News Channel 11 streamed the city’s press briefing Thursday afternoon live. A recording of the briefing can be viewed above. The following story will be updated with remarks made by the city manager.
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Johnson City leadership on Thursday discussed a federal civil lawsuit filed Wednesday against the city, its former police chief and several other officers.
Johnson City has not yet been served with a federal lawsuit accusing former Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) chief Karl Turner and other officers of mishandling rape and sexual assault allegations, City Manager Cathy Ball said at the briefing.
Ball had virtually nothing to say about the new lawsuit as a result, but she stressed that the JCPD “will continue to maintain integrity throughout our department, and we want victims to feel confident coming to the Johnson City Police Department.”
While Wednesday’s civil case, with nine alleged victims of former downtown business owner Sean Williams as plaintiffs, is brand new, Ball said the city has had a year to consider and begin implementing changes at the JCPD. That’s because Wednesday’s suit is the second federal suit against the city and JCPD officers that’s related to Williams, who plaintiffs claim drugged and raped multiple women with impunity.
In the first, former federal prosecutor Kateri Dahl claimed retaliatory discharge after she said she pressed JCPD to more seriously investigate sexual assault claims against Williams while she worked with the city in 2020 and 2021. The City has taken several actions since that suit was filed June 23, 2022.
“We heard from citizens who expressed concerns about how our police department investigated sexual assaults,” Ball said. “We took this concern seriously and immediately hired a national expert, an independent third party law firm (Eric Daigle) to review our processes and procedures. We are expecting the results from the Daigle Law Group within the next two weeks.”
While Ball reviewed several changes that the city and JCPD have enacted, she also said she has “every confidence in the Johnson City Police Department.”
She spoke of additions to the new budget designed to help improve police records, increase the number of investigators and improve transparency through a new public safety media officer. She lauded the new protocol for sexual assault cases implemented by First Judicial District Attorney General Steve Finney and said JCPD is following that protocol.
The city is also working to allow victims to be interviewed in a “special room” that is designed to make them feel more comfortable, and is working with victim advocates from the Child Advocacy Center.
“We will continually try to improve processes that we do,” she said. “I will tell you I’m very confident in the police department. I’m confident in our staff. I think we will continue to look at ways to make sure that our community feels safe.”
Ball was tight-lipped when asked questions about either Dahl’s lawsuit or the one filed Wednesday.
“They’re allegations, and we believe that as the court system moves through those will be proven (valid or not) in the court of law, and so I’m not going to address any allegations that were made as part of that lawsuit in any way.”
She said the JCPD “cares about victims.
“We have a support system, we’re continuing to work with our Family Justice Center, building a closer relationship with our Child Advocacy Center, because we want these victims to get the services they need when they come forward.”
An attorney representing the alleged victims told News Channel 11 she hoped criminal charges could still be placed at some point, given that the statute of limitations has not expired.
Asked if the JCPD would consider reviewing any past cases, whether related to Williams or not, Ball said “our police department does not have that discretion, nor would any good police department decide whether or not they’re going to revisit, open.
“That’s all decided by the district attorney’s office, by the criminal justice system. So those are not things that are flexible necessarily within our system. What I will tell you is, we want today to encourage victims to come forward and report crimes.”
The lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges the JCPD knew Williams had repeatedly “drugged and raped women in Johnson City” for years and “let him get away with it.” The lawsuit includes nine “Jane Does” (one of whom is deceased and is represented by family members) who claim Williams sexually assaulted them.
The suit claims the JCPD displayed a pattern of failure to investigate reports of Williams’s alleged sexual assaults in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. It also claims the city violated Title IX and failed to adequately train and supervise the JCPD.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, attorney fees and compensatory damages in an undisclosed amount.