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C.P. Williams Memorial Page

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In Memory of a Fallen, Forgotten Hero:
Officer Charles P. Williams
Los Angeles Police Department
1920-1923

By Sergeant John Thomas
July 29, 1998

According to Department records, Oscar Joel Bryant, who was killed in the line of duty on May 13, 1968, is recognized as being the first African-American Los Angeles Police Officer killed in the line of duty. However, recently discovered newspaper accounts from January 1923 editions of the California Eagle and the Los Angeles Times both reported forty-five years earlier that another African-American Los Angeles Police Officer, Charles P. Williams, was shot and killed in the line of duty while working Central Vice on January 13, 1923.

Born March 3, 1887, in Wharton Texas, Officer Charles "C.P." Williams was appointed to the Los Angeles Police Department on August 13, 1920. Williams had previously earned a living as a waiter. Ironically, according to Department records, in September of 1920 he would have a brush with the Department disciplinary system after allegedly "threatening" a waiter and other restaurant patrons after being refused service in a local restaurant because he was black.

Upon appointment, Williams was assigned to Central Division which was the only place black officers could work in the days preceding the opening of Newton Street Division in 1925. Shortly after completion of his six month probation period, Williams was assigned to the division's Vice Squad where he worked the vice activities along Central Avenue, the heart of the City's black community. It would be while working Central Vice that Officer Williams would make the ultimate sacrifice.

On January 13, 1923, at approximately 9:30pm, a citizen on Central Avenue flagged down Officer Williams and his partner, Arthur McClanahan. The citizen reported to the officers that a male, black suspect, later identified as John Pryor, was at 1101 E. 8th Street brandishing a revolver and threatening the lives of the residents that lived at the location.

The officers were familiar with the location as a well-known house of prostitution. What they didn't know was that John Pryor had launched a one-man campaign to rid the neighborhood of this problem location. He had also been at the location on previous occasions brandishing the weapon and threatening the women working in the house. Pryor later confessed that he had telephoned police headquarters shortly before the officer's arrival to report the ongoing prostitution activity at the residence and would be awaiting responding officers' arrival near the location.

The two undercover officers along with the citizen who had flagged them down were enroute to the location when the vehicle they were driving broke down. For unknown reasons, Officer McClanahan remained with the disabled police vehicle while Williams and the citizen proceeded to walk to the location.

Upon reaching the corner of 8th Street and Stanford Avenue, the citizen saw John Pryor and directed Officer Williams to him. When Williams ordered Pryor to place his hands up, Pryor fired two rounds from his revolver striking Williams in the abdomen. Williams was able to fire one round from his service revolver striking Pryor in the leg before Pryor fled from the location.

As Williams laid fatally wounded, a truck driver arriving at the scene shortly after the shooting rushed him to the Receiving Hospital where he died from his injuries later that evening.

Within seven hours of the shooting, in a manhunt personally commanded by Chief of Police, Louis D. Oaks, John Pryor was arrested at his home less then a mile from the shooting. The investigation and subsequent arrest was conducted by a virtual "who's who" in Department African-American historical lore. This detail include Detective-Sergeants William Stevens, William Glenn, Homer Garrott, Littleton Mc Duff and Officers: Broady, Kimbrough, White, McClanahan, Robertson, Sheffield and Kent, all of whom would later become members of the renown Newton Street Detective Squad.

John Pryor later confessed that he shot Officer Williams in what he believed to be self-defense. According to statements made in his signed confession, he asserted his involvement in an altercation earlier that evening with another "male Negro" at the location. Pryor believed that when he fired at Officer Williams, he was defending himself from the person from the earlier incident.

In a highly publicized memorial service, Officer Charles P. Williams was laid to rest at Evergreen Cemetery on Friday afternoon, January 19, 1923. In attendance were dignitaries from throughout the city and included as a California Eagle writer would report, "Forty-two of the Department's colored uniformed officers." Officer Williams left behind a wife and a four year-old child. During the research for this article, it was discovered that Officer C.P. Williams was laid to rest in an unmarked grave. With assistance from the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, a proper and dignified memorial monument to this slain hero has been obtained and will be place and dedicated at his grave site on July 29, 1998.

Officer Charles P. Williams, like Oscar Joel Bryant and the 189 other known LAPD officers who have been killed since such records began being kept in 1906, have all distinguished themselves as dedicated public servants willing to place themselves in harms way to protect those in danger. In the highest tradition of the Los Angeles Police Department, Officer Charles P. Williams laid down his life in the ultimate fulfillment of his sworn duty, protecting and serving the citizens of Los Angeles. For that alone, we all owe a debt of gratitude for this sacrifice to our legacy.

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