OAKLAND, Calif. – A California man known for his anger over left-leaning politics said after a freeway shootout with CHP officers that he had been planning an attack on the ACLU and another nonprofit group, police said Tuesday.
Byron Williams, 45, a parolee with two previous bank robbery convictions, wanted to “start a revolution” by killing people at the American Civil Liberties Union and Tides Foundation, both in San Francisco, Oakland police Sgt. Michael Weisenberg said in court documents. The San Francisco Chronicle is referring to Williams as a Tea Party sympathizer.
The weekend shootout occurred during a 24-hour span in Oakland when a sniper shot at police officers from a high-rise building, and a Virginia man who had a job interview in the San Francisco Bay area was fatally shot in downtown Oakland by robbers who got away with just $17.
The spate of violence came just a week after budget problems led Oakland to lay off 80 police officers.
The Oakland Police Department is leading the investigation into the shootout, but no city officers were involved in the incident that occurred on Interstate 580.
The FBI joined the case after a binder entitled “California” was discovered in the truck driven by Williams and removed by a bomb squad robot, CHP spokesman Sam Morgan said.
Officer Jeff Thomason, an Oakland police spokesman, said the two nonprofit groups were targeted because of their political ideologies. The ACLU is a civil rights group, while the Tides Foundation says on its website that it works to advance progressive social change.
“It’s an unbelievable incident,” Thomason said, adding that authorities believe Williams was acting alone. “We’re very fortunate in the Bay Area that the CHP was able to stop him.”
Sitting in a wheelchair, Williams was arraigned Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court after being released from a hospital where he was treated for gunshot wounds to his arms and legs. He looked down and did not enter a plea as a judge read the charges — four counts of attempted murder on peace officers, plus weapons and body armor enhancements.
The judge also noted that Williams’ two previous convictions for bank robbery could make him eligible for life in prison under California’s Three Strikes Law if he is convicted in the CHP shootout.
No CHP officers were seriously injured in the incident.
Williams was wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with three guns, including a rifle, as he traveled to San Francisco late Saturday night in his mother’s Toyota Tundra, police said. He is accused of opening fire on California Highway Patrol officers who approached his truck after pulling him over for speeding and weaving in traffic.
Williams surrendered and was arrested after a 12-minute gunbattle with 12 officers, most of whom responded as Williams reloaded several times, police said. Morgan said about 150 rounds were fired during shootout.
Williams had “made a decision that he would not be arrested and that he was willing to shoot and kill the officers,” according to the probable cause statement filed in court.
During a police interview at the hospital, Williams said he had planned to camp out in San Francisco on Sunday night then begin his attack when the ACLU and Tides Foundation opened Monday, Thomason said.
Christine Coleman, spokeswoman for the foundation, said the organization had taken additional security measure to protect its staff.
“We had never heard of this man before,” Coleman said. “We cannot speculate about the incident while the investigation is going on.”
Phone calls to the ACLU of Northern California were not immediately returned.
Williams also told investigators he was upset because he had not been able to find a job and because of the poor economy, Thomason said.
Williams’ mother, Janice Williams, told the San Francisco Chronicle her son had been angry with “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.”
A phone message left for Janice Williams by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.