A multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been filed alleging state social workers failed multiple times to remove three Spokane Valley children from a home where they suffered beatings, bites and sexual abuse that one nurse said constituted “child torture.”
When Spokane County deputies raided the home in July 2016 for an unrelated assault, they found a 2-year-old boy with a broken leg splinted with a Pringles potato chip can, the lawsuit states.
The suit was filed this week in Spokane County Superior Court by Seattle attorney Tim Tesh, who last fall won a $19.3 million settlement from the Department of Social and Health Services. That settlement, which is the largest of its kind in state history, related to abuse that left a Pierce County child blind and a quadriplegic for life.
Tesh also handled the civil lawsuits against the state on behalf of the estate of Tyler DeLeon, who officials believed died from starvation on Jan. 13, 2005, in Stevens County while in the care of foster parent Carole DeLeon.
The alleged abuse of the three Spokane Valley children – a 7-year-old girl and boys ages 5 and 3 – is “bad and it’s over a long period of time,” Tesh said. “And, CPS was aware of these allegations.”
Reached on Tuesday in Olympia, Debra Johnson, spokeswoman for the newly formed state Department of Children, Youth and Families, said the agency, which now oversees Child Protective Services, does not typically respond to pending litigation.
According to the suit, the three children were removed from the care of Taliferro B. Williams, 42, in 2013 and placed in the care of their mother, Lasca Pulley.
In 2015, the state removed two of the children from the care of their mother’s great-grandparents and placed them in the care of Williams.
During that time, the mother reported to state caseworkers that Williams had assaulted her, choked her and gouged her eyes during “a physically abusive relationship over a span of four years. The extent of the abuse was very violent in nature,” the suit states.
The case also details a strained relationship between CPS investigators and Williams, who was convicted of assault in 2008 for stabbing a Seattle Police officer in the leg with a hemostat just hours after he was released from jail. According to Tesh’s suit, state workers were issued warnings that Williams was “extremely dangerous. Do not approach on your own.”
Efforts Tuesday to reach Williams at his last known Spokane Valley address were unsuccessful.
Given Williams’ multiple misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence and violations of protection orders, the state considered the three children “to be at increased risk with limited ability to self protect due to their ages,” court records state.
In 2015, CPS workers began receiving reports that Williams began abusing the children, including reports of bruising, choking, neglect, biting and pulling out patches of hair.
Months later, on Jan. 3, 2016, the state agency received a report that Williams had bitten the youngest boy and had previously bitten the older boy. Later that same day, social workers received another report alleging the youngest boy had “bite marks on both feet and a black eye and a gash across his nose.”
While the seriousness of that report should have generated a response within 24 hours, nobody visited the home for 15 days, Tesh wrote. When they did, Williams refused to allow the state workers to speak to the children alone or inspect them under their clothing.
When one of the social workers asked to photograph the children and take them to a doctor, Williams “became upset and angrily accused DSHS of ruining his life. He threatened to abscond with the children if the social workers pressed forward with their investigation,” the suit states.
On Feb. 2, 2016, a state worker again asked Williams to take the children to a doctor for examinations. “He refused, telling her that he would leave the state with the children if DSHS continued to press the issue,” the suit states.
Two-and-a-half months later, the state closed the investigation into the Jan. 3 allegations. A state supervisor determined the allegation that Williams had physically abused the youngest boy “was unfounded,” according to court records.
Within days of that finding, the mother, Pulley, made more allegations, saying that Williams continued to abuse the children. She said the children showed signs of sexual abuse, gouged eyes and mangled toes.
State workers then tried for five weeks to get into the home with Williams without success. The state workers noted they believed Williams was refusing to answer the door.
“When there are complaints coming in on a fairly regular basis about severe abuse and neglect, one would hope that CPS would do its job” and seek court intervention to gain access to them, Tesh said.
The situation finally came to a head on July 30, 2016, when deputies responded to reports that Williams had choked his mother, Virginia Graham, during an assault. He fled before deputies arrived.
Armed with a search warrant, deputies went into the apartment and discovered the children with a litany of injuries.
The then-2-year-old boy “was completely covered in bruises,” the suit states. “He had two large unrelated and bloody lacerations on top of his head. He also had a spiral fracture to his tibia, which Williams had splinted with a Pringles can.”
On Aug. 1, 2016, 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.”
Based on allegations that he choked his mother on July 30, 2016, Williams was charged with second-degree assault, unlawful imprisonment, harassment and second-degree robbery. Williams later pleaded guilty in 2017 to two of the charges and received a 17-month prison sentence.
However, Williams does not face criminal charges for the injuries discovered on the children. Tesh said he previously had agreed to wait to file the civil lawsuit until after Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell decided on criminal charges.
“I don’t know why this guy is not being prosecuted yet,” Tesh said on Tuesday. “Why is it taking so long for them, given the facts, to prosecute this guy?”
Spokane County Sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Mark Gregory said he spoke with Haskell and reviewed the investigative files related to the case on Tuesday.
“This has been worked on between the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s investigators, and the case is still being reviewed,” Gregory said. “Because it’s still being reviewed by both offices, neither can go into the specifics of the case.”
As for the kids, they now reside outside Spokane County and their mother, Pulley, has been given some supervised access to them, Tesh said.
“All of them are going to have permanent vision problems,” Tesh said. “They all have hurdles, but they are doing as well as you could expect at this point.”
Reporter Will Campbell contributed to this report.
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