Pearlie Williams, 63, was supposed to appear at the Durham County Courthouse for her final eviction hearing on December 13. Then two days beforehand, it was postponed — again. The Saturday after, she messaged The 9th Street Journal in all caps:
I MIGHT HAVE SOME GOOD NEWS TO SHARE WHEN ATTORNEY SMITH CALLS ME NEXT WEEK. TALK TO YOU SOON.
On Tuesday, December 19, her lawyer, Ernest Smith, called to tell Williams that the courts dismissed her case. The judgment came more than two months after her arson charges were dismissed.
“When I won the arson case, I knew it was over,” Williams told 9th Street. “But I’m still feeling a bit antsy. It will be a minute before I really get over this.”
For Williams, the phone call brought closure to a seven-month saga. Last May, Williams, who has lived at J.J. Henderson Senior Apartments for over seven years, burned a bagel in her kitchen. Days later, she was charged with arson. California Commercial Investment Companies, which manages J.J. Henderson, posted an eviction notice on her door, giving her five days to vacate.
Williams said CCI’s actions directly resulted from her complaints against the company. Last winter, Williams was quoted in articles published by The 9th Street Journal and INDY Week, criticizing management’s response to a late-December blackout in the building.
Williams, who is partially blind from cataracts and glaucoma, spent the summer trekking to and from the courthouse with her walker for a series of continued court dates. She reported that a car almost hit her twice.
After receiving news of the dismissal, she gushed over the thought of paying January’s rent to the management office — instead of walking half a mile to the courthouse to be billed.
“I pray everyone learned something valuable from this situation…” Williams said. “You cannot just accuse people like this. You have to take extra care when investigating people who are elders and have visual disabilities.”
Williams also expressed worries over the terms of the dismissal. According to court records, the plaintiff, JJ Henderson TC Senior Apartments LP, voluntarily dismissed the complaint without prejudice — meaning they can bring the matter back to court. Cases are dismissed without prejudice for a number of reasons, including insufficient evidence, procedural errors, and strategy.
Williams’ lawyer, Ernest Smith, said that though JJ Henderson can pursue the complaint in the future, it does not necessarily mean they will. He added that he had no knowledge that they plan to refile the case.
“When institutions and organizations know they are dealing with people who do not have means or resources, they will do things to push an agenda,” said Smith, who specializes in civil rights law. “But it makes a difference when disadvantaged people have someone in their corner to fight for them.”
A representative of CCI declined to comment, saying “We do not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons.”
In the coming months, Williams plans to look for suitable housing outside of CCI’s rule.
“It’s a bit worrisome. It’s like a gnat in my ear—it’s like they’re telling me we can get you if we want to,” she said. “It’s really nothing. But it’s something.”
For now, Williams said she will celebrate by enjoying a can of ginger ale in a home that is officially hers again.
“I just want to sit here, drink my ginger ale, and tell God thank you,” she said. “I am going to be just fine. They know not to mess with me—I have a lot of people behind me.”
Above: Photo of Pearlie Williams by Maddie Wray — The 9th Street Journal