Originally created 01/24/02

Federal investigators build case



Tyrone Williams' 14-year law-enforcement career was a roller-coaster ride before Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength suspended the narcotics investigator earlier this month.

In fact, the sheriff said Wednesday, Investigator Williams has been under scrutiny for more than two years, but federal officials have waited to make a case.

The investigator, who remains on administrative leave pending a criminal investigation by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, had a record of commendations matched by similar cases of disciplinary action.

Personnel records obtained by The Augusta Chronicle under open-records laws show that Investigator Williams found success as a road patrol deputy but struggled once he joined the narcotics division.

Attempts to contact Investigator Williams were unsuccessful. The sheriff's office would not reveal the phone number or address for the narcotics investigator, and people answering the phone at the numerous listings in the Augusta telephone book denied being the deputy.

On the road patrol for nearly eight years, then-Deputy Williams was praised for solving a homicide case, tracking down a robbery suspect, successfully negotiating with a suicidal man and stopping a rash of burglaries, according to his file.

He also found trouble.

He was disciplined for missing training classes, failing to discover theft and property damage at a business on his beat and even for carrying a dirty weapon.

Deputy Williams was suspended for five days without pay in 1988 after an off-duty shootout, after which he was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.14, according to his file.

Deputy Williams and a friend were shot in the incident but suffered only minor injuries.

According to news reports from the time, the deputy and his friend, Joe Nathan Green, chased a man they had argued with in the parking lot of a Krystal restaurant. The man, who had fired at them before leaving Krystal, eventually fired at them again from behind bushes on Perrin Road.

Deputy Williams returned fire with his service revolver, despite having a blood alcohol level of 0.14, personnel records show.

For many years, the deputy's job performance was praised in annual evaluations.

"Has a good relationship with the citizens on his beat," a supervisor wrote in 1992. "Is well-respected by both his peers and the public."

By 1995, Sgt. Gerald Metzler strongly urged Deputy Williams' advancement.

Then-Sheriff Charlie Webster took the advice and approved a promotion for the deputy to narcotics that October.

After the promotion, Investigator Williams struggled with paperwork and problems with his weight.

"Paperwork was probably a major problem for him, as it is for some because it has to be so detailed," said Sheriff Strength, who was the chief deputy at the time.

The investigator didn't meet policies for finishing paperwork on drug cases and was issued written warnings several times. Personnel records show he often went on vacation and left sensitive files on his desk.

Weight also was a constant struggle for Investigator Williams. At one point, he was told he needed to lose three pounds a month for a year. Most of the time, he didn't show up for the weigh-in. When he did, he had gained weight - 10 pounds one month, six pounds the next.

"He was a big guy," Sheriff Strength said. "We do have a weight program, and we definitely want our folks to stay within the guidelines."

In addition, Investigator Williams missed several court hearings for which he had been subpoenaed. In one case, his absence led the judge to dismiss drug charges against a suspect, according to personnel records.

"His career has been up and down and really took a turn for the worse 2 1/2 years ago," Sheriff Strength said this week.

That is when officials became suspicious of his performance, Sheriff Strength said. Then-Sheriff Webster asked the FBI and the DEA to investigate, and the federal agencies have been monitoring the officer since.

Sheriff's officials said they decided not to fire the investigator.

"It would have been very easy for us at that time to terminate him, but then we could not have proceeded with the criminal investigation, and he could have very easily become someone else's problem," Sheriff Strength said. "If we have information that any of our folks are involved in criminal acts, we will do everything in our power to make a case against those folks."

Sheriff Strength said officials from the U.S. attorney's office did not believe there was sufficient evidence against the investigator in 1999 and wanted to build a case.

"Everything was monitored, and cases definitely were not jeopardized," the sheriff said this week. "The U.S. attorney's office did not feel comfortable proceeding with prosecution until now."

During that time, Lt. Robert Partain, who supervised Investigator Williams, gave the officer mixed reviews.

In July 2000, Lt. Partain wrote a stinging evaluation, noting that Investigator Williams "performs the minimal amount of work" and describing his arrests as "street-level narcotics cases that require little investigation."

By August 2001, Lt. Partain praised the investigator for improving.

"Investigator Williams is producing cases consistently and using information well to develop leads," he wrote.

The lieutenant said the officer needed to "stay focused when working with informants, maximizing the informants' potential."

Five months later, Investigator Williams was placed on administrative leave without pay pending the FBI and DEA probe.

No criminal charges have been filed.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.