• Sean Williams, who escaped custody in Tennessee, where he was being held on child pornography and cocaine charges, has been arrested in Florida.
  • The 52-year-old, who is also accused of multiple rapes and sexual assaults, was caught in Pinellas County after over a month on the run.
  • At least 10 women had accused Williams of drugging and raping victims several years before his initial arrest.

An escaped inmate accused of raping and sexually assaulting multiple victims in Tennessee has been captured in Florida after being on the run for over a month, authorities said.

Sean Williams, 52, was arrested without incident Tuesday in Pinellas County after being spotted in the area and tracked down by a K-9 officer and his partner, the FBI in Knoxville said on social media.

The former Johnson City businessman was in federal custody on three counts of production of child sexual abuse material and one count of distribution of cocaine, and is now also facing an escape charge, the FBI said. He also faces numerous state charges including child rape, aggravated sexual battery and especially aggravated sexual exploitation, court records show. In addition, two lawsuits accuse him of drugging and raping multiple victims in the small East Tennessee town for years, and allege that local police did little to investigate the reports.


Williams escaped from a transport van on Oct. 18 while being moved from a detention facility in Kentucky to the federal courthouse in Greeneville, Tennessee, according to the FBI. A criminal complaint says deputies discovered after arriving at the courthouse that the vehicle’s back window was kicked out and Williams was missing. He was was being held at the Laurel County Detention Center after a previous escape attempt in Tennessee.

Williams, who is originally from Florida, had stolen a car in Greeneville that was spotted by an officer in Pinellas County who then unsuccessfully pursued the vehicle, U.S. Marshal David Jolley told WCYB-TV. Williams was later recognized by a store clerk and although he fled the store, officers were able to track him and found him hiding underneath a tarp, Jolley said.

A lawyer representing Williams in the federal case didn’t immediately respond to an email. A court clerk said Williams had not appeared yet to answer the state charges and did not have an attorney of record.

Along with the criminal charges, at least 10 women have accused Williams in lawsuits of drugging and raping victims for years before his arrest.

Kateri Lynne Dahl, a former special prosecutor in the local U.S. attorney’s office, sued the city and Johnson City police officials in June 2022 over how they approached the allegations about Williams. Dahl’s federal lawsuit alleges that she had substantial evidence that Williams had been dealing drugs and was credibly accused of sexually assaulting and raping multiple women, and that Johnson City police refused her plea to investigate further.

When Dahl secured a federal indictment and arrest warrant on a minor federal ammunition charge in 2021, the lawsuit says local police delayed and botched the arrest, letting Williams flee. Dahl, who had been in a position coordinating between the city and the U.S. attorney’s office, saw her contract terminated by the then-police chief, who cited failures to indict other cases, the lawsuit states.

In response to Dahl’s lawsuit, Johnson City maintained in a statement that non-renewal of Dahl’s contract “was justified and based on failure to perform her contractual obligations.” The city also responded to Dahl’s claims about how the police department handled the allegations against Williams, who was referred to by the pseudonym “Robert Voe.”

“Regarding claims about the Johnson City Police Department’s willingness to apprehend “Robert Voe,” it is important to note that the department requested an indictment on Voe in 2020, which was not obtained until five months later,” the city said in a statement.

In addition, numerous “Jane Doe” plaintiffs followed up with their own lawsuit this past June, alleging that Johnson City police received reports alleging Williams had tried to drug and/or sexually assault women in his apartment in downtown Johnson City, but officers treated him as untouchable.

“For years, Sean Williams drugged and raped women in Johnson City, Tennessee, and for years, officers of the Johnson City Police Department (“JCPD”) let him get away with it,” the lawsuit says.


An attorney who represents the city, the then-police chief and other officers in the federal litigation did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment. The Associated Press also left phone and email messages with police department officials seeking comment.

The city released a statement earlier this year highlighting changes it made in sexual assault investigations by police after the city ordered an audit.

In the summer of 2022, Johnson City contracted with a company for a third-party audit into how police there handle sexual assault-related investigations. Some of the findings released this July include that police conducted inconsistent, ineffective and incomplete investigations and had flaws in closing them; relied on inadequate record management; had insufficient training, policies and procedures; and sometimes showed issues with gender-based stereotypes and bias.

The city has said it took steps to make changes while it awaited the audit’s findings. Some of these include using the local district’s new sexual assault investigation protocol; reviewing investigative policies and procedures; creating a “comfortable space” for victim interviews; adding $100,000 more for officer training; and investing $50,000 in a new records management system.

“We believe these steps to be significant, but only the beginning. We commit to demonstrating improvements in the areas where we have fallen short,” City Manager Cathy Ball said in a July news release.

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