JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Before he was in jail for being an alleged sex offender who had purportedly videotaped and photographed himself committing dozens of rapes in his downtown Johnson City apartment, Sean Williams was a regular at Dos Gatos coffee shop.
That put Williams, the then-owner of Glass and Concrete Contracting, in frequent contact with Dick Nelson, who’s owned Dos Gatos on East Main Street and been a downtown resident and business owner for decades.
Thursday, after news Williams has been indicted on multiple child rape and aggravated sexual exploitation charges, Nelson talked about his perceptions of Williams — including an admission that while the charges concerning minors shocked him, allegations of sexual assault didn’t.
“He lived downtown. When we lived downtown, he would come in two or three or four times a day and get his drink (an iced mocha),” Nelson said.
He remembers Williams as a lucrative customer — “he pointed out one time, ‘I probably spend $3,000 a year here'” — but one who not infrequently had baristas remake his drink “if there was something he didn’t like about it.”
Nelson said Dos Gatos baristas “always want to make a drink perfect” and are happy to remake one, “but it’s rare for somebody one out of four times to say ‘this tastes like licorice.'”
Because Williams seemed to Nelson to be fairly unsociable when he and his partner saw him out occasionally, and terse in general — “borderline not interested in talking to anybody” — Dos Gatos staff “kind of dreaded to see him come through the door,” Nelson said.
But come through he did, week after week and year after year until he fled town after Johnson City police unsuccessfully tried to serve an arrest warrant on him in early May 2021. He also did some work on one of Nelson’s downtown buildings.
Nelson said prior to news breaking in June 2022 of Williams’ alleged misdeeds, while he didn’t witness any particularly shady behaviors, he did observe a few things that gave him pause.
“I mean, everybody would see him it seemed like with a different woman all the time,” Nelson said.
“One time I pointed out how skinny he was looking and he said, ‘too much hookers and cocaine,'” Nelson said. “And that could have been a joke — from a person with no humor.”
When former federal attorney Kat Dahl filed a lawsuit against the Johnson City Police Department in late June 2022 and alleged that Williams was a serial rapist, Nelson said the news actually didn’t shock him.
“A lot of times you hear about somebody in your neighborhood being indicted or convicted or accused of pretty horrible things and you say, ‘he always kept to himself, he was quiet … he was such a nice guy’ or something like that. But, you know, when this happened, it was not a very big surprise.”
That lack of surprise, though, occurred before the allegations that Williams had also sexually abused children. News Channel 11 first reported those last month after obtaining search warrant affidavits for digital devices Western Carolina University police allegedly found when they arrested Williams.
Those thumb drives and phones purportedly show video and images of not just adult women who appear to be drugged being sexually assaulted, but also at least three children, including a baby.
“I guess the surprise was how awful it was,” Nelson said, referring to the additional revelations about children.
“It’s pretty disgusting and it’s pretty sad. And, you know, I feel a degree of maybe some kind of absent guilt because you find out something like this has been happening, and you kind of wonder, ‘was there some sign that you could have caught on to.’
“But I mean, never saw him with anybody that didn’t look to be like a grown-up. Never saw him with — never, ever saw him with a child.”
And after May 2021, Nelson never saw his three or four-time-a-day customer again. Now he said he and other people downtown who were familiar with Williams are following the quickening pace of news about his alleged crimes.
“Everybody’s just kind of watching for the next story, see what else he’s done.”