GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Attorneys for nine “Jane Doe” plaintiffs in a sexual assault-related federal lawsuit against Johnson City and Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) have until Monday to provide the court the names of alleged victims and two unnamed witnesses.
Judge Cynthia Wyrick’s order also requires attorneys for both sides to meet and try to reach an agreement by Nov. 1 on a “protective order” that would lay the groundwork for defense attorneys to view the names.
If the parties can’t reach such an agreement, the judge wrote that she will craft a protective order herself, provide the names to the defense attorneys and “will at that time address whether the information shall be disclosed to Defendants themselves as well.”
That’s among two deadlines in the case, which alleges among other claims that the JCPD “knowingly failed to investigate” alleged sexual assaults by downtown business owner Sean Williams against multiple women over several years. The city, JCPD and several individual defendants from JCPD have denied all allegations contained in the suit.
The other deadline comes Wednesday, by which time defense attorneys must respond if they oppose the plaintiffs’ motion to allow its second amendment to the lawsuit to stand.
Wyrick’s order on the names stems from a Sept. 6 motion filed by attorneys for the City and the Johnson City Police Department (JCPD). They requested the judge approve a protective order that would allow both the attorneys and the defendants themselves — city leaders, JCPD and the four individual defendants — to view the names as well.
Attorneys for the nine Jane Does responded that they fully planned to provide names to the defense attorneys once they reached a “mutually agreed protective order.”
Defense attorneys responded with a claim that the plaintiffs were seeking to delay proceedings in the lawsuit, suggesting the amended motions and the delay in providing names showed “Defendants (sic) concerns of gamesmanship by the Plaintiffs are not illegitimate.”
They also referenced a motion to prevent city representatives from “extrajudicial comments” after a news conference by Johnson City City Manager Cathy Ball included an explanation of the planned defense to include “comparative fault.”
The defense attorneys wrote that when they asked for a 14-day extension to respond to that motion, they were “met with a quid pro quo bargaining chip instead of the customary unqualified profession courtesy.”
Wyrick referenced the implication that plaintiffs were seeking to delay the case in a footnote of her order that served as a warning to both sides.
“The court cautions all counsel involved in this case against making accusations about the motives of the other parties or their counsel unless they are prepared to provide evidence of improper conduct or motives,” she wrote.
She added that the case “involves very serious issues for all parties concerned” and involves issues “of a nature to invoke strong emotions for all parties.
“For these reasons, it is particularly important that counsel set the tone by engaging with one another in a civil manner which promotes public confidence in our judicial system.”
The second amended complaint adds a tenth “Jane Doe” whose claims that JCPD inadequately investigated her late 2021 case involved a different alleged perpetrator than Williams. It also splits alleged victims into two classes and opens the door for a potential class action.
Wyrick has ordered the defense to respond by Wednesday if it has any objections to that second amendment. If no response is submitted by then, the second amended complaint will be admitted.
Williams has been jailed since April 29 and though never charged with any crimes by the JCPD, now faces state and federal charges alleging he sexually assaulted three children in Johnson City and produced images of the alleged assaults. He also faces federal drug charges related to his April arrest in Cullowhee, N.C.