Edward Williams’ jaw clenched and his eyes swelled with tears as the police video raced him back to 1996.
For the first time, after nearly 18 years, he’s seeing the dash cam replay of his arrest and his mind flashes back: the pepper spray, the relentless baton strikes, the kicks and finally, he says, the lies.
To Williams, the video is vindication — clear proof that he didn’t assault a group of police officers, as they claimed during his trial in Summit County Common Pleas Court.
But the jurors who convicted him never saw the video. His defense attorney, he said, never saw it.
In fact, prosecutors have apparently never viewed the video either.
Rather, the digital images are just one of many secretly taken — and ultimately concealed and withheld from evidence — by former Akron police officer Donald Schismenos.
“I’ve been bitter to this day, to be honest with you. It still hurts,” Williams said in an interview Monday.
This latest revelation shows that the library of videos — hundreds by some accounts — that Schismenos stored on his work computer date back longer than four years, as originally identified by Akron police.
The Williams video also represents another example of potentially exonerating evidence withheld by Schismenos.
It remains unclear when Summit County prosecutors saw the Williams video, which was recently released to the Beacon Journal by the city of Akron as part of a public records request.
Last week, county prosecutors identified just one instance — in 2012 — where they notified a defense attorney about videos made — and withheld — by Schismenos.
No further action was taken, despite private concessions from the assistant prosecutor that the withheld video could have exonerated the man.
Williams, however, becomes the second defendant to come forward complaining that neither police nor prosecutors have ever contacted him about the hidden video evidence.
A spokeswoman for Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh did not immediately comment on Monday.
Police have been aware of the videos since about 2011, when Schismenos was placed on paid leave after about 220 gigabytes of various recordings and documents were found on a city computer and stored by the former officer.
Schismenos resigned in December and has not been charged with any crimes.
The Williams video shows the Akron man and his wife, Theresa, being stopped by Schismenos and his partner in October 1996 as the family made their way to the hospital with their 9-month-old child.
Williams said he was stopped for driving a car with a burned out license plate light.
In the video, shot from the dashboard with an audio mic apparently attached to Schismenos’ uniform, the officers appear to doubt Williams when he says his baby is sick with asthma. Williams is then ordered out of his car.
At one point, the officers begin to drag him to the ground. He is then pepper-sprayed, punched and struck repeatedly with the officer’s baton.
“You didn’t know who you were messing with, did you?” Schismenos is heard talking to a subdued Williams.
Later in the video, as about 10 officers and two paramedics surround Williams, Schismenos is heard joking about his own broken watch, towing the family’s car and having Children Services take custody of the couple’s baby.
Later, Schismenos is heard telling officers to take Williams away so that the officer could speak to a supervisor about his use of force.
“I’ll give you my story and we should be OK,” the officer said.
Williams said the pain of that night — and the false testimony at his trial — has never left him.
The guilty verdicts for assault and resisting arrest are his only felony convictions, he said. He received probation and house arrest.
“Schismenos and those guys took a lot out of me that night and I didn’t do anything. Nothing at all,” Williams said. “But that whole thing cost me my life. I lost my job, I couldn’t find work for more than a year. I lost everything.”
Williams was represented at trial by Cleveland defense attorney Stanley Toliver, who died in 2011.
Williams said he remembers police saying they misplaced an audio tape from the arrest, but he doesn’t recall ever hearing about a video.
“I would remember seeing that,” he said.
Meeting with lawyer
Eddie Sipplen, an Akron attorney, met with Williams on Monday. Sipplen also represents Rashid Fitzgerald, whose 2006 arrest was also recorded — and later withheld from evidence — by Schismenos.
Sipplen said the volume of Schismenos’ covert recordings must be examined by an independent agency in order to learn the full scope of the officer’s actions.
His concern is that the civil rights of many may have been violated.
“I think we need to look at every case Schismenos was involved with and not just the ones being released by police and prosecutors,” Sipplen said.
It has taken the city of Akron four months to release a large portion of documents and recordings made by Schismenos. The Ohio attorney general, whose office investigated the case but failed to obtain a grand jury indictment, also released documents related to its investigation.
In Fitzgerald’s case, Schismenos secretly recorded the man handcuffed and tased and choking on a small bag of cocaine. The officers offer no aid other than ordering Fitzgerald to spit out the drugs, which he said he was unable to do.
At one point, Schismenos is heard saying: “I hope you die.” See that video here.
Fitzgerald said he did almost die. After the incident, he said he was hospitalized for four days with a collapsed lung and kidney failure. He first saw the video on Ohio.com on Sunday.
Police never shared the video with Sipplen, his trial attorney, while the case was pending. Fitzgerald eventually accepted a plea to avoid prison.
A spokeswoman for Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh said the office never received the Fitzgerald recording.
“I’m still in shock,” Fitzgerald said in an interview Monday. “They’re just standing there. In the tape, they’re saying that I’m dying and they knew I was dying and they didn’t help in any way.”