Deputy Kevin Williams

Deputy Kevin Williams

MOUNT VERNON — As he patrols the Kenyon College beat, Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Williams said that he has a family of his own and treats Kenyon College students in the same friendly and civil manner as he would his grown children.

His comments, made in an interview with the News Tuesday, followed those made by a Kenyon student group, identifying itself as the Sheriff’s Committee of the Black Student Union, which appeared Feb. 3 before Gambier Village Council. The group’s lead spokesperson, Audrey Mueller, asked councilmembers about the possibility of “potential solutions or alternatives to the current sheriff’s deputy,” without mentioning Williams directly by name. The group’s appearance came as village officials get set to negotiate a new contract with the sheriff’s office. The current four-year contract expires on April 4.

Williams said reading coverage of the council meeting in the News was the first time he was made aware of the fledgling committee and its concerns. He also noted, as did Sheriff David Shaffer, that the sheriff’s office has received no official complaints from any student, or student group about the way Williams — who was assigned to patrol the Village of Gambier more than four years ago — has handled his job. That includes no complaint involving a Sept. 28 incident in Gambier when he stopped a golf cart for approximately 1 minute at Chase Avenue near Scott Lane, telling its driver, Monique Kamara, she should not be driving on the streets and sidewalk since golf carts are not licensed to do so in Gambier.

Kamara, who is African-American, was allowed to proceed on with passengers who included Kenyon alumni, with the incident occurring late on a Saturday evening during the Black Student Union’s 50th Alumni Weekend. He told her the golf cart was not licensed to drive on village streets and sidewalks and should be returned where she got it, but did tell her she should drop off her passengers first. They had been in a residential area and were on their way back to The Kenyon Inn.

Williams — who has documented every engagement he has had with Kamara, starting in 2017 — said a member of the college campus safety team, Carol Brown, had advised him earlier that night a student was driving a golf cart on the sidewalks and the wrong way on Gaskin Avenue/Ohio 308. Williams said Brown also told him her supervisor, Greg von Freymann, said he had asked the same driver, Kamara, to stop driving her golf cart on the sidewalk the night before.

Though she did not appear at the Feb. 3 Gambier Village Council meeting, Kamara has written in the Kenyon student publication, The Collegian, that she believes she has been racially profiled by Williams on more than one occasion. She said those encounters have left her in states of being “moments away from a panic attack.”

Williams said his interactions Kamara have involved professionalism on his part and have never involved an escalation of any kind. He said he comes from a biracial family himself, with his father, Henry Lloyd Williams, being an African-American who served in the U.S. military during the Korean War and in Vietnam. His family had been subjected to racial harassment, Williams offered, so knowing what that is like, he would never inflict it upon others.

Williams also said, in response to the student sheriff’s committee inquiring as to whether he has received implicit bias training and/or racial sensitivity training, that he has nearly 20 years of experience as a law enforcement officer. Much of that time was spent as a police officer in Clinton Township in Columbus, where he took numerous cultural diversity training, including how to interact with Somali refugees. And where it concerns interacting with college students, Williams said he has previously coordinated security for Ohio State University’s Security Management Association. Its members frequently interact with students.

Williams said it is not uncommon for him to interact with an entire group of Kenyon students outside, asking how they are doing and letting them know he likes communicating with them. His shifts patrolling the village are Wednesdays through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 3-11 p.m. He is one of two full-time patrol deputies assigned to Gambier, the other being Kreig Cline.

“When I approach people, you know what my best tool is? My smile,” Williams offered. “It kind of helps put people at ease.”

Williams said he met with Kenyon officials on Oct. 27 of last year following the golf cart incident, including their Title IX representative, and said the meeting went well. Shaffer said he had also met with Kenyon leadership members before that meeting, including President Sean Decatur, to discuss overall sheriff’s office-Kenyon College relations. He described it as productive.

Just recently, Shaffer said, the college informed him that they had looked into the golf cart incident and found Williams had no wrongdoing on his part.

The News asked Kenyon College to confirm that finding, with spokesperson Mary Keister, director or news and media relations, offering: “The account compiled by Kenyon’s Office for Civil Rights sought to provide additional context of the incident to college leadership; it was not a formal investigation. We appreciate the partnership of everyone involved and their shared commitment to creating a safe and welcoming community for all.”

According to the current sheriff’s office four-year contract with Gambier, the sheriff decides which trainings are necessary for his assigned deputies. Any additional trainings deemed necessary are to be paid for by the village.

The contract also states, “The Village shall have the right to refuse for cause any person the Sheriff desires to place in the village, or once assigned, demand for cause that such person be reassigned out of the village.” The contract also stipulates that if its contents conflict with the contract between the sheriff and the Fraternal Order of Police, the union which represents sheriff’s deputies, “the terms and conditions of the FOP contract shall prevail.”

Shaffer was asked what his position would be during upcoming contract negotiations if the village asked to have Williams reassigned.

“I don’t know what just cause they would have,” he said. “The college completed its investigation and found no wrongdoing. And we have received no official complaints (about Williams) from anyone.”

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Larry Di Giovanni: 740-397-5333 or larry@mountvernonnews.com and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews