JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The City of Johnson City has filed a response in answer to a lawsuit claiming the City and individual members of its police department mishandled alleged rapes.
On Friday afternoon, City Manager Cathy Ball addressed members of the media and stated the city’s official legal response to the litigation was posted to the city’s website. Ball’s full media briefing can be viewed below.
“We feel like it’s critical that people get all of the factual information, and I know that it’s not our nature to be patient, but there are facts in this case, facts in the cases that we have that need to go through a lawsuit,” Ball said. “There’s just a due diligence process that’s required in order to make sure all parties are served.”
The federal civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine “Jane Does,” all of whom claim to have been sexually assaulted by Sean Williams, a former Johnson City business owner-turned-fugitive who was arrested in North Carolina in April.
The lawsuit claimed that members of the Johnson City Police Department were aware of Williams’s alleged crimes and allowed him to “get away with it,” which the City denied in its filed response. Additionally, the lawsuit claimed the City violated Title IX, the police department violated the state’s Tort Liability Act in its response to the Jane Does’ allegations and the department failed to properly train and supervise officers.
The lawsuit, filed in June, seeks a jury trial, attorney’s fees and compensatory damages.
The answer to the lawsuit from the City includes 14 listed defenses to the claims made by the Jane Doe plaintiffs. Among those are defenses stating that the plaintiffs are “time barred” by the state’s statute of limitations, the City was not alleged to be an educational institution capable of violating Title IX and the conduct of the Jane Does puts them at “comparative fault.”
The answer also denies several of the claims made throughout the Jane Doe lawsuit and acknowledges others in part. You can read the entire response below:
“We hired attorneys to be able to defend us and under their obligation, their responsibility, and their oath, they are required to try to provide the best defense they can to the city,” Ball told members of the media.
When speaking Friday, Ball said there were two issues related to the answer that the City wanted to address. The first was that to date, Ball said the City has not been served with the lawsuit. Typically, Ball said, the parties named in a civil lawsuit are served within five to seven days of its filing.
“So that’s an uncommon fact,” Ball said. “It is within the – my understanding, I’m not an attorney, I’m here as the city manager of Johnson City – but that is very uncommon. We have taken a very proactive approach on behalf of trying to expedite the process, the legal process for the victims, for the plaintiffs, for everybody concerned in providing an answer to this lawsuit.”
Ball also addressed the matter of “comparative fault” listed as a defense in the City’s answer to the lawsuit. She said the city’s attorneys must use all the options available to them, including that of using comparative fault as a defense for the City.
“There are allegations that are made by Jane Does, and in that factual information that they provide it indicates that they consumed and partook of illegal drugs during the course of that time period with visit, and that is contained within the information that they provided in the lawsuit,” Ball said. “So as part of the defense under a civil lawsuit, our attorneys are using comparative fault as a fact that is included within that.”
Ball said the city’s attorneys listed the Jane Does’ use of illegal substances in case it was ever needed as a defense later throughout the lawsuit’s duration.
“It’s important for us to acknowledge that and also support the fact that our attorneys are responsible, obligated from an ethical standpoint to do that, and we’re responsible as public servants to be able to take that recommendation, to be able to assert that within our claim,” Ball said. “However, I want to point out very clearly, and it is really for us – we want to make sure the public understands this – there is a civil case against the city. There’s the way our police department handles criminal cases, and in criminal cases, there is never any good reason that anybody ever deserves to be raped.”
Ball went on to say that the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) investigates all rape and sexual assault allegations without bias.
Following a public outcry, the JCPD underwent an audit of its handling of sexual assault cases by the Daigle Law Group. That audit found shortcomings within the department’s policies and procedures, and Ball said Friday that the JCPD has continued to address those and work toward a higher standard.
For complete and ongoing coverage of the Sean Williams Case and other related lawsuits, click here.