New details emerge in slaying blamed on Hillsborough inmate released from jail

Joseph Williams called his mother and grandmother the night of the March 20 shooting; his grandmother took steps to help him hide, investigators said.
A mugshot of Joseph Edward Williams, 26. Deputies say he was released from jail under measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus and then fatally shot a man.
A mugshot of Joseph Edward Williams, 26. Deputies say he was released from jail under measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus and then fatally shot a man. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Apr. 15, 2020|Updated Apr. 16, 2020

TAMPA — An inmate released from jail under measures to contain the spread of coronavirus fatally shot a man the next day then spent three weeks evading authorities by staying in a recreational vehicle and a motel, according to an arrest affidavit.

Deputies collected video footage from a number of scenes and interviewed about a dozen people to track down Joseph Williams, 26, who had been released from Orient Road Jail on March 19. Williams had been booked into jail March 13 for possession of less than four grams of heroin and drug paraphernalia.

In the four-page affidavit, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office lays out evidence gathered between the March 20 shooting and Williams’ arrest Monday. Williams, described as a member of the Bloods criminal gang, told a man the night of the shooting that he was out “gang banging," the affidavit said.

The victim was identified as Christopher Striker, 28. He was shot dead about 10:40 p.m. in the 800 block of Ash Ave., near 78th St. and Progress Boulevard in the Progress Village area.

Williams called both his mother and grandmother the night of the shooting, and his grandmother took steps in the following weeks to help him hide, the affidavit said.

A phone number for Carolyn Williams, his grandmother, is no longer working. His mother Yolanda Williams spoke briefly Tuesday with the Tampa Bay Times.

“How are you reporting when he hasn’t been convicted of anything?” Yolanda Williams asked. “I have an attorney and I am not liable to speak on all of this.”

Williams had spoken to Spectrum Bay News 9 the day of his early release from jail March 19. He was one of 164 inmates accused of low-level, non-violent crimes who were set free to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading among inmates and jail staff.

“I feel wonderful,” Williams said as he walked out of the lockup. “It’s a blessing that I’m getting released.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which has pushed for the release of inmates awaiting trial, said in an email to the Times on Wednesday, “In this exceedingly difficult moment, we must hold two truths at once: what happened is a terrible tragedy that caused irreparable harm. And, we must also acknowledge that it cannot negate the rights that incarcerated people — and the broader community —have to avoid death by a virus the government cannot currently protect them from.”

The Sheriff’s Office affidavit gives this account of how deputies tracked down Williams.

Saivonne Potter, 25, told deputies he was walking with Striker, the victim, on the north side of Ash Avenue when they heard gunshots and started running. Potter heard Striker say he had been shot and saw him fall to the ground. Another 30 or 45 seconds passed, Potter said, and he heard more gunshots.

Video from one camera shows a man in a red shirt, khaki shorts and no shoes run west onto Ash Avenue from 83rd Street and begin shooting toward the area where Striker was. The shooter then ran south on 83rd Street.

A 50-year-old man who lives on Bahia Avenue called 911 at 10:44 p.m. to say that a man he had never seen, later identified as Williams, came to his door and said he was being shot at.

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Williams had a red bandanna so the witness asked if he was “gang banging.” The man replied that he was. He then asked the witness to call two phone numbers but neither answered.

Investigators later determined that the numbers belonged to Williams’ grandmother and mother and that he earlier had called them while in jail.

Williams asked the witness for a ride away from the area and they drove to a gas station, the affidavit said. Williams got out and offered the witness $20 for a ride to Gibsonton, but the witness declined, the affidavit said.

Deputies came across Williams March 27 at a recreational vehicle in Riverview. He tried to run from them at first but they began talking about drug activity and he provided information that led to an arrest, the affidavit said.

Investigators returned to the site April 9 and a witness told them Williams had stayed there a couple of days then moved off in the RV. His grandmother returned the next day to get the rest of his belongings, the witness said.

Investigators learned Williams had been known to carry a 9 mm pistol.

Detectives received a tip the next day that Williams was hanging out at the East Bay Inn in Gibsonton. Records show his grandmother rented a room there March 31 through April 14, the affidavit said.

Deputies got a call on April 10 from a man who said he knew Williams from prison. The man said Williams had told him he was on the run after a fatal shooting in Progress Village, the affidavit said. The man also said he overheard a phone call where “the grandmother was telling Joe to turn himself in and that he could not come back home.”

On April 13, investigators learned that Williams was a “possible contributor" to DNA found in the vehicle that drove him to the gas station.

Williams was arrested later that day. He faces charges of second-degree murder, resisting an officer, being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia. His bail was set at $280,500.

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