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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

Bid to drop suit in girl's death denied

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Talia Williams

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A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the Army by the natural mother of a little girl who died of child abuse while living on military property here in 2005.

The suit was filed by Tarshia Williams, mother of 5-year-old Talia Williams, who died while in the care of her father and stepmother in a Wheeler Air Field apartment.

In seeking to have the case dismissed, the U.S. government argued that federal employees could not be found liable under federal or state law for Talia's death.

In a 42-page decision yesterday, U.S. Senior District Judge Alan Kay ruled that federal child care workers who had contact with Talia before she died acted properly but that legitimate questions exist about the role of military police in the case.

The trial is set to begin in January.

Criminal charges are still pending against Talia's father, Naeem Williams, and the federal government has said it will seek the death penalty if he is convicted .

Stepmother Delilah Williams pleaded guilty to murder in a 2006 plea agreement with prosecutors which requires her to testify against her husband in return for a sentence of 20 years rather than life in prison.

Kay's ruling cites the findings of a military investigation into the girl's death, which concluded that the tragedy might have been avoided.

Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon "concluded that 'the death of Talia Williams followed a series of missed opportunities to potentially prevent the death of the child,' " Kay wrote in his decision.

The government argued that responsibility for protecting the child fell to state officials.

But Kay found that "good samaritan" provisions in state law also may place responsibility with federal authorities.

In a witten statement yesterday, Mark Davis, lawyer for Tarshia Williams and the estate of Talia Williams, said Kay's ruling "holds the United States government accountable for conducting a reasonable and competent investigation of child abuse charges."

In certain instances, the Army "has substituted its own child abuse bureaucracy for the state machinery designed to protect our children from abuse," Davis said.

The Army had "a duty to act with reasonable care," and if it had done so, "this tragedy would have been averted," Davis said.