— PIEDMONT, Ala. (AP) — A candidate for the Piedmont mayor's office who works as a police officer in the city fathered a child with a teenager in California eight years ago, he says, an incident that has led to an internal investigation by the Police Department.
Tony Williams, in an interview with The Star this week, acknowledged his relationship with the teen girl in Riverside, Calif., in 2003. He said he did not know her age at the time of the relationship and learned of it only after she revealed she'd become pregnant.
Williams denied any criminal responsibility, and said the information was being circulated in Piedmont to damage his campaign. He said he does not feel the incident compromises his work as a police officer or a possible elected official.
"Why would I think I was breaking the law if I thought she was 18?" Williams said.
Asked if he knew that Williams had a child with a minor in California, Piedmont police Chief Steven Tidwell replied by email that he could not comment on "an on-going internal investigation", and asked a reporter for any information that might aid in the investigation.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in California declined to comment on Williams' circumstances, because no one had filed a criminal complaint. A spokesman with the district attorney's office in Riverside discussed with The Star laws and criminal procedure in California in cases of sex between adults and minors.
The current husband of the woman with whom Williams, 41, fathered the child called The Star earlier this month. The man said that Williams, who was 32 at the time, had consensual sex in 2003 with the 15-year-old girl, who Williams met while living in California. The age of consent in California is 18.
Online court records in a 2011-12 custody case in Cherokee County show the girl gave birth in 2004 at age 16, and that Williams is the father. Williams currently has shared custody of the child with the mother, but he is the child's primary guardian, the mother said by phone Monday.
Williams said Monday at an interview he arranged with a reporter at an Anniston attorney's office that he did not know the girl was a minor when he met her through the Internet. He first found out her age, Williams said, when she told him after learning she was pregnant.
The mother of the child, whose name is being withheld because she may be the victim of statutory rape, declined to comment Monday on whether Williams knew her real age when the two had sex.
Williams said it's no secret that his child's mother was a minor when she gave birth, and that he's never lied about it when asked.
Williams arrived at the interview at the attorney's office with the child. After a reporter asked to speak in private, Williams declined, and insisted the child remain for the interview.
After the interview, Williams asked his child to ask the reporter a question, but the child refused. After some prodding, Williams said to the child, "Don't you want to ask the reporter why he's doing this to our family?"
John Hall, senior public information specialist for the Riverside District Attorney's Office, said that there is no statutory rape case filed against Williams in his state. Hall said cases come before the district attorney after someone, usually the victim of the crime or their family, contacts local law enforcement.
Hall said a case like Williams' could result in a felony charge.
Hall said, "I can't speculate. but that would be against the law. It would be a criminal case."
Hall said that given an age difference like that between Williams and the girl, the charges could be more severe than statutory rape. The statute of limitations to report such crimes is 10 years, he said.
Piedmont mayoral candidate Brent Morrison said that he had heard several weeks ago of Williams fathering a child with a minor. Courts records show that Morrison, an attorney, briefly represented Williams in his custody case.
Williams said he dropped Morrison as an attorney during the case because Morrison took two weeks to return his phone calls.
Piedmont mayoral candidate Rick Freeman said he had not heard of this prior to a reporter asking him Monday. Freeman said he is disheartened that it is coming out so close to the election and that he thinks it could influence the outcome of the race.
"I hate that people wait until now to bring this up. But yes, it could really affect him and the race too," Freeman said. "I hate for things like this to come out. It really makes our town look bad.I'm sure if they shook everybody's closet they could find something on everybody."
Morrison agreed with Freeman, that the news could change how some choose to vote, but he downplayed how much the news would matter to voters.
"It might to some people. Some people may look at it as being morally wrong, and they might change their mind, but I believe most people have pretty much made up their mind on how they'll vote," Morrison said.