WAS 14-YEAR-OLD Joseph Williams "brutally tortured" by Bucks County cops, as his mother alleges. Or did the ninth-grader take a nasty spill on his face when he was shot with a stun gun while fleeing police?
The Internet wants to know.
A grisly photo that Marissa Sargeant posted on Facebook on Friday - her son's swollen, bloody face after a shoplifting arrest last week in Tullytown Borough - went viral over the weekend and had been shared more than 43,000 times as of last night.
Supporters are demanding justice, calling it a horrific case of police brutality and comparing it to the Rodney King beating.
"The picture speaks 1,000 words. They brutally beat him," Sargeant said yesterday in her Levittown apartment. "If he did fall on his face, why does he have scrapes and bruises all over his whole face, everywhere. Why is his nose broken? Why is his nostril lifted off his face? Why is both of his eyes black and swollen?"
Sargeant said Williams is embarrassed to go outside or see people he knows, so he covers his face.
"Everywhere I go, everyone is staring at me," Williams said.
"I'm left with a child who's going to be physically damaged for the rest of his life," his mother said.
But Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said he has no reason to believe police acted inappropriately when they shot Williams with a stun gun when he escaped custody in handcuffs and started to run toward busy Route 13.
"He should have stopped when police told him to," Heckler said.
Police arrested Williams on Tuesday for shoplifting at a Walmart, according to Sargeant. She said he was coerced by an adult. One of the stun-gun barbs struck him in the face.
"You take off running at a full clip and someone pulls your legs out from under you, and you're cuffed from behind, you're going to break your fall with your face," Heckler said last night. "I could well believe that you'd have fairly substantial bruising, cuts and scrapes."
Heckler said there were eyewitnesses and possibly footage on a police dashboard camera that his office may review. Based on Williams' extensive facial injuries, Sargeant said she believes police assaulted him. But, she said, he was knocked unconscious and does not have a clear recollection of what happened.
Told of Heckler's explanation of falling, Sargeant responded: "That's impossible. Did he get up and fall 15 more times?"
Sargeant said she went to the Tullytown police station Tuesday after the arrest, but police wouldn't let her see her son. She said he was treated at Lower Bucks Hospital and told to sign off on his own medical treatment and discharge, then held at a juvenile-detention center.
"They didn't want me to see him," she said. "They wanted to hide him as long as they could."
Tullytown Police Chief Dan Doyle was unavailable last night, but told the Bucks County Courier Times on Saturday: "The police department is aware of the misinformation that has been circulating on social media regarding an arrest made by Tullytown officers. A thorough review of the incident is underway."
- Dana DiFilippo contributed to this report.