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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 8, 2010

Judge refuses to dismiss suit against Army in child abuse death

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

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 five-year old Talia Williams, who died while in the care of her father and stepmother in an apartment at Wheeler Air Field.

The U.S. government argued that the case should be dismissed because federal employees could not be found liable under federal or state law for Talia's death.

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

Trial is scheduled 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.

Judge Kay's ruling cited the findings of a military investigation of the little girl's death which said the tragedy might have been avoided.

"United States Army Major General 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 today, Mark Davis, lawyer for Tarshia Williams and for 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," said Davis.

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.