3rd lawsuit claims a Tennessee city's police botched investigation of a man accused of sex crimes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee city is facing a third lawsuit claiming its police refused to conduct proper investigations into allegations that a man was sexually assaulting multiple women for years. The newest plaintiff has said the man drugged her and pushed her out of his fifth-story apartment window in 2020, breaking bones throughout her body.

Mikayla Evans sued several Johnson City Police officers and the city last week in federal court over the handling of her case involving Sean Williams. Two ongoing federal lawsuits similarly claim police did little to investigate while Williams — who is now in custody on state and federal criminal charges — was accused of drugging and raping women in the East Tennessee community from 2018 to 2021.

After plunging from the window in September 2020, Evans underwent multiple surgeries and was discharged from the hospital that October, but she remained bedridden and unable to care for herself until the summer of 2022, the lawsuit says. No charges have been filed in the attempted homicide investigation, the lawsuit adds.

The Associated Press does not generally identify people alleging sexual assault unless they consent to be named, as Evans has through her attorney. She has also spoken publicly to news outlets about her case.

The new lawsuit alleges that police did not allow Evans to be tested for date-rape drugs at the hospital, failed to complete a rape kit, and did not send her a toxicology report for about a year after its completion, only after the lab had destroyed her blood. The complaint also claims police allowed Williams to keep his cellphone while in their custody, which let him get rid of video surveillance footage that showed Evans being pushed out of the window.

Erick Herrin, an attorney for the city and multiple officers who were sued, said all the defendants deny the lawsuit's allegations. Reached Wednesday, a representative for Williams did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

In one of the lawsuits, attorneys for nine women listed as Jane Does 1-9 said they have provided information for a federal public corruption investigation of the police department.

The city said in a statement that the new lawsuit's claims are "largely the same" as those it denies in the other lawsuits. The city also said there has been no evidence presented to support corruption allegations against the police department, while adding that it will “welcome any investigation that could dispel such claims."

Bob Dziewulski, an attorney for Evans, said “Johnson City has an opportunity amidst this harrowing situation” and his team hopes “the city chooses to do the right thing.”

Williams awaits trial on state charges including child rape, aggravated sexual battery and especially aggravated sexual exploitation, and federal charges including three counts of production of child sexual abuse material and one count of distribution of cocaine. He’s also charged with escape, after authorities said he kicked the window out of a federal transport van and was caught in Florida more than a month later late last year.

The Jane Does' lawsuit also claims police officers took thousands of dollars in an extortion scheme to protect Williams.

The lawsuits say Williams’ crimes continued even after Evans survived the fall. Officers investigating the fall found ample evidence of sexual assaults in his apartment, including a list of names labeled “Raped.” Even when Evans went public, Williams’ identity was protected as “Robert Voe.”

Kateri Lynne Dahl, a former special prosecutor in the East Tennessee U.S. attorney’s office, was brought in as a liaison with city authorities. She also filed a federal lawsuit against the city. She says she gathered substantial evidence that Williams had been dealing drugs and was credibly accused of sexually assaulting and raping multiple women, but the police refused to investigate further, and botched her effort to arrest him on an April 2021 federal felon-possessing-ammunition charge, letting him flee.

Dahl's contract was terminated, and the city rebutted Dahl’s claims in a statement that pointed to prosecutorial delays.

Williams wasn’t arrested until April 2023, when a campus police officer in North Carolina found him asleep in his car and learned of the federal warrant. An affidavit says a search of the car found — along with drugs and about $100,000 in cash — digital storage devices with more than 5,000 images of child sexual abuse as well as photos and videos of 52 female victims being sexually assaulted by Williams at his Johnson City apartment while they were in an “obvious state of unconsciousness.”

Many of the videos were stored in labeled folders, and at least a half-dozen names on the folders were consistent with first names on the “Raped” list found in his apartment two and a half years earlier, the affidavit states.

Amid public outcry, Johnson City in the summer of 2022 ordered an outside investigation into how officers handled sexual assault investigations. And in November 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a federal sex trafficking investigation.

The city’s third-party audit, released in 2023, found that police conducted inconsistent, ineffective and incomplete investigations; relied on inadequate record management; had insufficient training and policies; and sometimes showed issues with gender-based stereotypes and bias.

The city said it began improving the department’s performance while awaiting the audit’s findings, including following the district attorney’s new sexual assault investigation protocol; reviewing investigative policies and procedures; creating a “comfortable space” for victim interviews; and increasing funding for officer training and a new records management system.