PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — On Tuesday another drug trafficking defendant was released from prison because of the alleged misconduct of a Bay County Sheriff’s deputy.
Kenneth Taylor accepted a plea deal in March for trafficking charges and was sentenced to 36 months in prison. But that plea deal and 3-year sentence were vacated Tuesday after allegations surfaced against Deputy Erin Williams.
“This was an internal investigation by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office that was not turned over to the State Attorney’s Office. It could have clearly led to a very different type of investigation in these cases,” said Rusty Shepard, Taylor’s attorney. “Anytime you get a law enforcement officer who is willing to lie on, certainly on an arrest affidavit, a probable cause affidavit here, or on an affidavit of a search warrant that is extremely troubling.”
Shepard added, “So this is awful but here we are.”
Shepard repeatedly noted that Taylor was now taking a “plea of convenience” so that he could immediately be released from prison rather than start the legal process over from square one after his plea and sentence were vacated.
Judge Dustin Stephenson noted the strange situation during his remarks from the stand.
“Mr. Taylor, unusual set of circumstances but it sounds to me like you are ready to go home is that right?” he said.
Taylor joined nine other defendants who had plea deals or trial convictions vacated recently. At issue was whether or not Deputy Williams lied in documents and on the stand about a confidential informant’s status as a registered CI. Williams was suspended and is under an internal investigation over the matter.
News 13 has obtained two professional standards investigations into Williams. One of them, from April 2022, concerns complaints made by the confidential informant about Williams. The woman told his supervisors that there were serious issues with how sting operations were conducted.
Warning: Graphic language is used in the documents below.
She also said there was no live monitoring of the drug buys, she was required to use her own money to make some illegal purchases, and that Williams made unprofessional sexual comments to her.
Those accusations were partially accepted by Williams’ supervisors and he was reprimanded and suspended for eight hours.
He then faced a much harsher punishment in December of 2022 when he was nearly fired from the agency.
That investigation concerned drugs and other evidence found in his desk that had not been properly submitted into the chain of custody. At that point, Sheriff Tommy Ford issued a memo to Williams. He wrote then that he had seriously considered terminating the deputy.
Instead, Williams was suspended without pay for 40 hours, put on disciplinary probation for one year, and dropped from the SWAT team and the US Marshall’s Task Force. He was also transferred out of drug investigations and back to field services.
On Tuesday, Sheriff Ford issued a statement to News 13. You can read his full comments below:
The Bay County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating a complaint provided by the State Attorney’s Office on August 21 regarding the actions of Deputy Erin Williams in trial and deposition testimony.
Based on the complaint, an internal investigation was initiated and is currently underway. We are prohibited by Florida Statute from discussing this current matter until the conclusion of the investigation.
We have investigated two previous matters concerning Investigator Williams and have taken disciplinary action.
The most recent was an investigation concerning the failure to submit drug evidence in a timely manner that sustained violations of agency evidence policy in November 2022. Significant discipline was imposed to include removal from the Special Investigations Division and reassignment to Patrol, 40 hour suspension without pay, 12 months disciplinary probation and removal from special teams.
Contact was made with the State Attorney’s Office on cases in which the admissibility of the evidence would be in question. A previous investigation in May 2022 sustained a policy violation of failing to document the informant in the current matter and failing to maintain the chain of custody of evidence. We have fully investigated each matter as they have been discovered and enacted discipline to ensure accountability.