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Spokane prosecutors decline to file charges in ‘child torture’ case

UPDATED: Tue., April 2, 2019

The Spokane County Courthouse. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane County Courthouse. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A man suspected of breaking his 3-year-old son’s leg and splinting it with a Pringles potato chip can, which was among a list of injuries discovered on three children that one nurse described as torture, will not face criminal charges because Spokane County prosecutors say they don’t have enough evidence to proceed.

The mother of the children, Lasca Pulley, 30, said she was informed this week by Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Eugene Cruz that the county would not file charges against Taliferro B. Williams, 42, who has a history of violent convictions, including stabbing a Seattle police officer in the leg.

“I said, ‘I don’t know where you got your information, but it’s all wrong. I have everything. Do you need it?’ ” Pulley said. Cruz “got offended. He said, ‘I know what I’m doing and several other prosecutors have looked at this case.’ This whole thing is so crazy.”

Cruz did not respond to a request for an interview, but Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell had Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Fitzgerald write a response to questions about why the county wasn’t seeking to charge Williams.

When Spokane Valley police officers responded on July 30, 2016, to a report that Williams had choked and assaulted his mother, they brought the SWAT team to surround an apartment where they believed he was hiding. Williams had fled, but officers discovered his 3-year-old son with the broken leg and a laceration on his head; his 4-year-old daughter with several bruises and a laceration on her leg; and a 15-month-old son who had scarring on his eyes from possible gouging.

“The probable cause affidavit referenced the physical condition of the children but had no sworn facts as to how they were injured, where they were injured, or by whom,” Fitzgerald wrote. “No further information was ever provided by either (Child Protective Services) or (Sheriff’s) Detective (Mike) Ricketts to establish the facts necessary to charge any crimes related to the injuries observed on the children.”

Seattle attorney Tim Tesh, who has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleging the state failed to protect the three children, called it “unbelievable” that prosecutors didn’t seek to have investigators get more information that was readily available to show how the children suffered the injuries.

“I would like to know whether the investigating agency obtained the medical records, talked to the doctors or the nurse who called it torture or did any investigation whatsoever into the children’s claims of physical abuse,” Tesh said. “It’s not enough for the prosecutors office to claim they weren’t provided enough factual information when that information was there to be found.”

Pulley provided medical records to The Spokesman-Review that documented interviews her children provided a social worker on May 19, 2017.

Records state the boy, who had suffered the broken leg that had been splinted with the Pringles can, told the social worker, “My daddy was in a bad mood. He punched me in my leg. He was mad at me. He hit my leg several times. I felt sad and I cried.”

The girl, who was 5 at the time of the 2017 interview with the social worker, told her, according to records, “My dad broke my (brother’s) leg. I was playing in my bedroom with my dolls. I heard my dad beating (my brother) up so I came running out.

“My dad was yelling at (my brother) and he was hitting (my brother’s) leg. He hit him several times with his fist and arm,” said the girl, who then pointed to the area of the leg where she said Williams was punching the boy.

“I went over and helped (my brother) up. He was crying. He was hoping (sic) on one foot and holding his leg with his arms,” the record states.

The girl then went on to describe in graphic detail allegations of sexual abuse allegedly at the hands of her father.

In her written response, Fitzgerald said prosecutors were aware of allegations of sexual assault against a girl that were made to CPS.

“That matter was investigated and the referral was reviewed by myself, Eugene Cruz, and Sharon Hedlund,” Fitzgerald wrote. “As part of that investigation, the child was forensically interviewed regarding the allegation and did not at that time disclose being sexually assaulted.”

All three deputy prosecutors agreed after that interview that they did not have enough to charge Williams with sexual assault, she wrote.

But in the court records filed Aug. 1, 2016, Sheriff’s Detective Ricketts recommended that prosecutors charge Williams with second-degree assault; harassment threats to kill; three counts of second-degree child assault; and three counts of second-degree child abandonment.

That same day, the children were seen by a nurse who specializes in pediatric examinations. The nurse noted the girl, then 4, had “likely been choked, punched in the chest, kicked in the thigh, and bitten on the fingers by Williams. This type of abuse meets the criteria for child torture.”

It’s not clear why the child assault charges weren’t filed at that time. Williams later pleaded guilty in 2016 to harassment and unlawful imprisonment-domestic violence related to the assault on Williams’ mother and received a 17-month prison sentence.

Tesh, the Seattle civil attorney, said he doesn’t understand why investigators didn’t follow through with injuries suffered by the children.

“Based on what I’ve been told, no investigating officer has ever talked to or reviewed the records of the treating pediatric ophthalmologist, who observed severe corneal scarring that could have only been caused by repeated gouging of the eyes,” Tesh said.

Pulley said she remains in fear of Williams, her former husband, who has multiple misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence and violations of protection orders. Efforts to reach Williams on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

“I don’t think the community is safe,” Pulley said. “That’s just what he put us through. Can you imagine what he can put someone else through that he doesn’t know? Police are supposed to be protecting the public from people like that.”

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