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Mother of Ta’Naja Barnes sentenced to 20 years for neglect, starvation of Decatur 2-year-old

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Ta'naja Barnes

Ta’Naja Barnes, who died at age 2, is shown. 

DECATUR — Twanka L. Davis was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday after pleading guilty to the murder of her 2-year-old daughter, Ta’Naja Barnes, who died of neglect and starvation earlier this year.

Davis, 22, received the sentence as part of a plea deal, according to Macon County Circuit Court records. She pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree murder; a charge of endangering the life or health of a child was dismissed.

“What a tragic situation,” said Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott. “It was obviously not a case where it was an intentional killing or anything of that nature, but we’re talking about extreme neglect that led to a death.”

An attorney for Davis could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon.

Davis, who appeared visibly pregnant on Friday, is to serve 100% of her sentence. She will be under supervised release for three years after leaving the Illinois Department of Corrections. She will be given credit for time served from Feb. 13 through Thursday.

Davis’ boyfriend, Anthony Myers, also is charged with murder and endangering the life and health of a child. He is set to return to court next week.

Ta’Naja’s body was found on the morning of Feb. 11 after police were called to her home in the 1800 block of East North Street. Court documents said she had been sleeping in a cold room; a heater had been taken out of her room just before she died and was used in a room where Davis and Myers slept with a 1-year-old child that they had in common. Police said that boy weighed 28 pounds compared to his half-sister’s weight of 21 pounds.

The house was described as being filled with garbage and rodent droppings, according to a sworn Decatur police affidavit. Ta’Naja was found wrapped in a urine-soaked blanket, and police said her body was “extremely dirty.”

Records show the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services was contacted in December 2017 alleging abuse and neglect of Ta’Naja. She was taken from her mother last year and placed in foster care. She was returned to Davis in August 2018. Webster-Cantrell Hall, the local agency handling the case for DCFS, has repeatedly referred requests for comment to the state.

The Illinois House of Representatives Adoption and Child Welfare Committee in March held a hearing on the case and the role of the state Department of Children and Family Services.

Ta’Naja’s biological father, Dartavius Barnes, filed a federal lawsuit against Webster-Cantrell Hall and one of its employees in May. The lawsuit alleges that Webster-Cantrell required employees to close child protection cases “in the most expedient manner without regard to the adequacy of the children’s living situation,” and that it failed to train employees on signs of abuse and neglect. Webster-Cantrell Hall has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The case is pending.

Barnes had custody of Ta’Naja for a time between March 2018 and June 2018, but she was removed after a hotline call alleged abuse. He has denied mistreating her and said he tried to regain custody, knowing his daughter was in a bad situation at her Decatur home.

Ta’Naja Barnes timeline

The following timeline was provided by the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services.

Dec. 23, 2017: DCFS received a hotline call alleging abuse and neglect regarding Ta'Naja. At this time, Ta'Naja was living with her mother, Twanka Davis; her mother’s boyfriend, Anthony Myers; and their child, Ta'Naja’s half-brother.

Dec. 27, 2017: A case was opened. Ta'Naja and her brother were placed in foster care, with the case managed by Webster Cantrell Hall.

Dec. 28, 2017: The court granted DCFS temporary custody of the children. Services to Davis and Myers began immediately and included mental health assessments, parenting classes and substance abuse screening. The family complied. 

March 27, 2018: By order of the court, the children were returned home to their parents after successful completion of their parenting classes. Based on case-specific interactions, custody of Ta'Naja was granted to her biological father, Dartavius Barnes. Her brother was returned to Davis and Myers.

Beginning in March 2018, under court supervision, aftercare services were provided to both households by Webster Cantrell Hall. Some services included links to community resources, including programs administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services and the local health department. Visitation between the two families was established. During this time, caseworkers made routine visits with the families.

June 27, 2018: Ta'Naja was removed from Barnes’ home following a hotline call alleging abuse and again placed in foster care.

Aug. 8, 2018: By court order, Ta'Naja returned to Davis and Myers. Webster Cantrell Hall continued to monitor the home through weekly unannounced visits.

Sept. 12, 2018: DCFS received a report alleging Ta'Naja had red scratches on her stomach and a diaper rash. An investigation concluded the report was unfounded; the marks were verified as scarring from a previous incident. No additional services were recommended.

Oct. 24, 2018: Upon recommendation of Webster Cantrell Hall, based on family’s cooperation with services and satisfactory monitoring of the home, the court ordered the case closed. 

Nov. 6, 2018: A call was made to the DCFS hotline that the agency said "was taken as an information-only report regarding non-compliance with voluntary community services and medical neglect for lack of immunization." There was no investigation because DCFS found that the information provided did not substantiate allegations of medical neglect.

Feb. 11, 2019: Ta'Naja’s death was reported to DCFS. Her brother was placed in foster care.


GALLERY: Ta'naja Barnes, 2, of Decatur

Contact Allison Petty at (217) 421-6986. Follow her on Twitter: @allison0512


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