On the way to his job teaching middle schoolers on June 2, 1981, Ron Settles, a standout football player at California State University, was pulled over by Signal Hill police for speeding. The 21-year-old was arrested by police officers who claimed he refused to comply with them, claiming he refused to exit his vehicle or show his driver’s license. Settles was also said to have a knife and drug paraphernalia, according to the police.
According to media accounts, the officers arrested the teenage football player and accused him of assault with a lethal weapon on a police officer, possession of cocaine, and refusing to identify himself.
According to the New York Times, Officer Jerry Lee Brown later said in a media interview that he had assaulted Settles on the head and legs for being aggressive when he was being booked.
Settles was found dead in his detention cell three hours after his arrest. According to the authorities, he was badly assaulted and hanged with a rope made from a mattress cover. According to the authorities, it was a suicide. Surprisingly, the officers did not photograph the hanging but did photograph Settles on the floor, according to UPI at the time.
At a coroner’s inquest, Bernard Bradley, an inmate in the adjoining cell, would testify that there were no mattress covers in the cells. Settles, he alleged, told him he was terrified.
“I strolled through Settles’ cell on my way out, and he was sitting on his bunk, resting against the wall. I peeked in and spoke with him for a few moments, and I’m certain there was no mattress pad on that bunk. According to a UPI article, Bradley said, “There was nothing on that bunk.” “He was inquiring about how to get out of jail, how to post bail, and such. He admitted that he had never been in jail before and that he was terrified. He wished to be released from prison. He never said anything about killing himself.”
Settles had been voted “one of the most promising running backs on the West Coast” in multiple college football surveys at the time of his death. Helen Settles, his mother, told UPI that he doesn’t believe his son committed himself because he had “too much to live for.”
Protests in Settles’ hometown were held weeks following his death, spearheaded by activists and the local church. The Settles family also formed the Ron Settles Justice Committee and organized rallies to demand answers from authorities.
“The entire community was saddened by our loss. Strong Matthews, Settles’ uncle, claimed, “Stevie Wonder helped put together a benefit concert to gather money for the defense of this case.” “I feel many others in my community and ethnicity have been subjected to similar treatment, but it has gone unnoticed.”
Johnnie Cochran, who gained to national prominence during the O.J. Simpson case, represented the Settles family. Settle’s body was excavated by Cochran, and an autopsy revealed that he had been choked to death. In a civil complaint, the family was granted $760,000, while some accounts claim it was $1 million.
Following the affair, the police chief at the time resigned. After an eight-month investigation, no police personnel were charged with Settles’ death. During questioning, all six cops implicated in the case refused to comply, pleading the fifth. One of the main reasons members of the Settles family continue to fight for their relative’s justice is because of this. They are currently urging the community to sign a petition to City Hall requesting that June 2 be designated as a day of commemoration for Settles.
“Ron Settles is Signal Hill’s George Floyd,” said Signal Hill Mayor Edward Wilson at a memorial event for Settles on his 63rd birthday in June. “His death while in the custody of the Signal Hill Police Department is a tragedy for which the town of Signal Hill is still known.”
After Settles’ death, a lot of things changed in the city, which had a reputation for being racist. Reforms were also made to the police force. The pastor of the Antioch Church in Long Beach, Reverend Wayne Chaney, Jr., told the Signal Tribune, “You can no longer take someone in the jail cell without appropriate sight and accountability since he died.”
“There are cameras in holding facilities because he died. Because he died, comprehensive accounts of every use of force while he was imprisoned are required. We still have a long way to go, but because he died, hundreds of men and women who look like him will be able to see their families again, regardless of how long they were detained.”
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