Monday, August 19, 2013 12:38 AM
Woman speaks out after death of son, husband – ‘it was harassment’
By Olivia Neeley | Times Staff Writer
Cyndi Williams never imagined she would face this kind of pain. The questions are mounting. The answers are elusive.
"I don’t know why,” she said sobbing. "I can’t put it together.”
Police say her husband, 54-year-old Joe Williams, shot their 10-year-old son, Bobby, and himself last week before setting fire to a back bedroom of a Nashville duplex where the family lived.
The loss left Cyndi shocked and horrified. But through the pain, she said she knows she has to be strong for her daughter. She puts her faith and trust in God. Bobby would have told her that, she said.
"I can’t even explain how much I miss my baby boy,” Cyndi said through tears. "I can’t tell you as to why he took him with him. (Joe) was one of the strongest people I knew ... for him to be defeated ... I don’t know. He loved us.”
Autopsies said father and son died from gunshot wounds and severe burns, according to Nashville Police. Joe Williams died on the way to the hospital while Bobby later died at the University of North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center in Chapel Hill. Williams set the fire to the 239 N. Lumber St. duplex shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Aug. 12, according to police. Nashville Police Chief Thomas Bashore said Friday that the State Bureau of Investigation is still investigating the fire, which could take several weeks.
"I never thought anything like this would happen,” Cyndi said. "My husband was a fighter, and for him to get to this point … to do that … I think he felt so hopeless.”
ANIMALS GROUPS, SEIZURE AND LAWSUITS
Wilson County sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant nearly a year ago at the couple’s Evansdale Road home and seized 28 dogs. Both Cyndi and Joe Williams were charged with several counts each of misdemeanor cruelty to animals. Those charges were eventually dropped when a judge ruled the search warrant executed in the raid was invalid.
But the family faced more legal troubles. The Great Dane Rescue Alliance filed a civil suit against the Williamses. The group wanted a judge to terminate the couple’s ownership rights of the dogs seized. After hearings, testimony and a preliminary injunction granted to the rescue group in November, the parties involved reached an agreement.
The Williamses were able to reclaim one of the 28 dogs deputies had seized, a Doberman pinscher.
But the damage had already been done to the couple’s business, the family has said. The rescue groups had claimed the couple was running a puppy mill. The family’s attorney, Will Farris of Farris & Farris so strongly rejected that claim that he accused the dog rescue groups of slander in legal action he took on behalf of the couple.
While the Williamses received an undisclosed amount of money from the dog rescue group, Farris has said the settlement amount wasn’t insignificant.
The couple faces an additional lawsuit in Wake County. Two Raleigh attorneys sued the couple for nearly $3,000 and legal fees after a Great Dane puppy they bought from the Williamses in March 2012 was diagnosed with parvovirus. The attorneys contended that the puppy contracted parvo after they sold it to the couple. The case, which Farris is handling, is still active.
Farris said the deaths may have been set in motion by the financial and emotional pressure of litigation involving the Williamses’ breeding facility. Farris also said last week that the pressures and harassments by "several animal rights groups contributed” to the tragic event.
‘HE KEPT TRYING AND TRYING ...’
The family moved away from Wilson County to start their lives over. But the animal groups pursued them in other ways, Cyndi and her lawyer contend.
"The truth is Bobby was wrecked the worst over all of this,” Cyndi said. "My children weren’t able to sleep. It was harassment. My son would say, ‘I never want this to happen to another family.’”
The family struggled to make ends meet. Joe, who was on disability due to health problems, decided he needed to go back to work so that he could support his family. The disability checks were too small. At the time of his death, Joe was working on getting re-licensed for refrigerator repair.
"He kept trying and trying and trying to find a way to support us,” Cyndi said, adding that the family stuck together and vowed to make it through the tough time.
"We loved each other. We were a good family.”
Farris said no matter where they moved the groups would find the family.
"They would always know where they were,” he said. "I don’t believe it was any local group, but it leaned more to state and national groups.”
Farris said there were always numerous anonymous tips to both state and local agencies, all of which were unfounded.
"During litigation, they were reported to the Department of Revenue,” Farris said. "It was clear the reason was to harass them.”
The family was hanging on to what little they had left, Cyndi said.
"No one is making an excuse to what happened,” Farris said. "But at the same time, you have to point out the major contributing factors that led Joe to this path.”
He believes Joe "hit the limit.”
"They came a year ago,” Cyndi said. "They started and didn’t stop until they destroyed our whole family. We were attacked continually and continually. They just wouldn’t let up. They just wouldn’t let up.”
‘THAT’S THE KIND OF BOY HE WAS’
Cyndi said Bobby and her husband were inseparable.
"He would have done anything for his family,” she said about her husband. "He was a good man. He loved us.”
Two days prior to Bobby’s death, the 10-year-old visited his now working mother at the retirement home across the street from where they lived in Nashville. It took Cyndi a long time to find that job due to the criminal charges showing up on her background even though they were dropped. But she was thrilled when someone gave her a chance.
On that particular day, Cyndi was helping an elderly woman to her room. Bobby stepped in, too. He wanted to help. When the three finally arrived to the room, Bobby wanted to pray with the elderly woman. He hoped it would make her feel better.
"That’s the kind of boy he was,” Cyndi said. "He was the sweetest thing. He lived for God. He loved Jesus.”
Cyndi also said nothing made her husband smile more when he knew his children were happy. But Joe had been sad in recent months due to all the stress, she said.
"We were not happy,” Cyndi said about the family. "We were destroyed. They took everything we had.”
Cyndi said she has to move forward and forgive.
"I’m never going to be able to raise my baby girl the way Jesus would want me to if I hate them (animal groups) the way they hated me,” she said. "God is the final judge. We will all have to stand before him one day.”
Despite the pain of losing a child and a husband in the same day, Cyndi said she is trying to remain strong.
And to do that, she relies on faith. Because that’s what Bobby would have told her to do as he did so many times before when the family faced hardships.
"God is good,” she said. "He will get us through this.”
FIGHTING IN COURT
Cyndi and Joe Williams fought to get their dogs back after deputies seized them from their home during a search warrant last year.
On Aug. 27 Farris filed motions on their behalf, including a petition to return the dogs seized, a motion to suppress evidence seized based on their claim of an invalid search warrant and a motion for disclosure of veterinary records and independent assessment of the seized dogs. One of the dogs that was alleged to have been the basis for the search warrant was being treated by the Williamses’ veterinarian and wasn’t on the property at the time of the search, Farris said.
Deputies began investigating the couple after receiving complaints from customers who bought the purebred dogs, officials have said. The Great Danes had been sold online and to out-of-state buyers. Court documents filed by Farris claimed that deputies waited 34 days after they observed the alleged activity until they searched the home. In sworn affidavits, the couple said they allowed deputies to come to their home over a period of time to inspect their dog kennel and followed "every recommendation.”
The couple made more than $15,000 in improvements and changes to their kennel and property based upon the recommendations by deputies.
On Sept. 5, 2011, the Great Dane Alliance filed a lawsuit against the couple asking for a permanent injunction terminating the Williamses’ ownership rights and permanent injunction that would have prevented them from acquiring any more dogs. The group alleged that the dogs seized needed veterinary treatment.
The hearing lasted nearly two days, which included witness testimony. While a Wilson County district court judge ruled that 18 of the 28 dogs seized be returned to the owners on Sept. 11, 2012, that order was put on hold on the criminal side of the case due to a civil lawsuit filed against the couple by the Great Dane Rescue Alliance.
The group had filed a temporary restraining order against the couple getting their dogs back until a hearing could be set for a civil action in the case. Those dogs remained in the organization’s custody.
During that same court proceeding, Wilson County filed a petition for the couple to pay the veterinarian bills incurred after the dogs were seized. Nearly $7,600 in veterinarian bills and medical treatments were incurred, officials said at the time.
Roughly $14,220 in costs were also incurred, officials claimed, in foster home fees, which were estimated by Humane Society of the United States at $15 per day, per dog.
The county was denied that motion, after a judge cited that the sheriff’s office did not incur any costs.
On Sept. 18 all criminal charges were dropped against the Williamses, who by then faced 23 counts each of misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. A Wilson County district court judge ruled the search warrant was invalid after the probable cause for the search warrant had grown stale due to deputies waiting 34 days after they observed the alleged activity on July 19 until they searched the home on Aug. 23.
In November, a judge granted the Great Dane Rescue Alliance group a preliminary injunction whereby they were allowed to keep the dogs seized until a civil trial occurred. But the judge required the rescue group to make regular on-site inspections and make weekly contact with current foster care providers of the dogs, according to court documents. The animal group had to create reports about those visits and calls, and provide those details to the Williamses.
As one case came to a close, another began.
In February of this year, the Williamses received a certified letter to their Evansdale Road home. The letter was from Raleigh attorneys William and Cathryn Little, who wanted a refund after a Great Dane puppy they bought was diagnosed with parvovirus a week after the sale.
"If we do not receive a cashier’s check or money order for $1,000 at our P.O. Box in Raleigh within 10 days of the date of this letter, we will proceed to file suit against you,” the letter read. "If we do not receive the $1,000 payment within 10 days and we are forced to file suit, we will seek to recover from you all of our actual out of pocket damages, which far exceed the enclosed hospital bill of $1,766.71, and will also seek to recover from you all of our legal expenses, including reasonable attorneys’ fees. We will also include a claim seeking (triple) damages against you based upon unfair and deceptive trade practices.”
The case, which Farris is handling, is still active.
The Humane Society of the United States and Great Dane Rescue Alliance paid a high financial price for their intervention in the Williams case, officials with those groups have said.
"They had substantial costs for the veterinary care of the animals, and they had substantial litigation costs as well,” said Great Dane Rescue Alliance’s attorney, Calley Gerber of the Raleigh-based Gerber Animal Law Center,
The Humane Society and Great Dane rescuers weren’t involved in the decision to serve a search warrant and seize the dogs, officials there have said.
"We’re not a law enforcement agency,” Kim Alboum, North Carolina state president of the Humane Society of the United States, previously said. "We’re brought in by law enforcement to assist them.”
She previously said she wishes the search warrant hadn’t been thrown out.
Each of the 28 dogs deputies seized from the Evansdale Road home needed veterinary treatment, rescue groups alleged in legal action.
Animal Enforcement had ongoing problems with calls about the couple dating back to 2009, according to the search warrant application by deputies. Deputies have received numerous complaints from buyers, all of whom have given written statements to officials that the puppies purchased from the couple were sick, according to the search warrant application. In October 2009, deputies received a complaint against the couple on numerous violations, the document said. It also indicates that after Animal Enforcement worked with owners until January 2010, they surrendered 18 dogs, all of which needed medical attention.
In February 2011, the husband and wife called Wilson County Animal Enforcement and surrendered two more dogs, who needed medical attention as well, according to the same document.
On July 19, the couple called deputies again and surrendered six more dogs that needed medical attention, according to the search warrant application.
But a motion filed on behalf of the couple states that the couple "voluntarily relinquished three Great Danes and three mastiffs” due to downsizing their operation and the one mastiff was becoming aggressive toward the other dogs. That motion also contends that prior to July, the couple had continuous contact with a specific deputy regarding the status of their kennel, what kind of improvements needed to be made and voluntarily surrendered dogs when and if they felt they could no longer provide adequate care for them.
Farris has spoken out previously about the family and how the raid and legal challenges changed their lives.
"My folks are still mad,” Farris said earlier this year after the settlement was reached. "I’m sure the other side is, too. The Humane Society of North Carolina ditched this once they saw we were fighting. Once they realized we were putting up a fight, they left Great Dane Alliance holding the bag, this tiny little organization.”
"They can go in, take somebody’s animals, say they incurred all these bills and then just take off, and that’s what they do sometimes,” Farris said. "The breeding facility operated by the Williams family in 2012 had been approved both by the American Kennel Club and the local sheriff’s office prior to the illegal search of their property, which resulted in the illegal seizure of their animals in August of 2012.”
And the couple’s reputation was damaged, he said.
He said Cyndi Williams really loves animals. She and her husband originally went into the business as rescuers, he said, and later became breeders.
Farris said he believes that some groups’ goal was to put them out of business.
The children, including Bobby, were traumatized by the sheriff’s office raid and had been in counseling as a result of the public and personal "scrutiny” on the family’s lives, Farris said.
In an April interview with The Wilson Times, Farris said Bobby was especially affected by the sheriff’s office raid on the family’s home last year.
"Their kids had to go to counseling, because there were two deputies standing outside one of their kids’ doors with their hands on their guns when they did the search,” Farris previously said. "One of the kids was traumatized by that. He locked himself in the room and would not come to the door and would not come out of there because he didn’t know who the heck was out there even though they were yelling, ‘Sheriff!’ He did not trust that.”
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