On January 3rd, Jerome County Sheriff Jim Weaver got a tip that Eden, Idaho resident George Timothy Williams (known as Tim to his friends) was a major marijuana dealer. Wasting no time, Weaver that evening led a raid on Williams' residence. Within minutes, Williams and two Jerome County sheriff's deputies, James Moulson and Phillip Anderson, were dead, killed in a brief but furious firefight.
After the smoke cleared, police found four grams of marijuana in the home of what they continue to describe as a "suspected drug dealer."
"Tim was no drug dealer," Connie Chugg told DRCNet. "He liked to smoke a joint and he would keep himself supplied, but as for being a major drug dealer, that's absurd." Chugg and her husband Curtis, who describe themselves as Williams' "best friends," are still, six months after the event, deeply disturbed by their friend's death at the hands of local police.
They have reason to be disturbed. Williams was fingered by a new girlfriend, Mary Ann Taylor, according to press reports, but area residents familiar with Taylor, Williams and local law enforcement draw a darker and more detailed picture. "Mary Ann was a vulnerable woman," said one local resident who declined to be named. "She had a history of mental problems and drug problems and had already lost two children to the state. When the sheriff's people talked to her, they threatened to take away a third child if she did not provide information on drug deals," the source told DRCNet. According to press accounts, Taylor finally told sheriff's deputies she had observed a large quantity of marijuana at Williams' residence the previous evening. That was the basis for the fatal raid.
But other factors, also involving Mary Ann Taylor, were at play as well. According to press accounts confirmed by local sources, Taylor's former boyfriend had recently assaulted Williams in an incident recorded by police, and Williams, fearing for his physical safety, had armed himself. Friends of Williams also say he was hearing impaired.
"I'm sure Tim didn't even know who was breaking down his door," said Eden resident and Williams friend Cindy Kopp. "He didn't deserve to die that way, and neither did the two young police officers who lost their lives." Kopp told DRCNet she blamed Sheriff Weaver. "In my eyes, Sheriff Weaver was judge, jury and executioner. Usually they do a controlled buy and go in and arrest that person, instead they just went in with guns blazing."
Kopp and other Jerome County residents were angry enough with the official silence surrounding the failed raid that they organized a recall campaign directed at Sheriff Weaver. "We needed to get 1,890 signatures to force a recall election," said Kopp, "but we were only able to get 1,775." The county has approximately 10,000 registered voters, but, Kopp said, residents feared publicly challenging the sheriff. "People agreed that the raid went down all wrong, but they're scared to death of Sheriff Weaver. In fact, I didn't even file the petitions -- they're in a safe place -- so Weaver will never get to see who wanted him out."
But Sheriff Weaver and Jerome County taxpayers aren't out of the woods yet. The families of all three men killed in the raid have now filed wrongful death claims naming the county, Sheriff Weaver and informant Mary Ann Taylor, who has since vanished. The Williams family has filed a $10 million claim, the family of Deputy Anderson is asking for $5 million, and the family of Deputy Moulson seeks $2.4 million.
Under Idaho law, the county has 90 days to approve or deny claims before a lawsuit can be filed. The 90-day limit on the Williams claim, the earliest filed, ran out on July 8, but Jerome County prosecutors have not publicly announced a decision. Jerome County prosecutor Eric Shaner, however, told DRCNet on July 12 that the county did not act on the claim within 90 days, and under Idaho law, the inaction effectively denied the claim. Now, the first lawsuit can go forward. Shaner declined any comment on the substance of any of the three claims.
If Williams' friends and family are deeply unhappy with Jerome County and Sheriff Weaver, the families of slain deputies Anderson and Moulson aren't exactly sending praise their way either. In their claim against the county and the sheriff, Anderson family attorneys wrote that Weaver acted on information from an informant of "questionable reliability" to get the search warrant, then added:
"At the time the search warrant was obtained, Sheriff Weaver and Jerome County officers/agents knew that Mr. Williams had recently acquired several guns and armed himself because of past acts of violence involving Mr. Douglas Norgard, the ex-boyfriend of Ms. Taylor. Sheriff Weaver and Jerome County officials also knew (or should have known) that Mr. Williams was in fear for his life and was armed and dangerous." The claim also asserts that Weaver sent his "youngest and most inexperienced deputies" into Williams' home and that "by knowing and intentionally ordering Phillip Anderson to enter a dangerous and life-threatening situation, the Sheriff's office is responsible for his death. The Sheriff intentionally and recklessly chose this dangerous and unnecessary course of action without regard for the safety of his men, when he knew that Mr. Williams was armed and feared for his life."
"I hope this goes to trial," Kopp told DRCNet. "We don't want some settlement with a confidentiality agreement so this all gets buried. We need to get to the bottom of this, especially with Sheriff Weaver."
Jerome County may not be able to afford to settle the claims. Although the county has insurance for such matters, any settlement will cause the insurance carrier to increase the county's rates in the future. And the possibility remains that a settlement or loss in court could exceed insurance limits, leaving Jerome County taxpayers to foot the bill for their wayward sheriff.
Cindy Kopp is prepared to start a new recall petition if justice is not served, she told DRCNet. "There is something seriously wrong with the system in Jerome County," she said.
Making Jerome County and Sheriff Weaver pay would be fine with Connie and Curtis Chugg, but it won't bring their friend back. "Nobody needed to die," Curtis Chugg told DRCNet. "It makes you sit back and shake your head that you have a small town sheriff's department with a gung-ho, big city attitude. They screwed up bad, and I will never be able to take a walk in the mountains with Tim again."
Wife Connie agreed. "We're just normal folks, and so was Tim. If this could happen to Tim, it could happen to anyone."
Williams didn't like hard drugs, said the Chuggs. "He thought marijuana was okay because he said it was a harmless drug." They do not find the irony amusing. "Tim thought one should have the right to choose to smoke pot or not," said Curtis Chugg. "They didn't have to kill him for exercising that right."
And Williams' friends resent the portrayal of him as "a suspected drug dealer." "Let me tell you about Tim," said Connie Chugg. "Curtis had this to say for Tim's eulogy at funeral, and he managed to say it without crying: 'To know Tim was to know the things he loved. He loved to climb a mountain. He loved to shake a stranger's hand. He loved to make things himself better than could be bought at the store. He was someone who was alive, passionate, yet a peaceful, gentle soul."
Idaho politicians and law enforcement officials, meanwhile, are circling the wagons. In May, the Idaho Sheriff's Association pronounced: "It is unfortunate but clear that anyone who blames this incident on the deceased deputies, Jerome County or Sheriff Weaver, supports Mr. Williams' criminal conduct."
Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, in his only public comments on the case, called the shooting a tragedy "that reminds us once again how the men and women who serve in law enforcement put their lives on the line on behalf of all of us every day to maintain law and order."
That doesn't sit too well with Cindy Kopp. "I've tried for weeks to set up a meeting with the governor to discuss this matter. They never call me back."