Crime

He’s a registered sex offender. So why was he allowed to officiate children’s games?

James Earl Williams
James Earl Williams Courtesy/Tarrant County Sheriff's Office

Granbury and Glen Rose school officials say they’ll now require all prospective athletic officials to submit to a background check after learning that a registered sex offender recently accused of abduction and rape of a 13-year-old girl had been officiating girls basketball games for the districts.

James Earl Williams, 52, was arrested in late September after Fort Worth police say they discovered through his Facebook page that he had been officiating games for both the Granbury and Glen Rose school districts — employment that he had not reported to police.

Williams had been required to register as a sex offender after being convicted and sentenced in 2016 to two years in state jail for the attempted kidnapping of 11-year-old Amber Hewitt in Watauga. He also had a previous kidnapping conviction out of Hawaii.

Williams was still in the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday when Fort Worth police accused him in the 2015 abduction and rape of a 13-year-old girl in east Fort Worth. He’d been linked to the 2015 case by a DNA database, an affidavit states.

Jeff Meador, a spokeswoman with the Granbury school district, said Thursday in an email that Williams was not a school district employee “but rather was an athletic official contracted through a local officiating representative.”

That representative, Larry Pollard, said Thursday that he runs a local officiating organization that assigns referees to work junior high, freshman and JV basketball games for school districts, including Granbury and Glen Rose.

“We provide the officials for those schools and there’s a lot of them that wouldn’t be able to have basketball games if it wasn’t for us,” Pollard said.

Polllard acknowledged that he did not run background checks on officials he assigned to games but said most are men and women that he’s known for years.

“Whenever I get in a bind ... sometimes I had to go outside to find a person to help us out. Somewhere along the line James Earl Williams’ name came up,” Pollard said.

Meador said Fort Worth police had contacted the Granbury district several months ago to ask about Williams’ work as a referee but did not provide specifics of their investigation. He said the district only learned of Williams’ criminal history, including that he was a registered sex offender, after being contacted by the Star-Telegram on Thursday.

“In consultation with legal counsel, we are increasing our own local procedures to require that all prospective athletic officials submit to a background check through the same system used for booster club members, PTO members, program mentors, and others volunteering on our campuses,” Meador said in an email Thursday.

Superintendent Wayne Rotan said the Glen Rose school district was not aware that some members of Pollard’s group were not UIL-registered officials and therefore, not required to undergo the same background check requirements as UIL-registered chapters. The district will now conduct its own background checks of officials who come from groups not registered with the UIL.

Pollard said while he did not run a background check on Williams, he did ask the man several questions. He acknowledged that did not include whether Williams had been convicted of a crime.

Pollard said Williams had told him that he was a member of the Fort Worth Basketball Officials Association.

“I asked guys in the Fort Worth chapter if they knew him, they said yes. That he was a member,” Pollard said. “I just accepted that as fact.”

The Fort Worth Basketball Officials Association, a chapter of the Texas High School Basketball Officials Association, runs background checks on all members, officials say.

Will Smotherman, president of the Fort Worth chapter, said Thursday night that there is no record that Williams was a member of the Fort Worth chapter or a member of the Texas High School Basketball Officials Association in records reviewed dating back 10 years.

Michael Fitch, executive director of the Texas Association of Sports Officials, said a review of records dating back 20 years shows that Williams was not a member there.

Pollard said he did not use Williams regularly and stopped using him altogether after getting a call from a Fort Worth investigator several months ago, asking about Williams’ employment and informing him that Williams was a sex offender.

“I said, Whoa!,” Pollard said. “Once she told me that he was, he was dropped immediately. I hadn’t spoken to him or anything since. I did work with the lady detective, providing her with the names, the schools, the dates he did officiate.”

After getting calls Thursday from both Granbury and Glen Rose school districts, Pollard said he is gathering paperwork from all officials working with his group so that background checks can be run on each.

“If they don’t sign them, they won’t be working anymore until they do,” he said.

Lots of children will be roaming the streets on Oct. 31, and for parents - the scariest part of Halloween could be not knowing about potential sex offenders in the neighborhood. Here's a tutorial to check the area.

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For 23 years, Deanna Boyd has covered crime for the Star-Telegram. She digs deep into the stories behind the tragedies and hosts Out of the Cold, a podcast about unsolved murders in North Texas. She is a University of Texas at Austin graduate and has won several journalism awards through the years.
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