Matthew Williams ordered held in jail after threatening Shell Point neighbors
By WILLIAM SNOWDEN
A Shell Point man who was arrested two weeks ago after making threats against his neighbors and then arming himself was ordered held in jail.
On Saturday, Dec. 16, Matthew Williams, 48, was arrested by Wakulla County sheriff’s deputies after they spotted him leaving his home with numerous firearms. He initially refused orders from deputies to get down on the ground.
Wakulla Circuit Judge Layne Smith did a first appearance on Williams on Sunday morning and ordered him released on his own recognizance.
On Monday, Wakulla Chief Prosecutor Andrew Deneen filed a motion for pretrial detention and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Williams apparently turned himself in at the Leon County Jail. (Williams has family in Tallahassee.)
At a hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 19, Judge Smith ordered Williams to continue to be held and ordered a mental health evaluation.
Williams appeared at the hearing from the Leon County Jail by Zoom and was reportedly very agitated, wanting to talk, and being frequently told by Wakulla Chief Public Defender Matt Ream not to talk.
Several neighbors appeared as witnesses at the hearing, saying they were in fear of Williams and had called off family Christmas celebrations at Shell Point because of him. They told stories of increasingly erratic behavior by Williams and escalating threats of violence.
“I will not return to our home with him free and out,” one neighbor told the court via Zoom from his primary home in Georgia.
Another neighbor testified that he has since obtained a firearm for protection. He expressed concern that he has “to wait for (Williams) to shoot and hope he’s a bad shot before I can protect myself.”
At the point deputies confronted Williams on Dec. 16, he was armed with a 12 gauge “bulldog” shotgun, a .45 pistol in his waistband and a .22 pistol in his pocket – and lots of ammunition.
Several of the neighbors had filed petitions for injunctions against Williams, but Judge Smith had denied those because they were for protection against repeat violence – and one incident doesn’t qualify.
One resident of Sandpiper Lane in Shell Point said Williams had been standing on his balcony overlooking the road and was brandishing a pistol. The neighbor said Williams pointed the pistol at him.
The judge indicated that the probable cause affidavit filed by deputies in the case was confusing, and that he had ordered Williams released because it wasn’t clear that he pointed a gun at anyone. The PC says that Williams had a gun and pointed a finger at the neighbor.
At the hearing, there was much discussion about whether the court could order Williams to be Baker Acted – which is an involuntary commitment to a mental health facility for up to 72 hours.
Judge Smith expressed reservations about a Baker Act, indicating he wanted a court-review – not just for Williams to be released after two or three days.
Smith found that Williams is a threat to himself and others, and expressed concern that Williams might harm his neighbors or that Williams’ neighbors might harm him.
Meanwhile, the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office filed a Risk Protection Order with the court. That is the so-called “Red Flag Law” to take firearms away from people who are at risk for commiting violence.
Judge Smith signed the RPO later in the afternoon on Dec. 19 with findings that Williams made threats of violence and that there is evidence of Williams being seriously mentally ill.
Williams indicated at the time of his arrest, when the three guns were seized, that he had other firearms.
Additionally, it wasn’t clear that Williams is actually indigent and entitled to the services of the public defender. He had a felony case in October for false imprisonment, dismissed in November, in which he was represented by a private criminal defense attorney. In that case, Williams claimed some people in car threw something at his car and he followed them to a convenience store and blocked them in, refusing to let them a leave. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper responded and found Williams had a pistol in his waistband.
The charges were dropped.