JCPD introduces new Special Victims Unit

March 13, 2024

JCPD introduces new Special Victims Unit

If you need help, we’re here. We’re here to hear your voice. We’re here for you, and we’re going to help you. That’s the message Sgt. Shane Williams wants the community hear about the Johnson City Police Department’s new Special Victims Unit (SVU).

The SVU, established in early January, is made up of five members: Sgt. Williams, who oversees the unit, and investigators Joseph Casey, Ashley Ellenburg, Johnnie Willis, and Luis Verastegui. They bring a combined 40-plus years of law enforcement experience to the Unit. All specifically requested to be placed on the Unit, each bringing unique life and law enforcement experiences that can be applied to their investigations.

“We are a diverse group. We are an eager team with a positive mindset. We are dedicated to helping victims and serving our community,” Williams said.

In addition to investigating all cases involving sexual assault, children, and adult protective services, JCPD’s SVU manages the department’s responsibilities associated with the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry. It is part of the Child Protective Investigative Team, the Sexual Assault Response Team, and the Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigation Team. These teams, made up of representatives from Tennessee’s First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, Department of Children’s Services (DCS), and Children’s Advocacy Center as well as medical professionals, victim advocates, forensic interviewers and law enforcement, meet monthly to discuss all active cases in the area. SVU also works closely with Branch House, Ballad Health, and the Johnson City / Washington County Family Justice Center. These partnerships are vital in the effort to pursue justice for victims.

The Family Justice Center is home to SVU’s interview facilities. It’s a place where investigators can talk with victims in a space that is comforting.

“We are talking with people at what could be the worst moment in their lives,” said Casey. “We want to take them to an area where they feel safe and let them know that they can trust SVU to investigate their case and to get them assistance.”

JCPD’s SVU applies a victim-centered approach to its investigations. Investigators prioritize the rights, dignity, well-being, safety, and needs of victims. Investigator Ashley Ellenburg notes that victims are the No. 1 priority of the SVU.

“We want victims to know that they have a voice,” she said. “Victims can come to the SVU, and these investigators will help them throughout their difficult journey. We have the opportunity to have a positive impact in people’s lives, and we do not take that lightly.” 

Chief Billy Church said developing the SVU is one of the accomplishments he is most proud of thus far.

“This is a tremendous change for our department and our community,” said Chief Church. “The highly specialized training, new protocols for sexual assault investigations, and strong partnerships with community agencies have elevated our service to new levels. It’s a demonstration of the excellence and dedication of the JCPD.”

Residents can learn more about the SVU and how it assists victims at the Police Department’s next Community Roundtable. The meeting is scheduled to take place at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Langston Centre, 315 Elm St.

If you need help from JCPD’s SVU, please call the Criminal Investigations Division at 423.434.6175. If it is an emergency, call 911.