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Prosecutors offer explanation for not charging Spokane Valley man accused in ‘child torture’ case

UPDATED: Thu., Aug. 1, 2019

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

One day after the legal clock expired for pressing charges against a Spokane Valley man accused of gouging his children’s eyes, abusing them and using a Pringles can to splint his son’s broken leg, Spokane County prosecutors provided an explanation Thursday as to why they did not bring criminal charges.

The explanation came in a county-issued, three-page document that outlined why prosecutors do not believe they have enough evidence to bring charges against 42-year-old Taliferro B. Williams.

Three days earlier, on Monday, Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell did not respond to a message seeking comment about why his office had not yet pressed charges against Williams, who was convicted in 2008 of stabbing a Seattle Police officer in the leg the same day he was released from the King County Jail.

“Based on all these factors, there simply is insufficient admissible evidence to prove the felony charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Thursday statement from Haskell reads. “In addition, Williams has provided a plausible accidental explanation for the spiral fracture (his son) suffered, and it is nearly impossible for the State to meaningfully refute that explanation at trial.”

Zach Davies, a Seattle-based attorney who is helping represent the mother of the three children, questioned the timing of the explanation and said he did not agree with its legal conclusions.

“At first blush, it doesn’t seem to hold much water for me,” Davies said. “It was always our understanding that the two older children have a memory of what happened in the apartment and were always willing to testify. We think Spokane and Spokane County is a little bit less safe based on this charging decision not to charge Taliferro for the abuse.”

The criminal case began on July 31, 2016, when Spokane Valley Police officers brought the SWAT team to surround the apartment where they believed Williams was hiding after receiving a report that Williams had attacked his mother.

Officers entered the apartment at 12114 E. Cataldo Ave., but Williams was gone. Inside, they 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.

On Aug. 1, 2016, the children were seen by a nurse who specializes in pediatric examinations. The nurse noted that 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.”

Those injuries became part of a civil suit filed by Seattle attorneys who allege that Washington state’s Child Protective Services did not do enough to protect the children from Williams. That multimillion dollar case remains pending and is scheduled for mediation in October.

Spokane County Sheriff’s detective Mike Ricketts in April forwarded the investigation and recommended charging Williams with first-degree assault for the boy with the broken leg and second-degree assault for injuries suffered by the other two children. Ricketts also recommended the charges of second-degree child abandonment against all three children.

While Williams was eventually sentenced to 17 months in prison for the attack on his mother, charges relating to the children’s injuries were never filed.

According to the Thursday news release, the two youngest children “were not able to provide initial or subsequent statements about their injuries in part because of how young they were.”

The trial would have pitted Taliferro’s denials against the word of his children. In 2017, law enforcement questioned Williams about his son’s broken leg, the one he splinted with the Pringles can.

“Williams said he fell onto (his son’s) leg when it got stuck on a bed post. Additionally, Williams acknowledged that he made a splint instead of seeking medical attention,” the statement from Haskell reads.

But a medical professional later told prosecutors that Williams’ delay in not taking his son to see a doctor for the broken leg “was not long enough to create an imminent or substantial risk of death or bodily harm to the child; this analysis forecloses a charge of criminal mistreatment,” the statement reads.

According to the civil suit, the children gave a different story in early 2017.

The boy with the broken 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,” according to records obtained by The Spokesman-Review.

The girl, who was 5 at the time of the 2017 interview with the social worker, told her: “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.

But according to the Thursday statement that was written by Haskell and distributed by county spokesman Jared Webley, prosecutors believing it was “nearly impossible” to refute Williams’ explanation of what happened.

The statement also suggested that prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to pursue the child abandonment charges, even though officers found the children alone with the youngest being 15 months at the time.

“The state cannot prove that any harm suffered to the children was ‘the result of being abandoned’ or that any abandonment created ‘an imminent and substantial risk that the dependent person will die or suffer great bodily harm,’” Haskell wrote. “The evidence that is likely to be admissible at trial is not sufficient to support the filing of the referred felony charges.”

But Davies, the civil attorney, expressed frustration that the prosecutor’s office did not explain its reasoning until after the statute of limitations had ended any chance of criminal charges against Taliferro.

“We don’t think there is much validity to that statement,” Davies said. “We don’t think there are any discrepancies in the kids’ stories over time. But we don’t really want to get into refuting every point. We want to forge ahead with the civil suit now that the criminal case is time barred.”

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