The legal clock runs out Wednesday for Spokane County prosecutors to bring charges against a Spokane Valley man accused of gouging his children’s eyes and breaking his son’s leg before splinting it with a Pringles potato chip can in a pattern of abuse one nurse described as “child torture.”
Prosecutors earlier this year informed the mother of those children of the decision not to charge Taliferro B. Williams, 42, despite pages of court records detailing what Spokane Valley police officers found when they discovered the children abandoned in a Spokane Valley apartment on July 31, 2016, after Williams fled after assaulting his mother.
Officers brought the SWAT team to surround the apartment where they believed Williams was hiding. Williams was gone, but officers entered the apartment and 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.
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 this fall, said Zach Davies, who works with attorneys Tim Tesh and Allen Ressler, who are representing the children’s mother.
But the decision not to criminally charge Williams for the documented assaults has left the attorneys “mystified.”
“Our reaction is just kind of amazement,” Davies said. “We believe there is overwhelming evidence.”
After stories were published earlier this year about the civil suit, including an earlier decision in April not to pursue charges, Spokane County Sheriff’s officials again began talking with prosecutors.
According to emails provided to The Spokesman-Review, Spokane Sheriff’s Sgt. Jack Rosenthal on April 8 sent a message to Detective Mike Ricketts, who initially investigated the case, saying that Chief Criminal Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Mark Cipolla had called to say he “finds we can move forward with charging Williams with the crimes against the children.”
Rosenthal wrote that Cipolla “further stated he has found what appears to be sufficient discovery supporting those charges,” Rosenthal wrote. He told Ricketts that Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich wanted updates and to not delay because the statute of limitation was coming up.
Ricketts replied that he was moving the case “to the top of my line. I’ll call Mark” Cipolla, Ricketts wrote.
The civil attorneys then received an email on July 12 from Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Emily Sullivan, who wrote that the matter had been looked at and reviewed by Cipolla “and a decision to decline was made by him.”
In an interview on Monday, Rosenthal said he forwarded the Williams investigation to prosecutors. “They reviewed it and decided not to go forward with the charges.”
Asked if they gave a reason for declining the case, Rosenthal said no.
After receiving the July 12 letter from Sullivan saying the case had been declined, the civil attorneys then wrote Cipolla that same day to remind him about the abuse their clients said they suffered at the hands of Williams, who has a previous conviction for stabbing a Seattle Police officer in the leg the same day in 2008 he was released from the King County Jail.
“The children were extensively injured when they were finally picked up by law enforcement on July 31, 2016,” they wrote. Two of the children “were covered in bruises, the scalps of the children were caked in blood and oozing clear liquid.”
One of the boys “had a broken leg which had been splinted by Taliferro with a Pringles can, and (another boy) had suffered permanent damage to his corneas due to Taliferro’s habit of gouging his eyes,” they wrote. “Taliferro was immediately identified by the children as the perpetrator of the abuse, and he has in fact admitted to abusing them.”
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.”
They followed up with another letter four days later on July 16, noting that they learned that Cipolla had declined to file charges because he couldn’t prove where the children were assaulted.
They noted that the children were prepared to testify that they were abused in their apartment at 12114 E. Cataldo Ave..
“Moreover, it is beyond dispute that Taliferro committed three counts of abandonment of a dependent person in the second degree at the aforementioned address in Spokane Valley,” they wrote. “He committed this crime by leaving his young children alone in the apartment when fleeing law enforcement following the attack on his mother.”
Williams later pleaded guilty to harassment and unlawful imprisonment-domestic violence for the attack on his mother. A judge sentenced him to 17 months in prison in November, 2016.
As for the children found during that arrest, the civil attorneys requested, in their letter, a time to discuss the case with Cipolla. One of the firm’s paralegal’s emailed Cipolla July 16 with the attached letters.
“I am in receipt of your letters,” Cipolla replied on July 17. That was the last time the attorneys heard from him, Davies said.
Messages left at the offices of Cipolla and Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell were not returned Monday.
“We were under the impression that they would charge before the statute of limitations ran out. We are mystified,” Davies said.
Prosecutors must be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime. It’s a much heavier legal burden than proving civil cases, Davies said.
“They have a tough job. If they don’t think they can get a conviction at a jury trial, we understand that,” he said. “But we have not gotten an explanation as to why they wouldn’t be able to prove to a jury that Taliferro Williams abused his children and abandoned them in that apartment when he ran from law enforcement.”
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