Relatives of dead toddler to sue state, local agencies

By RAY REYES | The Tampa Tribune
Published: June 10, 2011
Updated: June 10, 2011 - 6:22 PM

TAMPA --

Relatives of a slain 13-month-old boy intend to file a lawsuit against the state and local agencies they say should have protected the child.

St. Petersburg lawyer Darryl Rouson said today that the mother and grandmother of Ezekiel Davis have hired him to represent the family in the lawsuit. Rouson said he has called the agencies involved in Ezekiel's case to give them verbal notification that the family intends to sue.

The agencies include the state Department of Children & Families, its local contractors and the offices of the Hillsborough County sheriff and Attorney General Pam Bondi.

DCF spokesman Joe Follick declined to comment, saying it would be premature to make a statement on pending legal action.

Jennifer Meale, spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, said Rouson called her agency today, sharing his plans to represent Ezekiel's relatives. She did not comment further, saying it would be inappropriate for an issue that could "potentially become a lawsuit."

Larry McKinnon, sheriff's spokesman, said he has not confirmed Rouson's notice with his agency's lawyers. Even if he had, the sheriff's office also would not comment on a pending lawsuit, McKinnon said.

Rouson, a state representative with constituents in Pinellas and Manatee counties, said he expects to send out the notices early next week. The agencies then will have six months to respond to the notice. After the grace period, Rouson said he's likely to file a lawsuit.

He has not determined damages.

"It's not always about money," said Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "We must continue to protect our children. If the law says there's indicators that a child should've been removed from a home, then they should've been removed. These agencies are responsible and accountable."

Ezekiel died May 18. Hillsborough sheriff's deputies say 21-year-old Damarcus Kirkland-Williams beat the boy to death. Kirkland-Williams is the boyfriend of the child's mother, Swazikki Davis.

Kirkland-Williams told deputies that he had gotten angry with Davis and tried to throw the child on the bed. Instead, the toddler struck a dresser. When the boy wouldn't stop crying, Kirkland-Williams put him on the bed and struck him twice on the back, deputies said.

The blows ruptured Ezekiel's spleen and liver.

A few weeks before Ezekiel died, deputies recommended that the boy be removed from the home after the child's sister showed evidence of physical abuse. Ezekiel's relatives said Kirkland-Williams was the culprit, according to court records.

The attorney general's office denied the request, saying Ezekiel showed no signs of injury, so there was no need to shelter him, records show.

Allowing the boy to stay was a major miscalculation, the agency said when it released its final report on the case earlier this month. The attorney general's office and DCF said they mishandled Ezekiel's case and relied too much on assurances from Davis that she was following a court order that barred Kirkland-Williams from being around her children.

Kirkland-Williams has been charged with first-degree murder in Ezekiel's death and is being held without bail. He has also been charged with child abuse in the incident involving Ezekiel's 2-year-old sister.