JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Who is alleged child rapist Sean Williams and how has he become a center of attention for so many different local, state and federal agencies?
Williams’ time in the public eye began in late June 2022 after the filing of a federal lawsuit by former Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Kateri “Kat” Dahl. But the real beginning of the story can be traced to Sept. 19, 2020, when a Kingsport woman named Mikayla Evans fell out of a window at Williams’ fifth-floor downtown Johnson City apartment.
The aftermath of Evans’ near-fatal fall onto the sidewalk on Spring Street is what drew Dahl, who essentially worked for Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) but was a federal employee, into what at that time was an ammunition case against Williams.
Evans, for her part, was one of any number of people who visited Williams’ apartment and a garage he owned on nearby Buffalo Street where he kept a collection of sports cars. Both places were a scene for parties, and Evans had been out at a nightclub and also at Williams’ garage before going up to his apartment with him and a male friend.
However, Williams — who for years had operated a concrete and glass finishing and restoration business — had also been accused of sexual assault more than once prior to Evans’ visit there. After the incident, he was questioned by police at the station, and over the next several days, police obtained two different search warrants that both listed “attempted homicide” as their basis for searches.
One of those was for Williams’ safe and that allegedly turned up dozens of rounds of ammunition — a no-no for the then 48-year-old Williams, who had been convicted of a felony years earlier.
Enter Kat Dahl
As the investigation continued, police brought in Dahl to help with a potential federal “felon in possession of ammunition” charge against Williams. Her main role, as explained to city commissioners in February 2020, was to prosecute at the federal level “drug cases and gun cases that meet federal guidelines for prosecution.”
Though not at a high level, that included the potential charge against Williams. According to case notes from JCPD Investigator Toma Sparks and from claims in Dahl’s lawsuit, police brought her into the case in November 2020.
According to her lawsuit, Dahl soon heard about rampant rumors, speculation and even suspicion among both people downtown and law enforcement officers that Williams was a sexual predator who had committed multiple rapes and was also a significant drug dealer.
📧 Have breaking come to you: Subscribe to News 2 email alerts →
According to Dahl’s suit — and admitted in the city’s response — women had filed sexual assault claims against Williams. Additionally, the city’s response admitted Sparks himself had told her of rumors that Williams “held parties in which the participants used cocaine and that there was additional speculation regarding whether (Williams) might be selling cocaine.”
The city’s response also admits that when they searched Williams’ apartment in September, they photographed a handwritten note with the word “Raped” written atop a list of 23 women’s names.
While admitting certain facts in the suit’s narrative, the city and other defendants — JCPD, Turner and two other officers — have denied all the claims for relief in Dahl’s suit.
Dahl’s suit claims she told police she wanted to build a broader case against Williams for two reasons. One was the relatively minimal prison time typically meted out for the ammo charge upon conviction. More important was “the substantial evidence of sexual assault and attempted homicide warranting further investigation.”
Dahl’s suit claims, and the city’s answer admits, that she wanted to build a broader case and made Turner and Capt. Kevin Peters aware of this.
Evans case dropped, Dahl drawn into allegations, Williams indicted and flees
The JCPD closed the potential criminal case against Evans in early 2021. By that time, according to Dahl’s suit, she had begun interviewing other women who alleged Williams had sexually assaulted them. This was admittedly outside her normal scope of duty.
She claimed she also “repeatedly” asked Turner, Peters and detectives to further investigate Williams. The city denied that allegation, except “to the extent that it was known that Dahl hoped to continue seeking evidence on alleged sexual assaults before obtaining a federal (ammo) indictment.”
The JCPD didn’t interview Williams about any such allegations but Dahl did eventually obtain an ammo indictment in federal court. That happened on April 13, 2021. Police went to his apartment the night of May 5, 2021, attempted to get him to come out, but left without arresting him, though authorities did speak to him when he called 911 several times during the incident.
Williams then disappeared for all intents and purposes.
Less than two months later, Turner told Dahl the city wasn’t going to renew its annual contract for her services. She filed her lawsuit roughly a year later and 11 months after she actually left the job.
More than a year later, not long after the filing of Dahl’s lawsuit, U.S. Marshals visited Johnson City and distributed wanted posters with his photo on them.
Before that, though, Williams had managed to visit the Washington County Register of Deeds office and cause a scene April 19, 2022 — nearly a year after his flight. He’d also managed to sell his apartment and two others in the same building, with that transaction taking place in May 2022 and also, presumably, requiring his presence in the area.
A slip up in Cullowhee
Williams continued to elude the law for nearly a year after Dahl filed her suit. Johnson City, meanwhile, while fighting the lawsuit had commissioned attorney Eric Daigle to audit its handling of sexual assault cases in the wake of some public outcry following Dahl’s lawsuit.
Then, on April 29, a part-time Western Carolina University police officer was patrolling a boat landing/park on property WCU owns near its campus. It was after 2 a.m. when Officer Charles Gooden noticed a car in the parking lot near the Tuckasegee River.
WCU Police Chief Steve Lillard said Gooden “went to inquire to see if there were any issues.”
What Gooden found, Lillard said, was Williams asleep, or nearly so, and enough evidence to conduct a search of the vehicle. That search allegedly revealed more than 12 ounces of cocaine and 14 ounces of methamphetamine, and it landed Williams in the Jackson County, North Carolina jail.
Within a week, he had been transferred to the custody of the federal government as the federal charges took precedence over the state drug charges.
Williams, who was held in North Carolina jails for the federal government before being transferred to Washington County’s jail in Tennessee, had some preliminary hearings and was appointed an attorney. That attorney resigned and another, Bryce McKenzie, was appointed.
On Aug. 8, the federal government layered a second indictment on top of the ammunition charge, alleging that Williams had attempted to escape from the Washington County jail on July 23. Conviction on that could have brought a five-year sentence.
However, the other shoe was about to drop.
What else the WCU cops allegedly found
On Aug. 21, News 2’s sister station, WJHL, obtained search warrant affidavits that had been filed in late May by Tennessee First Judicial District Investigator Mike Little. Those requested various laptops, phones and other digital devices JCPD had seized from Williams in September 2020 but hadn’t searched or sought search warrants for.
The reason for Little’s request? Drugs weren’t the only alleged find by WCU police after Gooden arrested Williams. They’d also obtained search warrants for thumb drives and other digital devices that were allegedly on Williams, given the large amount of drugs and possibility transaction records or something related might be on them.
What they found instead, according to Little’s search warrant request, were thousands of files, including folders with images and video allegedly showing Williams sexually assaulting or raping at least 52 women in that Johnson City apartment he’d sold less than a year earlier.
“These assaults all appear to occur while the female victims were in an obvious state of unconsciousness and are identifiable as having occurred at Williams’s apartment at 200 E. Main Street in Johnson City,” Little’s narrative said.
Little’s initial affidavit also asserted “that Williams has participated in the various sexual based offenses for an ongoing and sustained time period.” Because of this, it called “the likelihood of additional images being stored on other digital devices belonging to Williams … highly likely, if not probable.”
In addition, Little’s affidavit argued probable cause that Williams allegedly sexually assaulted at least two children at his apartment. It suggested there is probable cause the devices in Johnson City show evidence of aggravated rape, aggravated rape of a child, sexual exploitation of a minor and unlawful photography in violation of privacy.
Federal charges for porn production, state charges for child rape
On Sept. 11, a Washington County grand jury indicted Williams on one count of aggravated rape of a child for one alleged incident, two counts of rape of a child for another, and three counts of aggravated sexual battery of a child under 13 for a third alleged incident, all in Johnson City.
The alleged aggravated rape was of a child under two years old and occurred on Dec. 23, 2020 — in the middle of the investigation into Evans’ fall and as Dahl was expressing concerns about Williams.
That indictment also charged Williams with 20 counts of especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a child.
The same day, Williams was indicted in federal court on three counts of production of child pornography. The dates listed were the same dates listed in the three state charges.
Williams’ trial on the child pornography charges is scheduled for Jan. 23, 2024.
When he escaped in Greene County on Wednesday, Oct. 18, he was being transported so a judge could hear Bryce McKenzie’s motion to withdraw as Williams’ attorney in both the escape case and the pornography case. The prosecution requested dismissal of the ammunition case last month and it was granted.
No hearings had been set in the Washington County child rape case.
As of Friday, Oct. 20, Williams is currently listed at the top of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted list, with a reward of up to $2,500 offered for information leading to his arrest