Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Billy Aime believes his Good Samaritan and new friend, 56-year-old Vickie Williams-Tillman, saved his life Sunday morning.
His attack during a routine stop made him reflect on his fellow squad member Cpl. Montrell Jackson, who was fatally shot this past July. For Aime, there were some similarities with that tragic incident, such as the early morning hour and the fact that it occurred in a parking lot. Jackson was killed in a deliberate attack on law enforcement along with another police officer and an East Baton Rouge Sheriff's deputy.
"It happened on a Sunday morning, the same time as what happened to Montrell," Aime said Monday afternoon after a press conference honoring the actions of Williams-Tillman. "It was so many coincidental things that occurred… I'm just glad that nobody lost a life."
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But as Aime struggled with 28-year-old Thomas Bennett, a civilian came to his support, a woman he didn't know and he might never have crossed paths with otherwise. Now, the two are calling themselves family.
"I've got another family," Williams-Tillman said, her arm around Aime. "Baton Rouge, together as one."
Williams-Tillman was driving to do some shopping when she spotted Aime grappling with Bennett. A police report says that Aime conducted the stop after he saw drug paraphernalia in the parked vehicle where Bennett was sleeping. After Bennett got out of the car, the report says he became aggressive with the officer.
Bennett, of Albany, grabbed the officer's baton and hit him repeatedly on the head, a police spokesman said. He also bit one of the officer's fingers, the report says.
Bennett was not armed, but the man was reaching for Aime's holstered gun when Williams-Tillman began to assist the officer, taking the assailant's hand off the weapon and jumping on his back, said Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie. He said Williams-Tillman helped Aime regain control of the situation.
Vickie Williams-Tillman was on her way to Sam's Club and Walmart early Sunday morning, listening to gospel music, when she noticed a police officer struggling with a man on the side of Harry Drive. She rolled down her window to ask if the officer needed help, but she couldn't hear him respond. She did, however, lock eyes with him. "I could see in his eyes he needed help," said Williams-Tillman. "You don't have time to think about it … I did what God needed me to do."
Both Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Dabadie praised Williams-Tillman's actions as exemplary for how the community and law enforcement should interact and work together.
"Instead of turning a blind eye, she got involved," Broome said. "The citizens and the police have to work together, it's teamwork. Citizens have to be a part of the public safety equation."
Though Dabadie said his department doesn't usually recommend people get physically involved in altercations, he said it worked out in this case for everyone's safety and as a lesson.
"This is unbelievable from the stand point of bridging the gap between the community and the law enforcement agency," Dabadie said.
Williams-Tillman works in the cafeteria at the St. Jude The Apostle School and cleans office buildings in the evenings, she said. She stood, in heels, just over 5 ft. tall, but, she said she's always been a "tough cookie."
Dabadie joked his department might try to recruit her.
"She is a woman of little stature, but she showed us how big her heart is for this community," said Broome, smiling.
Aime said he had a slight headache Monday from the strikes to his head. Bennett was arrested Sunday evening on drug and battery counts.
"I can't tell you how much courage, how much bravery that took, for you to get out of your car," Dabadie said to Williams-Tillman. "We are indebted to you."
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