September 24, 1953
Jury Sets No Blame In Lay Death;
McCollum Asks Grand Jury Probe
District Attorney's Probe To Continue
Witnesses Say Law 'Beaten By Officer'
After hearing two full days of testimony from almost 30 witnesses, a Coroner's Jury Tuesday night found that the blow of blows that killed a Chula Vista aircraft worker could have been inflicted in a bar room brawl and were not necessarily influenced by a Chula Vista police officer.
Most of the witnesses at the inquest, held at Hubbard's Mortuary here, testified that William Lay, 34, who, according to the county autopsy surgeon, died of a massive hemorrhage in the back of the neck, was beaten on the neck by Chula Vista police officer Hal King. They also said that Lay was involved in a fight inside Thompson's cafe, scene of the arrest and alleged "brutality."
Capacity crowds attended both Monday and Tuesday sessions of the inquest, and it was apparent that they were not pleased with the jury's decision.
Meanwhile a fund has been collected by employees at Rohr Aircraft Corporation, where Law was employed, and a newspaper ad, which appears elsewhere in this issue, calls for anyone knowing of any police brutality in Chula Vista to notify the "Rohr Employee Fund for William Lay" at 935 Bank of America Building, San Diego.
Earlier members of Lay's family, here from their native Missouri, secured the services of an attorney, David S. Casey, brother of the Casey brothers of Chula Vista, who have dental offices here.
Casey said after preliminary study and investigation of the Lay case, "this is the worst case of police brutality I have ever seen."
Last Thursday petitions were circulated among the employees of Chula Vista's Rohr Aircraft plant protesting Chula Vista police methods.
J.P. Boynton, president of local 755 International Association of Machinists, said that the Grand Jury will be asked to investigate the entire Lay case. Funds collected from his fellow employees for Lay was tabbed the "Rohr Employees' Fund for the William Lay Case," of which more than $400 had been collected at the last report late last week.
Included in the petitions that were circulated at Rohr, was the demand that the city council remove Chief of police B.T. McCullem, Sgt N.L. Harris and Sgt. Harley Cook, along with the (???) officers who arrested Lay, Hal King, Don Morrison and Fred Vernoy and Al Hazen.
The case actually began on Friday, September 11, when two police cars appeared in answer to a call at Thompson's Cafe on National avenue and G street.
The four police officers mentioned above arrested Lay for drunkenness about 11:30, took him to jail where he was booked. He was found dead in his jail cell moments later. The police matron was summoned and artificial respiration was administered to no avail. A physician was called in, and after the resuscitator was brought in from a nearby firehouse which also proved inadequate, the doctor pronounced Lay dead. Police records show that he died 24 minutes after he was booked.
Witnesses at the inquest were questioned by Deputy Coroner Bill Davis, in charge of the inquest; attorneys representing the lay family; District Attorney Don Keller, Deputy District Attorney William B. Enright and an attorney representing the City of Chula Vista. None of the four arresting officers testified from the stand.
Miss Marilyn Bright, Lay's fiance, was among those in the capacity audience. Others include his mother Mrs. Josie M. Lay of Maplewood, Mo.; two brothers Pfc. Marvin Lay and Russell Lay and a sister, Mrs. Billie Waters, of Valley Park, Mo.
Chief Pleased With Outcome of Inquest
Chief of Police B.T. McCollum has requested that the San Diego County Grand Jury make a complete investigation of the William Lay case, plus a full probe of the entire Chula Vista police department and the four officers who arrested the Chula Vista aircraft worker on the night he died in Chula Vista City jail.
In a letter directed to C.L. Christie, grand jury chairman, McCullom said that "in view of the conflicting testimony at the coroner's inquest and in view of the extent of the newspaper publicity, the citizens of Chula Vista are entitled to a complete investigation."
Chief McCollum told the Chula Vista Star yesterday that he was pleased with the outcome of the inquest and added that the outcome of the inquest "turned out the way I expected it would".
"I don't think even the Grand Jury will find that the Chula Vista officers exceeded their authority in making the arrest outside of the cafe on Sept. 11", the Chief added.
Earlier Chief McCollum had asked the FBI to make a "full and complete" investigation of the death of Lay. In a statement addressed to the head of the FBI officer in San Diego, McCullom said:
"There have been allegations by certain organizations and persons against members of the department, regarding police brutality in the case of William Maurice Lay, who was arrested for drunkenness and died while in the Chula Vista city jail.
"our department is making a complete investigation of the incident and I desire your office to fully and completely investigate the matter.
"All of my reports, statements, and other investigating material are at your disposal," he added.
Findings of Coroner's Inquest
We find it is the opinion of the Coroner's jury that the death of William Lay came about as cited in the medical examiner's report and it is the findings of this jury the evidence presented was not conclusive in proving that the blow or blows struck causing the death of William Lay were necessarily the blows administered by the Police Officers of Officer brought out in evidence, but could have been cause by a blow or blows received in a fight inside Thompson Cafe prior to the arrival of Police. It is the further opinion of the Jury that the evidence produced regarding the riot inside Thompson's Cafe was conflicting and inconclusive as to what events took place before the arrival of the Police Officers. It is felt that some of the actions of the participants which took place during the fight have been shielded from the jury by the witnesses, furthermore it is the opinion of the jury that it was more than coincidental that the witnesses were so clear in their testimonies as to what happened inside the cafe, at the same time were hazy as what happened inside the cafe, at the same time were hazy as to what happened inside t he cafe. It is the opinion of this jury that the actions of the Police Officers cannot be condoned in the light of the testimony presented by the witnesses and the absence of testimony by the Police Officers on the advice of their counsel and that undue force was used in placing William Lay in custody.
Chief Asks Grand Jury Probe
Mr. C.L. Christy,
9567 Poole Street,
La Jolla, California.
Dear Mr. Christy:
This is written to you as foreman of the San Diego County Grand Jury.
In view of the nature of the testimony, much of which is conflicting, which has been given before the Coroner's Jury inquiring into the death of Mr. William Lay, and considering the content and extent of the newspaper reports dealing with the Lay case, it is my opinion that the Grand Jury should investigate and report upon the whole matter. As Chief of Police of the City of Chula Vista, I request a complete investigation by the Grand Jury of my Department and of the Lay case and of the conduct of my Officers involved in the Lay case. I believe the citizens of Chula Vista are entitled to such an investigation. Please consider that you and the Grand Jury can depend upon the complete cooperation of the Chula Vista Police Department.
Very truly yours
Chief of Police