GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Authorities have no “hot leads” on escaped federal prisoner Sean Williams and believe he “would do anything in his power to not be captured,” a U.S. Marshal said early Wednesday evening as the search for Williams continued nearly 12 hours after his escape.
David Jolley, Marshal for the Eastern District of Tennessee, also told reporters several times he has “a lot of questions about how this situation happened today.”
Williams, who faces multiple federal and state charges related to child sexual assault, child pornography production and drug trafficking, kicked out the back window of a van that was transporting him to U.S. District Court in Greeneville for a hearing later that day. He’d been housed at the Laurel County, Ky. Jail since late July following an alleged escape attempt from the Washington County, Tenn. jail.
Jolley said according to the federal government’s contract with area jails, the two detention officers transporting Williams should have ensured he was handcuffed and shackled.
“This is an extremely rare situation to have an escape from one of those (transports),” Jolley said. “I can’t remember the last time that I was involved with one of these.”
He said the circumstances have left him and those investigating how the escape happened working hard to get answers even as scores of law enforcement officers scour the Greeneville area hoping for any sign of the 51-year-old.
“I can tell you that if we find that there was any facilitation of this in any shape, form or fashion, negligence of it we will be seeking prosecution against anybody that might have had any involvement in that,” Jolley said. “So trying to make a good determination right now on how it happened.”
Both Laurel County officers were in the front of the van, and Jolley was very specific when asked whether any authorities actually saw Williams exit the van, leaving behind a second prisoner Jolley said made no effort to escape.
“As far as I know they were unaware that he had made his way out of the van at the time that he did escape,” he said.
One thing investigators do know is that Williams had somehow managed to get out of his handcuffs and leg shackles at some point.
“Questions remain about how all that happened too,” Jolley said.
Multiple sightings in the morning, then a cold trail
The officers arrived at the federal courthouse and pulled up to a sally port around 8:30 a.m. That, they have told investigators, is when they exited the front of the van, went around and discovered the window kicked out, the other prisoner inside and Williams nowhere to be found.
Law enforcement agencies began posting about the incident on social media shortly after 9 a.m. and Jolley said there were confirmed sightings of Williams, on foot and still wearing his tan jail clothes, during the morning hours. At least one witness noticed he had blood on his shirt, likely from cutting himself going out the back window.
By afternoon, all the potential sightings that came in turned out not to be Williams, whose head is now shaved, according to Jolley.
Jolley said his office doesn’t know whether Williams is still in the area or whether someone might have been waiting to help him flee.
“There’s always that thought that maybe he has had some assistance or got picked up (by an unknowing person),” Jolley said. “That is certainly something that we’re looking at right now.”
Public should be watchful
Jolley said his office has no indication Williams is armed, but he said he’s likely desperate if he hasn’t yet reached what he would consider relative safety.
“We do consider him to be very dangerous and we do consider him to be the type of individual that would do anything in his power to not be captured, which could mean breaking into homes, obtaining firearms, stealing vehicles, anything of that nature.”
He urged people with security cameras who live in the area to check those and call immediately if they see anything.
“They’re fielding any leads that come in and running out and checking those, we have patrol officers actually combing the area just eyes open at the moment, we have helicopters in the air. We have been flying drones around the area as well.
“We actually have officers out there in these areas doing door to door knocking and looking and just seeing if they see anything that looks out of the ordinary that they need to check into.”
Despite the massive amount of resources being poured into the search, including helicopters, drones, dogs, and local, state and federal law enforcement officers, there was no clear trail as of 6 p.m., roughly 10 hours after Williams escaped.
“We don’t have any super hot leads right at this moment,” Jolley said.
He urged people to call immediately if they see anything suspicious in case Williams hasn’t left the area. The best number to call is the Greene County Sheriff’s Office at (423) 798-1800 or 911. Those agencies will pass the information directly to the command post at Greene County Emergency and Rescue.
The U.S. Marshals Service has added $2,500 to the initial Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s $2,500 reward for information leading to Williams’ successful apprehension, so that amount is now $5,000.
“If he has not made a contact with somebody that’s an acquaintance to get him out of the area then he will be making every attempt to get himself out of the area,” Jolley said.
He said he based his assessment that Williams would stop at nothing to keep from being captured on his past actions. He spent nearly two years on the run after Johnson City Police unsuccessfully attempted to serve a federal warrant on him May 5, 2021.
Since his arrest on separate charges April 29 in Cullowhee, N.C., Williams has made one escape attempt and today’s successful escape.
“We know that when this investigation (in 2021) initially happened, that he made every effort to avoid arrest and was able to stay on the run for quite a lengthy period of time,” Jolley said.
“He’s an intelligent guy and he knows what he’s doing when it comes to this type of thing.”