Protests hit landlord who killed tenant arguing against eviction

By Malcolm Jarrett
November 8, 2021
Family, supporters of Leonard Williams Jr. protest Sept. 20 at Washington County Courthouse in Pennsylvania. DA claims his killing by landlord was “justifiable.”
KDKA/Steve WillingFamily, supporters of Leonard Williams Jr. protest Sept. 20 at Washington County Courthouse in Pennsylvania. DA claims his killing by landlord was “justifiable.”

WASHINGTON, Pa. — On Sept. 1, Leonard Wayne Williams Jr, who is African American, a U.S. Air Force veteran and a single father of two, was shot and killed by Quentin Trisler Jr. Trisler is the son of Williams’ landlord.

Trisler had gotten into an argument with Williams after putting an eviction notice on his door ordering Williams and his family to move out. The killing, and the decision of Washington District Attorney Jason Walsh not to press charges, sparked a wave of protests.

Trisler had posted eviction notices at several other homes that day. The Joseph Biden administration let a federal pandemic-based moratorium on evictions run out in August. 

Williams Jr.’s 10- and 15-year-old daughters witnessed the entire confrontation, including the shooting. They said Williams was in the house when Trisler drove up and posted the eviction sign. Their father went out to ask him why he was being evicted and argued with him. 

Trisler went to his truck and pulled out a gun. Williams raised his hands and backed away, saying, “You’re not going to shoot me in front of my daughters, are you?” Trisler pulled the trigger, shooting him twice in the chest. 

The DA’s office said the killing was “justifiable homicide.” Walsh said there were four witnesses besides Williams’ daughters who claimed Williams was the aggressor and Trisler had reason to fear for his life. The DA refused to release the police report on the killing or identify any of the witnesses. 

Nicole Grayson, Williams’ sister-in-law, told the Washington Observer-Reporter  that the family was “absolutely livid.” 

“When we found him, he was in the middle of the road, 10 feet away from the truck. The police are saying he was shot at the truck,” she said. “How is he 10 feet away, but he got shot at the truck?” 

“We’ve been kept in the dark about everything. We want answers,” Nicholas Butler, Williams’ younger brother, told the paper. “We want to know where the four witnesses were and where they came from. And we want to know why you can kill somebody and they are just free.” 

“The DA didn’t give us a chance. To him Leonard was just another Black guy in the middle of the road,” Leonard Williams Sr., Williams’ father and a 67-year-old retired prison janitor, told the Militant. “We want him to reopen the case and release the police report.” 

Since the killing, family members and other protesters have carried out daily actions and weekly rallies outside the Washington County Courthouse. The protests have drawn support from the Washington branch of the NAACP and the Center for Coalfield Justice, a group that fights to protect the health of miners and others in the region. Consol Energy runs the largest underground mining complex in the country there, a nonunion operation. 

Washington is also home to one of ATI’s nine steel plants, where workers carried out a hard-fought three-month strike earlier this year. 

“I support these demonstrations because I don’t think justice has been served,” Andrew Goudy, president of the Washington NAACP, said. “How could it be justified homicide? Leonard Williams was outside the truck unarmed.” 

Family members are raising money to pay for a lawyer and fight for justice. They’re selling T-shirts and Butler has set up a Go Fund Me site you can contribute to. 

Williams was killed the day before his birthday. He would have been 37. “We’re in this for justice, not money,” Williams Sr., said. “They can give us all the money in the world and it won’t bring Leonard back.”