The last days of Trey Williams: A year has passed, the questions grow

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Why would someone as beloved and embraced as Trey F. Williams be shot to death by a police officer in a confrontation in his grandmother’s home? The questions and mourning linger a year after that day.

By Lisa King

He was a man-child many embraced. He was an enigma who wouldn’t let anyone close enough to know what was inside him. He was a soul in search of something. He was overwhelmed by a problem no one could seem to identify.


This was a man-child who became angry at a coworker and was fired from his job, a large, forceful man who would not control his emotions until police took him away from his workplace and put him in a cell.

This was the former athlete struggling with changes in his body and life, looking to the Bible for new guidance.

This was an apparently lost soul walking through a busy street with a Bible in one hand and a plastic pipe in the other, intimidating motorists and prompting calls to 911.

This was Trey F. Williams the week he died.

This was not the Trey Williams so many say they knew for so long.

And that is the conundrum those who knew him still confront a year after Williams was shot to death by a Shelbyville Police officer who was trying to subdue him in his grandmother’s home.

It underscores a problem a community still mourns, people still question and whose ultimate words someday likely will be spoken by a civil court jury.

But no words, no debate, no new analysis will change the afternoon of Nov. 19, 2011. Nothing can halt the unending flow of questions that start with the simplest: Why?

Not everyone will talk about Trey Williams, who was 18 the day he died on Clifton Court. His parents, Gardner and Stephanie Williams, largely have kept silent, choosing to speak publicly through their lawyer. His maternal grandmother, Dorothy Farris, has not slept a night in the neat little home she found in chaos that Saturday.

But on Monday night, the anniversary of his death, about 100 gathered for a candlelight vigil just across the street from the home. It was quiet and solemn, and Gardner Williams did say this:

“Everyone here, they are feeling the loss with us. It’s hard to believe, when you try to put it into words. How can an eighteen-year-old boy be killed, and then be made out to be like he was a criminal? But he wasn’t. That’s what everybody needs to know.

“I know we can’t bring him back, but if we could just get him to rest. I know he’s not at rest, because he knows what went on. It’s amazing to see how much he was loved by people in this community. It’s wonderful, the people who have just come out to say, we’re there for you, and just keep praying. And that’s what we have to do, is just keep praying.”



‘He wasn’t like that’

Those who knew Trey Williams well admit that he was a hard person to get to know, but once you earned his trust, his loyalty was beyond compare.

"Trey had a hard shell; he didn't let many people get to know him, but once you did, he was a true friend," said Rick Parsons, Williams' former basketball coach at Shelby County High School. "He was a true friend to me."

Another close friend and former teammate, Norris "Boomer" Beckley Jr., described Williams as a very loving person.

"He liked to joke around a lot." Beckley said. "The thing about Trey was, he just wanted to keep everybody smiling. If something was bothering him, he never wanted to show it. He always had a smile on his face."

The memory of that smile was what his aunt said kept her going in the dark days after he was killed.

"He was my nephew, and I loved him dearly," said his aunt, Rita, his mother's sister.

"The way they portrayed him, he was not like that. I don't know what was going on with him that day, but I know he was not like that. He always had a big smile on his face. I used to babysit him and put him on the bus when he was little. He was as sweet as he could be."

She paused to share a memory that she said comforts her when grief washes over her, as it sometimes does.

"One day, he and I were with a friend of mine, and he said to me, 'Aunt Rita, you need to quit telling all of your business.' And when he said that, his face just lit up with a big old smile," she said. "Every time I get down, I think about that day."

His mother once described him as "kind-hearted," and Farris has said he was a good child with good manners.


A turbulent year

Parsons said that Williams had been despondent the year before his death because he had put on a lot of weight and that was having a negative impact on his ability to play basketball during his senior year, his absolute favorite thing to do.

"It hurt his basketball skills, and he would get tired easily; he just couldn't get into shape," Parsons said. "He really tried, but he ended up having to leave the team in about January [2011]."

Parsons said he knew that had to be traumatic for Williams because although he had been to the Sweet 16 tournament with the team as a reserve in the 2009-10 season, he had advanced to being a part-time starter for the Rockets.

Parsons said that although he didn't know why Williams had gained as much as 60 pounds fairly quickly, he didn't think overeating caused it.

"I watched his eating habits, and he wasn't eating all that much," he said.

Williams was also apparently having problems at home because he had been living with Farris at that home on Clifton Court for most of the 2011-12 school year, said the family's attorney, Ann Oldfather of Louisville.

"[At the time of his death] he was kind of back and forth between his parents’ home and his grandmother's; he had lived with her for the last ten months of the school year," Oldfather said. "He was obviously very troubled on that day [when he was killed], or he wouldn't have been doing was he was doing."


No drug pattern

The fact that Williams was very troubled at the time of his death was an important aspect of the lawsuit that his family filed last week against the city, the Shelbyville Police Department, as well as the officers involved in the shooting, Suzanna Marcum and Frank Willoughby, and SPD Chief Robert Schutte. The suit says the city and Schutte neglected to train police officers to deal properly with "citizens with mental health issues."

One of the suit's reasons for suing the city is based upon the allegation that police officers are not properly trained to deal with mentally ill people – the 19-page document makes reference in several places to Williams' "disturbed condition," says that he had been "suffering from mental difficulties and had been treated for this condition in the days before," and points out specific behavior by Williams to illustrate that he was disturbed –  but the suit does not elaborate about the nature of his unbalance or what kind of treatment he was undergoing.

Williams' friends, however, say that his behavioral problems were not the result of drug abuse.

"He didn't take drugs or anything like that," Beckley said.

Kentucky State Police Detective Ben Wolcott, who was in charge of the investigation into the shooting, echoed that sentiment.

"We did a toxicology report on him, and he had some marijuana in his system that day, but other than that, there was nothing," he said. "I don't have any idea what caused him to have an episode that day. It's a question I think about often. I don't have any answers. I wish I knew."


The final week

Beckley, now a sophomore at Western Kentucky University, says he too, thinks often about that tragic day.

"We were playing ball, and he came in with a Bible in his hand," he said. "And somebody laughed, and said what's up with that? And he said, 'I'm going to turn my life around,' and somebody asked him, 'Are you going to be a preacher or something?' I just told him, ‘Hey, man, whatever you want to do is OK with me.’"

Williams was at Clear Creek Park that day for less than 15 minutes, according to police records, when he got into an argument with someone on the basketball court and left on foot. Beckley said he doesn't remember what was said to set Williams off, but he said he thinks he was upset because he had been arrested earlier that week.

"He told me he had been in jail, and he was not happy about that," he said. "He had just graduated, and he had been working, trying to get a car, and he was thinking about going to college."

Williams had lost his job five days before, after getting into an altercation with another employee at Dairy Queen on Midland Trail.

Police had been called to the scene and had arrested Williams and charged him with disorderly conduct after warning him unsuccessfully several times to stop yelling, the police report said.

Bernice Dixon, owner of Dairy Queen, declined to talk about Williams when asked how long he had been having behavioral problems.

"I do not want to say anything about him, because I had fired him the Monday before [his death] for getting violent in the store," she said. "So I have no comment."

Wolcott said that whatever it was that was bothering Williams, it seemed to him that it came to a head pretty quickly before his death, because Williams never had been in trouble or arrested before.

"The incident at Dairy Queen and the incident that happened there [FAC] are the only two I know of," Wolcott said.


The day he died

It was only a few minutes after the incident at the Family Activity Center that calls began to come into 911 dispatch about an unidentified black male engaging in bizarre activity on Midland Trail, according to police records.

Dispatchers received descriptions about a barefoot black guy with no shirt carrying what appeared to be a Bible and a pole, walking through traffic and even striking the windshield of a car with the pole. Callers described him as appearing to be "off his rocker" and "out of it."

Williams went to Farris' home, which is just off Mack Walters Boulevard, only a short walk from where reports said the man with the Bible was seen. He broke out a window to enter the home because he didn't have his key with him, Oldfather said.

When a neighbor saw Williams break out the window, she called the police, and Marcum and Willoughby arrived to check out the possibility of a break-in.

They located a maintenance man working nearby, and got him to let them into the house, which was locked and is property managed by Socayr Property Management.

A video, taken from Marcum's Taser, showed the two officers walking through the neat, orderly home, calling out "police." They received no reply but heard what sounded like chanting coming from the bathroom. They tried the door, but it was locked.

Willoughby ordered the person inside to come out, and when he didn't, Willoughby kicked in the door, finding Williams standing there, wearing only shorts.

Willoughby told Williams to get onto the floor, and as Williams appeared to be trying to turn around, he was shot numerous times with both officers’ Tasers. The weapons did not subdue Williams, and he fought back, with the struggle spilling out into a nearby bedroom.

Both officers were injured in the melee, and Willoughby was incapacitated.

The struggle ended with Marcum, responding to Willoughby’s plea for help, shooting Williams three times with her Glock handgun,

Wolcott and other KSP detectives were called in to handle the investigation of an officer-involved shooting. Marcum and Willoughby were recovering from their injuries and were placed on paid administrative leave. The findings were turned over to a grand jury in Shelby County, which in February 2012 found Marcum was justified in the shooting.

Marcum, a 17-year-police veteran, had said she had to shoot Williams to save the life of her partner. Although Willoughby returned to the force last spring, Marcum remains on leave.

Neither of the officers nor Schutte ever has agreed to discuss the events surrounding the shooting.


Friends wanted to help

Those close to Williams have expressed regret that they didn't know what was troubling him or how to help them, they say.

"The trouble was, it was hard to know if something was bothering Trey; he didn't want anybody to know if he was hurting," Beckley said. "He was like that. If he was mad or hurt, he didn't show it."

Beckley said he has always regretted not going after Williams that day at the FAC.

"When he left, nobody tried to go after him, to try talk to him, not even me," he said. "And then later, when we heard what happened, it was like, no way! We just couldn't believe it. And I just kept thinking, I should have went after him, I should have done something."

Parsons said he and Williams were so close, he should have known something was wrong, but he didn't.

"We still had a relationship, even after he quit the team," he said. "He would come by and say, 'Hi, coach, what's up?' And I tell you, I never knew Trey to mess around with drugs or hang out with rough kids. And he worked hard; everything he got, he got honest."

In the police report made out when Williams was arrested on Nov. 14, five days before he was killed, the slot specifying alcohol or drug involvement was marked "no."

Parsons said he told Williams he would be there for him in times of trouble but said Williams never let on that anything was wrong.

"I told him one time when we were talking, if he ever had any problems, to call me, but I never heard of anything going on with him until that [shooting] happened."


A Christmas memory

Parsons shared some memories of Williams he said he would never forget.

"It was Christmastime, and he wanted to borrow twenty dollars, and I said, ‘Sure, what do you need?’ And he said he wanted to get something for his parents for Christmas. I asked him what he wanted for Christmas for himself, and I'll never forget what he told me. He said, ‘Coach, I don't need nothing. But I want them to have something.'"

Parsons paused, then continued emotionally, "Three days before he died, he came up to me, and gave me a big hug. And I hugged him back and said, 'Hey, man, can't you afford a razor?' And he just grinned, and said, 'I'm going to grow me a little beard.'

“Trey, he sure had a lot of heart."