GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A federal civil lawsuit filed Wednesday claims Johnson City police knew a downtown business owner drugged and raped multiple women and that they “let him get away with it.”
The lawsuit with nine “Jane Doe” plaintiffs seeks damages against Johnson City, former Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) chief Karl Turner, two other named officers and six yet unnamed officers.
It lays out timelines and details in each of the nine alleged victims’ cases, including the case of one woman who died after crashing her car while allegedly still incapacitated by drugs and distraught over something that had occurred at Williams’s downtown apartment.
The suit claims a JCPD pattern of failure to investigate Williams’s alleged crimes against women starting at least as early as 2018 up to mid-2021. On May 5, 2021, Williams went on the lam following an attempt by JCPD officers to arrest him on a federal warrant for being a felon in possession of ammunition.
The lawsuit claims violations of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution as well as violations of the alleged victims’ rights to due process. It also claims the city violated Title IX, and that the JCPD’s handling of numerous allegations was done “with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs with a purpose to harm that was unrelated to any legitimate law enforcement objective.”
“JCPD’s actions evidence a sex-based bias against female crime victims,” the suit reads. “These actions, known and authorized by Johnson City, Tennessee, were knowing, reckless, negligent, and deprived Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, as well as their rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and the common law.”
The six-count suit also includes a claim that JCPD violated Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act through negligence in its response to women’s allegations, and claims that the JCPD was negligent in failing to both train and supervise its officers. The result, the suit claims, was that when made aware of complaints JCPD officers and employees “failed to investigate those complaints, and failed to protect female citizens of Johnson City from further criminal activity from Williams.”
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, attorney’s fees, and unspecified compensatory damages.
Connection to earlier lawsuit
The suit says most alleged victims learned their experiences were not unique after Kateri Dahl, a former federal prosecutor who had worked with the JCPD through an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office, filed her own federal suit related to Williams in June 2022.
That suit also mentioned Williams’s alleged sex crimes and the JCPD’s alleged failure to pursue them adequately.
Eight of those women ended up contacting Vanessa Baehr-Jones, the primary plaintiffs’ attorney in this case. The ninth is deceased and represented by family members.
Based on interviews with the plaintiffs, attorneys allege that Williams, with the aid of a male friend and at least one woman, recruited women and brought them to a downtown garage he owned and his downtown apartment, “where he would drug and sexually assault them.”
While accounts differ in some ways — some women reported to the police, others didn’t, some had rape tests done — there are common themes.
They include a pattern of Williams’s “conspirators” bringing women up to parties at his apartment; women being handed drinks from separate bottles or given cocaine on different trays than those used by Williams and male guests; and women losing consciousness and/or control of their bodies to some degree.
There are also several allegations of Williams holding women at his apartment against their will or telling them they were too incapacitated to leave, either before or after he had allegedly assaulted them.
The accounts include numerous references to JCPD officers not following through on requests for investigations after reports of assaults by Williams.
Jane Doe 2 allegedly was administered a rape kit at an urgent care in November 2019 and provided a statement to two JCPD officers at that time.
“Jane Doe 2 did not hear anything more from JCPD for a year and a half,” the suit alleges.
Detective Toma Sparks then allegedly called Jane Doe 2 in May 2021 and told her she had benzodiazepine in her system the night of the alleged assault. The rape kit also showed another person’s DNA present in the sample collected, the suit says.
“After relaying this information, Detective Sparks discouraged Jane Doe 2 from pursuing charges against Williams,” the suit says. “He told Jane Doe 2 that even if he was able to get a warrant to collect and test Williams’ DNA, Williams would have to willingly submit to the testing, and he would never do that.
“In fact, this statement was false as a warrant would require Williams to submit to testing. Detective Sparks described Williams as ‘untouchable.'”
The suit says Jane Doe 2 still told Sparks she wanted to proceed with pressing charges and that she never received a response.
News Channel 11 emailed City of Johnson City representatives Wednesday afternoon following the lawsuit filing. Spokeswoman Keisha Shoun said the city needed to review the suit and would provide what comment it could after that.