When former Summit County Sheriff's Lt. Antonio Williamson was questioned by Akron detectives in April 2017, he says he had no idea he was the subject of a sexual assault allegation.

Once Williamson realized he was being interviewed because of a complaint against him, he said he felt he had to answer the questions or face the loss of his job.

Williamson and his attorneys argued Tuesday during a daylong hearing in Summit County Common Pleas Court that the case against Williamson should be dismissed because his Garrity rights — special rights afforded to public employees during interviews — were violated. Summit County prosecutors, however, claim Garrity didn't come into play.

“He was not threatened with loss of employment,” Assistant Prosecutor Jennie Shuki said. “There was no explicit threat — no order. If you are not ordered to do it, you don't have to. That's the difference here.”

Garrity refers to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that protects public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves when being questioned by their employer. When public employees are questioned by an outside agency, Garrity still applies when government employees are subject to severe discipline or termination if they refuse to cooperate, according to www.garrity­rights.com.

The protection stems from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says the government cannot compel a person to be a witness against him/herself, according to garrittyrights.org.

At the end of Tuesday's hearing, Judge Jill Flagg Lanzinger said she will take the motion under advisement.

Williamson, 48, of Warrensville Heights, is charged with rape, sexual battery, gross sexual imposition, kidnapping and several counts of misuse of a law enforcement data­base. He is free on bond and required to wear a GPS ankle monitor.

His trial is scheduled for late October, though several issues remain to be resolved, including a claim that Williamson, who is African-American, is being discriminated against by being charged for misusing a law enforcement database when other white deputies weren't prosecuted for the same offense. This issue, which was originally expected to be taken up Tuesday, is now scheduled for a Sept. 28 hearing.

During the hearing on the Garrity issue, Akron police and Summit County sheriff's officials testified about the investigation into Williamson and his interrogation on April 12, 2017.

Gerald Forney, now a sergeant with the Akron Police Department, said he asked Williamson to come to the detective bureau to discuss a complaint. He said he told Williamson he was free to leave, but that he was going to shut the door for privacy.

Forney said the interview was congenial until about halfway through when the questions turned to inconsistencies between Williamson's work log and where his cellphone records showed he was around the time of the assault.

Forney distinguished between an internal investigation by a law enforcement agency of one of its own and a criminal investigation by an outside agency of someone who doesn't work for that agency. He said Garrity is triggered with an internal investigation, but not the criminal investigation.

Jason Kline, a detective with the sheriff's office, said an internal investigation into Williamson wasn't being done when he was interrogated because the criminal case took precedence.

Kline and Lt. Scott Cottle, who supervises the sheriff's detective bureau, watched Williamson's interrogation on a closed-circuit television in another room in the Akron detective bureau. They arrived 45 minutes to an hour before Williamson so that Williamson wouldn't see them. Kline said they did this so there would be “no issue of Garrity.”

After Williamson was interrogated, Cottle handed him a notice that he was being placed on leave. Williamson was later fired.

Williamson was the lone witness during the hearing who was called by Williamson's three Cleveland attorneys.

Mark DeVan, one of Williamson's attorneys, questioned his client at length about the sheriff's office's written procedures and his understanding of what they meant.

Assistant Prosecutor Nik Buckmeier also questioned Williamson about these policies, with the exchange getting heated. Buckmeier pressed Williamson about the procedures for “internal administrative investigations.”

“Show me where it says 'criminal investigation,' ” Buckmeier said.

“It doesn't say it in there,” Williamson responded.

“OK,” Buckmeier said. “Thank you.”

Shuki said Williamson wasn't ordered to answer the Akron police questions and wasn't threatened with the loss of his job.

DeVan, however, said there were two parallel investigations — the criminal investigation by Akron police and an internal investigation by the sheriff's office — with the two agencies working together. He said sheriff's officials took steps to try to avoid Williamson claiming his Garrity rights, including making sure Williamson didn't see them before his interrogation. Because Williamson's Garrity rights weren't protected, DeVan said, this corrupted the investigation.

“It is all tainted from the beginning of the case,” he said.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com or on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.