Two weeks ago, Robert Ellison was an energetic 20-year-old who spent his days on a basketball court and nights hanging out with friends.
Now paralyzed from the neck down, he struggles to breathe. There are tubes in his throat and metal pins in his head as he lies in a hospital bed.How and why he ended up this way has pitted police officers against residents in this coalfield community of 12,600 in southern West Virginia.
Did two white police officers shove the young black man to the ground with such force that he snapped his neck? Or was Ellison an out-of-control suspect who fell in a frantic attempt to avoid handcuffs?
The FBI has launched an investigation into the case.
"He was your normal happy, go-lucky young man," said an uncle, Willie John Ellison. "Now, in my opinion, they killed him, because he has no life."
On Sept. 17, police officer D.M. Dillow and Cpl. C.S. Myers responded to a report of vandalism in which Ellison, his brother Michael and two friends were named. The officers attempted to get Michael Ellison out of his car when Robert interfered.
According to police, Myers attempted to arrest Robert Ellison. He resisted, hitting Myers twice in the head. Ellison then lunged away, falling head first to the ground and pulling Myers with him, police said.
Minutes later, Ellison said he was injured. After the officers tried but failed to help Ellison stand up, Myers said he told him a rescue squad was on its way and to stay put.
However, Willie Ellison said when his nephew fell to the ground and said he could not move, the officers dragged him to the ambulance.
Witness Herb Petticord said Robert Ellison pushed and kicked Myers. But after the suspect fell, Myers tied his feet, handcuffed him and left him on the ground despite pleas of "Help me, help me. I can't move," Petticord said.
After the incident, shotgun blasts punched holes through City Hall windows and a fire was set in the jail.
Blizzard said Myers has never been in trouble at work. But three weeks before Ellison was injured, Myers shot and killed a man while on duty. The incident remains under investigation.