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Before baby's death, Tampa mother hindered abuse investigation, records show

Toys sit outside Swazikki Davis’ Tampa home on Monday. Case­workers saw boyfriend Damarcus Kirkland-Williams on May 13, the day he allegedly killed 1-year-old Ezekiel Mathis, Davis’ son.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times

Toys sit outside Swazikki Davis’ Tampa home on Monday. Case­workers saw boyfriend Damarcus Kirkland-Williams on May 13, the day he allegedly killed 1-year-old Ezekiel Mathis, Davis’ son.

TAMPA — Pigeon toes.

That was the explanation a mother gave to investigators for the bruises all over her 2-year-old daughter's body, court records show. Her daughter was pigeon-toed, the mother said, and fell down a lot.

The mother, Swazikki Davis, 21, said nothing about a new boyfriend in the home, one whom other relatives knew only as "Slim," but whom they suspected of causing the girl's bruises.

The mother's reluctance to tell investigators about the boyfriend was one of a series of impediments in the days leading up to the beating death of a year-old baby on May 18.

The investigation dragged on for 15 days.

The 2-year-old was put in foster care after four days. But her little brother, Ezekiel Mathis, was left in the home. He was killed by the boyfriend, investigators say, even while the boyfriend, the mother and the baby were all under the close watch of child protection officials.

Investigators now say the boyfriend was 6-foot-10 Damarcus Kirkland-Williams, 21. He is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of the baby. He has not been criminally charged with abusing the girl. Detectives say he has admitted to throwing Ezekiel against a dresser last Wednesday night, then pounding on the baby's back to make him stop crying.

Child protection workers had ordered the mother to keep Kirkland-Williams out of the home. But caseworkers had found him there with Ezekiel just hours before the baby died.

More details of the tragedy emerged Monday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court documents.

They show that as early as May 3, investigators suspected the boyfriend of beating the little girl.

"The child was found with swollen feet and bruising in her private area," investigators wrote afterward in a probable cause statement used to justify taking her from the home.

They made no public allegations of sexual abuse.

"The child was observed with multiple bruising all over her legs and arms," they wrote. "The child was also observed to have a bloodshot eye with a scratch under her left eye."

No one believed the pigeon toes explanation given by Davis. A pediatrician examined the girl. He said the injuries were too extensive to be caused by a fall.

Instead, investigators focused on the boyfriend. The mother's relatives didn't know his full name. But according to investigators, "the family members all stated that the child never had any marks or bruises until he (the boyfriend) started staying at the family home."

The 2-year-old was placed in foster care on May 7, but because Ezekiel remained with the mother and because investigators needed the boyfriend's name, a followup hearing was held May 9 before Circuit Judge Tracy Sheehan.

Sheehan pressed the mother for the name. At first the mother said she didn't know it. Under more pressure from the judge, she finally identified him as Damarcus Kirkland-Williams.

Judge Sheehan then issued two hand-written orders:

First, the mother was to have no contact with Kirkland-Williams. Second, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office was to "review the decision not to shelter" the baby.

Sheehan's order said the 2-year-old had been found "medically neglected and perhaps abused." It also said the mother had "failed to protect child from abusive boyfriend Damarcus Kirkland-Williams."

Sheriff's investigators had already tried twice to remove Ezekiel. They tried again after Sheehan's May 9 order. Each time, they were refused approval by the state office of Attorney General Pam Bondi. Largely because investigators had found no bruises on Ezekiel, the Attorney General's Office said investigators lacked "legal sufficiency" to take him away.

Instead, caseworkers designed a "safety plan" that required the mother to keep Kirkland-Williams out of the home while being monitored by caseworkers.

Yet on May 13, and again on the day the baby died, caseworkers found Kirkland-Williams with Ezekiel.

"Clearly, the presence of Kirkland-Williams in Ezekiel's home should have triggered a crisis response," said David Wilkins, secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, which contracts for services from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and the Attorney General's Office.

On Monday, Swazikki Davis said that despite the warnings from court, she couldn't have seen this happening. She acknowledges that she violated the requirement to keep Kirkland-Williams away.

"He wasn't abusive around me. He didn't hit me," Davis said. "So why would he hit my kids?"

She said she didn't agree with court records, which say she neglected her daughter. "I really don't want to respond to that," Davis said. "They can say what they want to say."

Davis said she expects to welcome the 2-year-old back home soon.

Terry Fields, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families in Tampa, said the investigation of Ezekiel's death would determine Davis' parental rights.

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Before baby's death, Tampa mother hindered abuse investigation, records show 05/23/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 23, 2011 11:18pm]
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