a downtown Black Lives Matter protest.
The city agreed to an out-of-court settlement this month with Nyee'ya Williams, who was 17 years old on June 18, 2020, when she was arrested by Raleigh police officers who dragged her to the ground and zip-tied her hands during an afternoon protest after she was accused of assaulting a police officer.
Attorneys with Emanicpate NC, a civil rights group representing Williams, notified the city in June 2021 of an intent to sue. The letter said an officer violated Williams' civil rights by wrongfully arresting her with the use of force after he "falsely stated she had committed a felony assault against him."
But the city agreed to settle the dispute without a legal complaint or lawsuit being filed. Williams was never charged with a crime.
Williams, now 19, said the settlement brings mixed feelings.
"The money is nice, you know, because you admitted you're wrong," she told The News & Observer in an interview.
"But what did that do? No amount of money can change what I felt that day," she said, adding that "no amount of money can bring back the people" who Raleigh police have fatally shot in recent years.
The 2020 protest came just a few weeks after George Floyd, a Black man, died in Minnesota while in custody of a white police officer. Across the country and in Raleigh, frequent demonstrations called attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, racism and those who had been killed by police.
"The names that we were chanting that summer, those officers got off, they're still patrolling and they still have their badge," she said, citing Keith Collins and Soheil Mojarrad - two men who were killed by Raleigh police officers in 2019 and whose deaths prompted protests.
Body camera footage from the day of the 2020 incident shows that Williams did not assault Raleigh Police Sgt. Brian Scioli. The video shows a verbal confrontation between Williams and Scioli. Afterwards, he is heard instructing other officers to arrest "the little girl with the megaphone," according to body camera footage.
A video of the incident went viral on social media, which depicted Raleigh police swarming a group of protesters near the intersection of Edenton and Dawson streets.
The video prompted then-police Chief Cassandra Deck Brown to publicly announce her concern for officers' behavior and order an internal investigation.
Deck-Brown said Williams, who was released to her parents, would not be charged with a felony for assaulting an officer. The chief also said she asked the district attorney to dismiss a charge filed against a second woman during the incident.
The police department also asked a judge to allow the release of body camera footage from the incident.
City spokeswoman Julia Milstead declined this week to comment on the settlement.
Money for the settlement comes from a reserve fund allocated for risk management, said Dottie Kibler, a deputy attorney with Raleigh city attorney's office. The city also has insurance coverage that can apply to settlement claims.
Denouncement of Raleigh police's behavior
Williams, who is Black, actively participated in protests that summer against police brutality and racism surrounding Floyd's murder. She was a junior then at Raleigh Charter High School.
The first two Downtown Raleigh protests following Floyd's death turned violent with vandalism and looting. But the violence and harsh response from police in riot gear stopped afterwards, and protests were largely without incident the rest of the summer.
In the letter to the police department's attorney, Emancipate NC attorney Ian Mance laid out key facts in the case, including that the incident was captured on multiple video cameras, led to Deck-Brown holding a news conference the next day and brought physical and mental injury to Williams.
In a tweet the night of the incident, the police department said, "Officers arrested a juvenile female who assaulted a law enforcement officer as he tried to get a group to stop obstructing traffic," The N&O previously reported.
The video shows Williams blocking Scioli on his motorcycle and yelling at him before he rode away. As he left, he ran over her foot, according to Williams and her attorneys.
Not long after, she tells Scioli that his motorcycle ran over her foot, and she asks him for his badge number. Scioli later directs officers to approach a marching crowd and detain her.
"It's going to be the little girl with the megaphone, right in the back corner," he says while on his motorcycle.
Williams is seen in body camera footage being dragged by officers on the ground briefly around protesters who try to intervene in a scene that turned chaotic.
"She's a minor!" one person is heard shouting, according to the video. Others shout that Williams "didn't do anything."
Officers handcuffed her in plastic zip ties and put her into the back of a windowless van with another arrested protester. She slammed into the side of the van as officers "drove aggressively," the letter said.
In police custody, officers searched Williams' bookbag without her consent and did not find anything illegal in her possession, according to Mance's letter.
Mance's letter said Williams was held in police custody for four hours before being released. While being arrested, Mance said she suffered a panic attack.
She sought medical attention the next day for her foot, which Williams and her attorney say suffered a minor sprain.
"I haven't had this happen too many times as a lawyer where the case gets resolved without (any legal complaints) ever getting filed," Mance said in an interview with The N&O last week.
"We had this situation where the police chief had commented," said Mance. "I think that that accounts for some of how this played out, because it's not often that I have a case where the police chief weighs in ... commenting on the public record. It was clear that the chief was concerned, as she said, by the videos."
The police department concluded their investigation of Scioli and said its results were not public record, a spokeswoman told The N&O last week. Scioli remains employed at the department, the spokeswoman said.
'Because of the color of my skin'
Despite an arrest that left Williams shocked, she continued to participate in downtown Raleigh protests that summer.
"The reason I do protesting is because I knew that I can always be the subject of police brutality because of the color of my skin," Williams said. "After (the arrests), the protests subsided because, of course, no one's wants to get arrested. And that's what they wanted. They wanted the noise to dial down. But that's also what made me continue to go out even after that."
The confrontation with police during a day of peaceful protests that Thursday afternoon didn't surprise her, she said.
Williams said she thinks she was targeted for arrest because Scioli felt threatened when she confronted him that day and asked for his badge number, which he declined to do, according to her testimony and body camera footage.
"That's one of the biggest problems with police misconduct now - feeling like you can use your badge to do whatever you want," she said.
After video of her arrest received attention, Williams said she was harassed online and once in person at her former job as a Harris Teeter grocery store cashier, she said.
She said receiving payment two years after the incident doesn't make her feel vindicated. She said she knew she wasn't guilty of any crime.
"No amount of money is going to ever be able to take away the feelings that I felt that day, nor will it ever help the anxiety that I feel around officers or the psychological damage," Williams said.
In the summer of 2020, she was featured in an N&O profile of Raleigh protesters as one of the young voices speaking out at downtown demonstrations.
"I feel uncomfortable every single day," she said then. "I feel uncomfortable walking past police officers, I feel uncomfortable when I'm walking on the sidewalk and white people won't move to let me walk. I want you to feel uncomfortable, I want you to feel how I feel."
Law enforcement agencies spent more than $2 million during George Floyd protests