Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. CIA chief: Intel leaks on the rise amid 'worship' of leakers

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — CIA director Mike Pompeo says he thinks disclosure of America's secret intelligence is on the rise, fueled partly by the "worship" of leakers like Edward Snowden.

    CIA director Mike Pompeo said the U.S. must redouble its efforts to stop information from leaking.
  2. ABC Racing kennel advances three into semifinals

    Parimutuels

    ST. PETERSBURG — The maiden voyage by Don Burk into the $30,000 St. Petersburg Derby series — his first as the ABC Racing kennel owner — went as easy as ABC.

  3. Why Grenfell tower burned: Regulators put cost before safety

    World

    The doorbell woke Yassin Adam just before 1 a.m. A neighbor was frantically alerting others on the fourth floor of Grenfell Tower about a fire in his apartment. "My fridge blew up," the man shouted.

    At least 79 people were killed in the fire at the Grenfell Tower apartment building in London, and the toll is expected to rise.
  4. Bullpen melts down as Rays lose to Orioles (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Jacob Faria allowed his first two big-league home runs and was touched for a career-high three runs Saturday by the Orioles. Other than that, the rookie making his fourth major-league start did okay against the Baltimore bats.

    The bullpen, not so much.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Baltimore Orioles scored four runs during the eighth inning of a baseball game Saturday, June 24, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) SPD118
  5. Lightning shifts search for defense to free agency

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — As much as he tried, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman left the weekend's draft without acquiring another top-four defenseman.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101