GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — A “substantial number of personnel” continued Thursday to assist the search for escaped federal pre-trial detainee Sean Williams more than 24 hours after he escaped from a jail transport van that was bringing him to a federal court hearing in Greeneville.
U.S. Marshal David Jolley of the Eastern District of Tennessee told News Channel 11 via email late Thursday morning that at least seven or eight agencies assisted with the search Wednesday after Williams was reported missing at about 8:30 a.m.
A combined reward of up to $7,500 — $5,000 by the U.S. Marshals and $2,500 by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation — is being offered for information leading to Williams’ arrest.
A former Johnson City businessman who’s the center of two federal lawsuits against Johnson City and its police department, Williams faces several federal criminal charges.
The most serious are three federal counts of production of child pornography and multiple state counts of child rape, which he was indicted on in September. He has been jailed since April 29 and in federal custody since May, when he was transferred from North Carolina where he had been arrested on drug charges. Prior to that he had been a fugitive since an April 2021 federal indictment for being a felon in possession of ammunition.
The two Laurel County, Ky. jail employees who were transporting Williams and another detainee told the Marshals Service that when they arrived at the Federal Courthouse to transfer him to marshals’ custody they found the back window of the van broken out and Williams gone.
Jolley said the other detainee was unharmed, still restrained and still in the van.
He said some tips continued to come in to authorities Thursday, but added that the United States Marshals Service (USMS) has determined that no sightings later than Wednesday morning were actually Williams.
While the detention officers said they did not actually see Williams leave the van, Jolley said authorities are confident he got out a couple of blocks from the courthouse, somewhere on Summer Street.
Jolley said the USMS doesn’t “strongly suspect” that Williams had managed to leave the area in a vehicle, “but we certainly have to be looking that as a possibility.”
‘Some scale back’ to search
Jolley said seven or eight agencies, local, state and federal, had some involvement in Wednesday’s search. While there had been some scale back Thursday “to keep officers fresh,” a substantial number of people were still searching Thursday and the search “can ramp back up quickly if needed.”
He said he couldn’t comment on where searchers were concentrating, whether that be in and around Greeneville or elsewhere. When the search is scaled back more significantly depends on a lot of factors, and Jolley said it was hard to say at this point when that will occur. He said the USMS nationally and FBI are working, together with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, on collaboration across jurisdictions.
“We have access to any national assets as needed to assist us,” he said.
Jolley said he couldn’t provide any details on the separate investigation into how Williams managed to go from handcuffed and shackled to free of restraints and out of the van. He did say the Laurel County Jail — one of more than a dozen with contracts to hold pre-trial federal detainees — “has always been a very reliable jail to work with and other US Marshals’ districts also keep pre-trial detainees there.”
Williams is 51 years old and described as being 5 feet 11 inches and weighing roughly 170 pounds. Police report his head is shaved, and the U.S. Marshals describe him as “desperate to escape.”
Anyone who sees Williams or who has information on his whereabouts is asked to call 911.