The 24-year-old former Alameda County sheriff's deputy who turned himself in shortly after the September 7 double murder of a Dublin couple in their home has entered a plea in the case, and it's not guilty.
It may be a nothing-to-lose situation for Devin Williams Jr., who appeared to already have incriminated himself when he turned himself in to CHP officers on September 7, hours after driving south out of the Bay Area to Fresno County. Williams is the sole suspect in the execution-style murders of 42-year-old Maria Tran and 57-year-old Benison Tran, which was reportedly witnessed by another family member. The Trans were both found with gunshot wounds to the head and neck, and were pronounced dead at the scene.
Williams's parents later told reporters that he had been in a romantic relationship with Maria Tran, and she allegedly lied to him about her marital situation. It was Williams's mother, Anitra Williams, who reportedly convinced her son in a phone call the morning of August 7 to turn himself in, after which Williams reportedly had a 45-minute conversation with his former boss, Garrett Holmes. Holmes is a commander in the sheriff's office, and also serves as Dublin's chief of police.
As the Chronicle reports, Williams appeared in the East County Hall of Justice on Monday alongside his lawyer, and entered a plea of not guilty. His next pre-trial hearing will be on February 1. The Chronicle further reports that Williams obtained permission from the court to leave jail for "an unspecified forensic examination."
Questions about Williams's mental fitness quickly arose in the aftermath of the killings. Williams's mother told a reporter he was "blinded by love" and that she had warned him against dating Mrs. Tran. But the circumstances of their meeting — at Tran's workplace, the John George Psychiatric Hospital in San Leandro — remain vague, as it's unclear whether Williams had been a patient there. And his employment record at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office was brief — he started on the force in early 2021 after apparently not passing his one-year probationary period in the Stockton Police Department.
The Tran murders also prompted an immediate response from the Sheriff's Office state law enforcement regulators, after it was discovered that Williams was not the only deputy on the force who had failed to pass a psychological evaluation for the department. Reportedly, 47 other active-duty deputies received grades of "D. Not Suited" on their evaluations, and Sheriff Greg Ahern did not believe this was a reason not to hire new recruits.
"I know that people are going to assume that all these deputies are killers. But that's not true," said department spokesperson Lt. Ray Kelly to KTVU at the time. "This test tries to find out if you are psychologically suitable for the job, to handle all the horrible things we see. At the age of 22, sometimes you're not. I know this isn't good. But it's not as bad as it sounds."
The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, disputed the idea that deputies could still be hired with these "not suited" grades — a spokesperson for POST said that there had never been a letter-grade system, simply yes or no, suited or not. But Ahern said this was their error then, and he'd been assured he could hire those with "not suited" evals. He understood that the lower grade, "poorly suited," was the only criteria to not hire.
"POST told us we could do this over multiple years," Ahern said, speaking to KTVU. "You used to be able to get this letter grade from psychologists. This was a mistake based on misinformation by POST."
Ahern further said that the department had "our own checks and balances to monitor our employees."
Last we heard, in early October, 16 of the 47 deputies who had "not suited" evaluations retook the tests and passed, and were returned to active duty, as Bay Area News Group reported. The majority of those with poor evaluations were hired in the last three years, and 30 of them, like Williams, worked as security guards at Santa Rita Jail and were not out interacting with the public.
Ahern, who has been Sheriff of Alameda County for 15 years, is leaving the job in January after losing the election June to Yesenia Sanchez, who will become the first Latina ever to hold the job in the county, and the first woman.
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