The investigation into the December 2018 shooting death of a 22-year-old Hancock County man following a traffic stop should be closed because GBI findings revealed the fatal shots were self-inflicted, Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley said.
Dequane Rayshun Williams’ death resulted from self-inflicted gunshot wounds and not by the hands of any law enforcement officer, according to the GBI investigation.
Williams, out on bond for an armed robbery charge in Lamar County, was wanted by authorities on an active bench warrant.
He was sitting in the backseat of an Acura driven by his sister, Samantha “Mamp” Watkins, who was stopped by a deputy with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 12, 2018, because one of the headlights on the car was not working. In the backseat with Williams was his fiancé, Makaila Hines. Another friend, Jerica Wyatt, also of Sparta, was seated in the passenger’s seat of the car.
The traffic stop happened shortly after 6 p.m.
The district attorney sent a letter Tuesday to Special Agent Joe Wooten, agent in-charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Region 6 Office in Milledgeville, informing him that the investigation should be closed.
A copy of that letter was sent to the newspaper later that same day by the district attorney.
Bradley explained in the letter that his office’s involvement in the case was to determine whether there was any sufficient evidence of criminal misbehavior that warranted prosecution.
“The only crime appears to have been committed by the deceased, Dequane Williams, when he pointed a handgun at the officers,” Bradley said. “There is no evidence of a crime being committed by a surviving individual.”
The district attorney explained that a grand jury in Hancock County could examine criminal actions or peace officers’ use of deadly force under O.C.G.A. 15-12-71, neither of which currently appear in the Williams case.
“Should any further evidence appear illuminating this case, please let us know,” Bradley told Wooten in the letter. “With the evidence that we have at the moment, we can find no criminal actions that are prosecutable.”
Bradley said an autopsy to determine exactly how Williams died was performed by Dr. John “Andy” Wassum at a Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory and that the autopsy concluded that the victim died from four gunshot wounds.
Each of the gunshot wounds was inflicted about the same time and from the same gun, Bradley said.
“When we met with Dr. Wassum, he reported that when he was first briefed on the case, he, like all of us, met the suggestion that Williams shot himself four times with notable skepticism — nonetheless, that was what his examination showed as well,” Bradley said. “Though not conclusive, the shots appeared to Dr. Wassum to have been fired at close range and in a pattern traveling down the body from the neck to the lower abdomen.”
Bradley explained that Dr. Wassum, based on the angles, timeframe, and paths of travel of the gunshots, concluded that the fatal shots were self-inflicted.
The doctor was unable to say whether or not Williams shot himself intentionally or accidentally, the district attorney pointed out.
Two of the projectiles recovered from Williams’ body were later forwarded to Emily Bagwell, a firearms examiner at the GBI Crime Lab, who evaluated them, as well as the handgun found near Williams’ body.
The inspection of the Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver showed the weapon was in working order, Bradley said.
Four of the five rounds in the gun’s cylinder had been fired.
During Bagwell’s examination of the two projectiles recovered from Williams’ body, as well as one round recovered from a ditch near the scene of the traffic stop on Fairmont Road, were conclusively fired from that weapon, the district attorney said.
“That same Smith & Wesson revolver, which had fired the lethal rounds and was found at Williams’ feet, was swabbed for touch DNA at various locations,” Bradley said.
Those locations included the grips, the trigger, the trigger release, the barrel, and a projectile.
Each of the swabbings was tested individually.
“All areas showed Dequane Williams’ DNA — some locations had another unidentified contributor,” Bradley said.
All of the law enforcement officers on the scene at the time of the shooting, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Ricky Benford, Hancock County Sheriff’s Office Captain Pat Williams, and Georgia State Patrol Trooper First Class Brandon Moses, all voluntarily provided what Bradley described as an epithelial cell sample of their DNA to be compared to DNA found on the revolver.
“When compared with the swabbings, the forensic biologist with the state crime lab concluded that each of the three officers [was] excluded as having contributing touch DNA on the weapon that killed Williams,” Bradley said.
The district attorney said the investigation further revealed that Williams committed the offense of aggravated assault when he aimed a deadly weapon at Capt. Williams and Trooper Moses.
Either of those officers “would have been completely justified in using lethal force,” at the time, Bradley said. “However, as the situation had developed so quickly and in an unusual fashion, neither officer had drawn his weapon. Capt. Williams had a body camera on his uniform, but had not, due to the speed of events, turned it on.”
And Trooper Moses’ patrol car “had a non-functioning dashboard camera.”
Bradley said the state trooper had previously requested that the camera be repaired.
“It (patrol car’s dash cam), too, did not record the events,” Bradley said. “Radio traffic indicated the urgency facing those on scene. No evidence exists contradicting the officers’ statements.”
Bradley said in his letter to Wooten that Williams had told his bail bondsman, a Hancock County businessman, that he wasn’t going back — referring to confinement in jail.
“The bondsman, concerned about Williams’ reliability on bond, had requested law enforcement to bring Williams back to jail so that the bondsman could come off the bond,” Bradley said.
The district attorney provided additional information about the traffic stop, as gathered from witnesses in the car.
“According to the witnesses in the car, when pulled over, Williams said, ‘I told you not to drive like that,’” Bradley said.
Deputy Benford then walked up to the car and requested documents from the driver without ever interacting with Williams.
“When the deputy returned to his patrol car, Williams started cursing and stated, ‘I got to run,’” Bradley said in his letter.
Williams got out and ran toward the rear of the car.
By that time, Capt. Williams, along with Trooper Moses, had arrived on the scene to provide backup.
The district attorney said the two officers parked behind Benford’s patrol car.
“When Williams ran toward the rear of the car, he ran directly toward the arriving officers,” Bradley said. “Upon encountering Capt. Williams, Dequane Williams asked, ‘Are you looking for me?’”
Williams continued running away, but stopped in a ditch beside the road and pulled out a handgun and pointed it directly at Capt. Williams, the prosecutor said.
“Trooper Moses quickly shoved Williams backward,” Bradley said. “Neither officer had drawn their weapons.”
Officers said Williams fell against the back wall of the ditch. A short time later, officers heard the sound of gunfire before they saw Williams fall at the bottom of the ditch, Bradley said.
“The first shot they heard was followed by a few seconds of silence — the next shots came in rapid succession,” Bradley said.
GBI Crime Scene Specialist Brian Hargrove processed the scene.
“Williams’ body showed fresh grass and vegetation consistent with that found in the ditch,” Bradley said. “The uniforms of Capt. Williams and TFC Moses were clean with no similar vegetation, hence giving no indication that they had been in the ditch. The wounds appeared to be close range or press contact, and this was inflicted by a gun against or within a foot of Williams’ skin.”
A thorough examination revealed what appeared to be a fresh bullet that was lodged in the front roadside wall of the ditch.
“That round would have been traveling toward, rather than away from where the officers were standing,” Bradley said in his letter to Wooten.
Immediately after the shooting, the weapons of the three officers involved at the scene were inspected, he said, noting none of the weapons revealed evidence that they had recently been fired.
“All three officers had been carrying standard-issue, functional semi-automatic weapons, which would have when fired, ejected shell casings,” according to Bradley. “No shell casings were found at the scene, suggesting that only a revolver was fired. Crime Scene Specialist Hargrove found no evidence of staging, movement, or manipulation of the scene.”
Bradley also said two of the three women in the car with Williams before he got out and ran provided authorities with statements about what happened.
Williams’ sister, Samantha Watkins, however, declined to provide a statement to authorities.
“They described Williams’ agitation before his departure from the car and gave his direction of travel as being toward the officers,” Bradley said.
Hines told authorities she knew that Williams carried a silver and black revolver, but she wasn't sure he had with him that night.
“She could give no details about the shooting and reported not hearing the gunshots,” Bradley said.
Wyatt, meanwhile, told authorities that despite their objections, Williams got out of the car and ran toward the officers, Bradley said. She reported hearing three to five gunshots in what was described as rapid succession.
The prosecutor said Wyatt indicated she saw no one with a gun.
“She then describes getting out of the car to look, but was unable to see anything due to darkness and the glare of the blue lights,” Bradley said. “Upon instructions to get back into the car, all three women, according to Wyatt, discussed that Williams either shot the officers or that they had shot him. None had an answer from what they could see.”
Immediately upon hearing what had happened, Hancock County Sheriff Tomlyn Primus requested special agents from the GBI to assist his office with the investigation.