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Newly released body cam footage by Wytheville police officers responding to the scene of the alleged assault by Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, against Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, at a Republican fundraiser last weekend shows that Williams was initially uncooperative when the officers confronted him with the allegations, refusing to state his name and telling them that he would leave, unless he was being detained.
“Am I in custody?” Williams asked Officer Tommy Lester after he inquired about the incident that had occurred just minutes earlier. “You can be, until we figure it out,” Lester responded.
The two video clips were obtained by Cardinal News as part of a Freedom of Information Act request on Tuesday. They also offer a different perspective, including sound, of surveillance video released yesterday showing March explain to the officers her version of what had transpired.
March on Saturday pressed criminal charges for assault and battery against Williams, her likely opponent in a Republican nomination contest after the Virginia Supreme Court in December approved a new legislative map that put both lawmakers in a newly drawn district.
According to the warrant, the incident occurred at around 8:30 p.m. at the 9th Congressional District Gala at the Wytheville Meeting Center – an event was also attended by Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem. March told law enforcement officers that Williams “intentionally pushed/shouldered slammed” into her “in front of a large group of people.”
Williams has denied the allegations, stating that he was on his way to leave the event with his pregnant wife when he accidentally bumped into March before exiting the venue. Surveillance video of the incident shows Williams work his way through a group of people, but it did not capture anyone being body-slammed or stumbling.
Immediately upon his departure, Williams was stopped by Lester, the Wytheville police officer, as he was about to get into his truck. Williams can be seen turning around and slowly walking towards him.
“Sir, did something happen inside?” Lester asked. Standing with his arms crossed, Williams uttered a brief “no.” Lester asked whether Williams had bumped into someone inside, but the lawmaker remained defiant. “I’m not gonna speak to you anymore, I’m a lawyer, I don’t have to talk to you. I’m gonna get in the car. And I’m sorry that she is telling you these things,” Williams said, referring to the allegations leveled at him by March.
When Lester asked for his name, Williams refused. “I don’t have to answer that. I’m sorry, I’m leaving,” he said.
When asked on Tuesday about the body cam footage showing his encounter with Officer Lester, Williams said in a text message that he was “understandably frustrated and caught off guard by the ridiculous spectacle” that he said March was creating.
“I am also a criminal defense attorney by trade and understand what can happen when falsely accused people speak emotionally in these situations – especially considering that at this point I had no idea that the video that entirely vindicates me even existed,” he said, referring to the surveillance footage released Monday evening.
“I conducted myself in exactly the way that I would advise any of my falsely accused clients to conduct themselves in that kind of situation,” Williams said.
March said in a text message Tuesday that the body camera footage shows Williams “carefully choosing” his words. “He states that he did not act ‘intentionally,’ however he did not deny the action itself. In addition to his attempts to avoid legal responsibility, he released an incomplete and grainy video in an attempt to conceal his actions. The truth will prevail.”
The footage shows Lester pressing on. Williams eventually told him that he “did not do anything intentionally” to March. “I walked through the door,” he said, adding that he and March were both members of the House of Delegates facing each other in a fight for their party’s nomination to represent a newly drawn district.
“I have a large number of people who don’t want me to win an election against Marie March. In fact, they are actually trying to rig a convention against me,” Williams said. “She would have you believe that I did something, which I did not. I have not intentionally done anything to Marie March. So if I am not in custody, I am gonna go to the car.”
Lester told Williams that he was free to go, but warned him that March might press charges. “We’re gonna have to figure it out. If she feels like she needs to do anything, she can, okay,” he said.
The video then shows Lester discuss the incident with another officer, Ernest Williams, who had talked to several witnesses inside. “He walked by and knocked into her, intentionally, knocked her off balance, in front of a whole group of people and kept walking. As you know he did people in high school,” Williams said to Lester.
Back inside the Meeting Center, Lester talked with March amid a group of her supporters and staff members. “And what is his name?” he wanted to know.
“His name is Wren Williams, and ironically we’re running against each other,” March said. “He had a little fit with one other man, he yelled at him and when he walked past me he slammed me as hard as he could, and it knocked me backwards.” The video shows March moving back and pretending to stumble. “Everybody saw it. Probably 20 people witnessed it,” she said.
Lester then asked March whether she wanted to press charges against Williams.
“Oh, absolutely. I’ve got to,” March said. “I don’t know if he’s lost his mind doing that in front of a group of people, but I mean I’m not gonna get picked on. And I’m also a state delegate, so we’re both in the General Assembly.”
Lester then offered to accompany March and her friends to the Magistrate’s Office, where she filed the charges later that evening.
“This is teenage stuff,” he said, as he walked out with the group.