JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Kateri “Kat” Dahl’s federal lawsuit against Johnson City and its police department brought alleged serial rapist Sean Williams into the public eye 16 months ago.
Now, in their first substantive filings in more than a year, her attorneys in a case centered around federal fugitive Williams — who escaped from a federal transport van in Greeneville on Oct. 18 and remains at large — want to amend the case and be allowed to speak to the media.
Hugh Eastwood and Alexis Tahinci filed a motion Monday to amend the lawsuit, originally filed on June 23, 2022, in the Eastern District of Tennessee.
“Dahl seeks to amend her complaint based on two reasons,” attorneys Eastwood and Tahinci write in their Oct. 23 motion to amend. “(T)he flurry of events that continue to occur outside the four corners of this case, and information gleaned in discovery, particularly in two lengthy days of depositions the week of October 16, 2023.”
A day later, they filed a motion claiming that “extrajudicial statements to the press by Johnson City and Sean Williams” justify allowing her attorneys to “be able to make limited statements to protect (Dahl) from the substantial undue prejudicial effect of recent publicity…”
Within the motion, Dahl’s attorneys reference standard federal court protocol, which does not permit attorneys in a federal case to make statements to the media while a case is ongoing, except within very strict limits.
The motion claims Johnson City, particularly through City Manager Cathy Ball, has made numerous on-the-record statements and that “some of those statements are false and/or misleading and/or will cause substantial undue prejudicial effects to Dahl.”
News Channel 11 reached out to the City of Johnson City for a response or statement regarding the motion and proposed amendment to the suit. The city provided the following response:
The City will file its response to both the Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend her Pleadings as well as the Plaintiff’s Motion for Relief from E.D. Tenn. Local Rule 83.2 to permit counsel to speak publicly as permitted by Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 3.6(c) with the court. The responses will be available to the public when they are filed.Keisha Shoun, Director of Public Affairs for the City of Johnson City
‘Flurry of activities’ since 2022 filing — the amended complaint
The original complaint accuses the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) of firing Dahl, a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, in retaliation for her insistence that JCPD broadens an ammunition investigation into Williams to include a string of alleged rapes.
The City, the JCPD and former Chief Karl Turner, also a defendant, have denied all of Dahl’s claims. Williams, who had been on the run for more than a year over federal ammunition charges when Dahl filed suit, was arrested in North Carolina in late April of this year and charged with drug trafficking.
Digital evidence (including thumb drives) allegedly found on Williams in that April 29 Cullowhee, N.C. arrest, authorities now claim, includes images of Williams reportedly raping more than 50 apparently drugged women and sexually assaulting at least three children. Williams was indicted on three federal child pornography counts on Sept. 12, a day after his state indictment on multiple child rape and child sexual exploitation charges.
The motion to amend references those events, as well as what it describes as a “blistering report” by Eric Daigle, a police expert retained by Johnson City in late 2022 who audited JCPD’s handling of sexual assault cases between 2018 and 2022. It also cites a second federal lawsuit filed against the city and JCPD in June 2023 on behalf of nine alleged Williams victims.
“In other words, subsequent events have borne out the truth of many of Dahl’s allegations,” the motion reads.
It also points to “evidence learned or confirmed” during the discovery process, including in depositions conducted in June and again last week — the same week Williams escaped.
A red-lined version of the amended complaint has been filed in the federal court’s PACER system, showing deletions and additions.
In addition to covering significant new details, it would dismiss three “John Doe” defendants — the police officers who initially went to Williams’ apartment on May 5, 2021, to attempt to serve a federal warrant. The three were named in count three of the suit, which alleged a Civil Conspiracy Count between them and Turner to protect Williams in a manner that ultimately violated Dahl’s Constitutional rights.
The amended complaint would add a count against Johnson City related to the National Defense Authorization Act, alleging Johnson City mismanaged federal funds related to her employment and its investigation of Williams.
The motion to amend specifies that all the defendants are aware of the amended complaint and have indicated to the plaintiffs’ lawyers that they don’t consent to it. It will be up to Judge Katherine Crytzer whether or not to allow the amended complaint.
Attorneys say case is a special circumstance — want to talk publicly
The Eastern District of Tennessee’s federal court rule 83.2 generally limits attorneys from any statements outside the courtroom other than quotations from or references to public records. However, section ‘c’ of that rule provides for special orders “in Widely Publicized or Sensational Civil and Criminal Cases.”
Eastwood and Tahinci cite that rule, giving multiple examples of publicity both on the local and national levels to reinforce their motion to speak to the media regarding the lawsuit.
They also cite Tennessee Rule 3.6 (Pretrial Publicity) in part (c). That section allows lawyers to “make a statement that a reasonable lawyer would believe is required to protect a client from the substantial undue prejudicial effect of recent publicity not initiated by the lawyer or the lawyer’s client.”
As examples, the motion spends seven pages describing statements Cathy Ball made to the media on six different occasions between July 2022 and August 2023, which the motion claims amount to prejudicial publicity. Some but not all those statements directly refer to Dahl’s case, but they do all refer to Williams and the JCPD.
The city and its attorneys have not yet had time to file any response to the claims.
The first referenced statement came on July 20, 2022, in an interview with News Channel 11. The motion cites Ball saying “The city’s own internal reviews haven’t shown evidence in police records of multiple women reporting sexual assault allegations against one individual, as the Williams suit alleges.”
Regardless of whether Ball knew at the time, the motion calls her statement “false or misleading.” It references the City’s own answer to the lawsuit one month later, in which it admitted two specific rape reports made against Williams to the JCPD, and claims at least six women made complaints to the city about Williams’ alleged sexual assaults during the time period when Dahl worked there.
The motion quotes five additional statements from Ball and labels three of them “false or misleading,” one “misleading” and one “confusing and misleading, and in one case false.”
The motion lists bullet points after each statement to provide what it claims is evidence of the false or misleading nature of the statements.
The motion also lists statements Williams himself made to a Fox News digital reporter in written responses to a jailhouse interview. Williams called Dahl “‘the fired federal prosecutor with a chip on her shoulder'” who “engaged in a ‘witch hunt.'” The interview also quotes Williams as saying his case “‘wasn’t about assaults, it was about drug money and extortion coverup … and Kat (Dahl) knew it.'”
The motion claims the statements cast aspersions on evidence related to the case and on the character or credibility of Dahl as a party to the case and that they’re “likely to interfere with a fair trial of this action.”
It lists four key issues related to the case that it alleges Johnson City made false or misleading statements about between July 2022 and August 2023 and claims the “truth of those issues goes to the credibility and accuracy of Dahl’s allegations against the City.”
The motion requests permission for Eastwood or Tahinci to issue statements “‘limited to such information as is necessary to mitigate the recent adverse publicity.'”