GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Despite “hundreds of tips” to authorities, escaped federal detainee Sean Williams continues to elude capture nearly two weeks after he jumped from a transport van and freed himself from handcuffs and shackles in Greeneville.
“Investigators have been to numerous locations to interview people and pull video from security cameras at stores, gas stations, truck stops, etcetera,” David Jolley, United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee, told News Channel 11. “All have not been Williams.”
Williams, 51, is a former downtown Johnson City resident and business owner who faces both federal and state charges of production of child pornography (federal) and child rape, aggravated sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor.
Williams escaped around 8:30 a.m. Oct. 18 from a van transporting him and another federal detainee for scheduled hearings at the U.S. District Courthouse in Greeneville. Two transport deputies from the Laurel County, Ky. jail, where Williams was being held for the federal government pending the outcome of his trial, reported that when they pulled into the secure area of the courthouse to hand Williams off to U.S. marshals, the van’s rear window was broken out and Williams was gone.
Multiple federal, state and local agencies spent much of Oct. 18-20 searching for Williams around Greeneville to no avail. Starting last week, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) began running Williams’ photo and information on electronic billboards across Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Florida.
Jolley said officers are continuing to check vacant buildings “all around the Greeneville area” more than a week after the intense manhunt was scaled back.
Little to say on how Williams escaped
Jolley said Oct. 18 he had “a lot of questions” about how Williams — who entered the van shackled and handcuffed — managed to accomplish the extremely rare feat of removing his restraints and breaking the van’s rear window without drawing notice of his overseers.
“The transport officers and other Laurel (County) personnel have been questioned,” Jolley said. “This was not necessarily because we had information they were involved.”
When asked if the USMS has ruled out the possibility that someone in an authority position helped Williams, Jolley simply replied “investigation continuing.”
Laurel County’s elected chief jailer Jamie Mosley told News Channel 11 Oct. 19, the day after the escape, that “the headrest was used as an instrument at some point,” presumably to help break the window.
“Further investigation has revealed that he potentially may have used a paper clip that was discovered in the van where the inmate was seated to free himself from the restraints,” Mosley added.
Jolley has not confirmed any of those statements, and Mosley referred media inquiries to the USMS starting the next day.
Sean Williams timeline
Williams’ child-related charges result from alleged photographic and video evidence he had on his person when a Western Carolina University (WCU) officer arrested him April 29 in Cullowhee, N.C.
Williams, who had been wanted since early May 2021 for a federal ammunition charge out of Johnson City, was charged with more than half a dozen drug trafficking counts following that stop, where he also allegedly had large amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine.
Williams came to the public’s attention in June 2022, when a former federal prosecutor filed a lawsuit against Johnson City and its police department. That suit alleges JCPD brushed off prosecutor Kat Dahl’s efforts to get them to further investigate sexual assault allegations and rumors surrounding Williams. The city has denied those allegations.
According to a search warrant for Williams’ thumb drives and other digital devices, WCU police searched those because of the amount of drugs Williams allegedly had. What they found, according to a First Judicial District of Tennessee search warrant affidavit filed in late May, were thousands of images and videos of sexually explicit material.
The affidavit by Investigator Mike Little said the evidence allegedly included photos and videos showing Williams sexually assaulting or raping more than 50 different women in his Johnson City apartment. They also allegedly included child pornography and the evidence used to indict Williams on alleged sex crimes against three different children.
A $7,500 reward has been offered for information leading to Williams’ arrest.