An Army reservist says she was wrongfully arrested for being absent without leave by armed officers who stormed her home at gunpoint while her children watched in panic.
Sgt. 1st Class Shantaya Williams, 44, from Grand Prairie, Texas, was reportedly nursing her 1-year-old on Nov. 30 when authorities broke down her door and took her into custody.
After about two weeks behind bars Williams was allowed to return home.
“I’m more hurt, disappointed and disgusted because it’s like, who else has this been done to,” Williams told a local CBS affiliate after her release. When asked if she felt mistreated and disrespected by the Army she said, “I do, because it could have been handled differently.”
Williams, an Iraq War veteran who entered the Army in 1997, has been in an ongoing battle over a transfer from her role with the 2nd Battalion, 381st Army Regiment in Texas to the 497th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion in Virginia.
With a decades long military career in both the Army and Army Reserve, the human resources specialist had hoped a letter from her doctor about her treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, her new baby and child custody issues would be enough to appeal her transfer.
Instead, U.S. Marshals and Grand Prairie police arrested the mother of four at her home and accused her of desertion.
“It’s a real unfortunate bureaucratic snafu and it really is an example of an excessive use of force,” Williams’ attorney Sean Timmons said in an interview with Military Times.
“The allegation that she is a deserter is defamatory, outrageous, salacious and unsupported by any evidence,” he said, adding that the arrest was potentially motivated by retaliation, race and gender.
According to Army policy, soldiers are considered AWOL if they are voluntarily absent from a place of duty without permission or authorization for more than 24 hours.
Timmons told Military Times that Williams was first notified in February of her transfer, and that she was told to report to her new unit as early as Sept. 28, but no later than Oct. 28. Williams continued to petition the transfer and was alerted that she would be put on AWOL status, the soldier’s attorney said, but added that she still was working remotely and had not yet been out-processed by her current unit when she was arrested.
Army spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith shared the following statement with local ABC outlet WFAA.
“The Army Reserve dropped Sgt. 1st Class Shantaya Williams from unit rolls according to law and regulation. Her command remained in contact with her while she was away from the unit and made several attempts to address her concerns. On Oct. 29, a deserter warrant for Williams was initiated after her chain of command confirmed her absence without leave for 60 days. On Nov. 30, the U.S. Marshals Service executed the warrant pursuant to USMS policies and regulations. On Dec. 10, the USMS transferred her to the custody of the U.S. Army Personnel Control Facility at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.”
“Williams completed all administrative requirements at Fort Sill’s personnel control facility and was placed on leave to be with her family during the holidays. She is scheduled to return to Fort Sill on Jan. 9, 2023.”
The trail of alleged miscommunication and conflicting accounts of the soldier’s absence offer a disturbing picture into how use of force was employed against one of the Army’s own service members.
At this time, Williams has not been formally notified of any charges, Timmons said, but he expects that she will face prosecution.
“My wife has been embarrassed, humiliated in the eyes of the public. And it needs to be rectified,” the soldier’s husband, Jack Williams, told WFAA. “She’s emotionally hurt. She feels betrayed by something that she had dedicated her life to. It’s just a horrible situation.”
“The U.S. Army is initiating administrative investigations to review the processing of Sgt. 1st Class Williams’ Permanent Change of Station and to ensure the desertion action was handled in accordance with U.S. Army policy. These personnel matters are administrative in nature and outside the criminal investigative purview of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division,” Army spokesman Lt. Col. Terence Kelley said in a statement to Military Times.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media