A San Francisco man with allegations of domestic violence in his past has been charged with murder in the death of a seven-month-old baby who suffered multiple head injuries including a fractured skull, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Joseph Gerome Williams, 26, and his girlfriend were being paid to watch the baby at their Tenderloin apartment last Tuesday afternoon when Williams rushed the unresponsive infant to the emergency room at California Pacific Medical Center on Franklin Street, court records show. He was allegedly alone with the infant for an hour before heading to the hospital with a baby stroller.
Prosecutors said in court records that the baby had sustained injuries to both sides of his head that were “consistent with more than one impact” and “not consistent with the victim being dropped or falling.” The infant was pronounced dead at the hospital and has since been identified as Synciere Williams. Despite sharing the same last name, the suspect and victim are not believed to have been related.
Joseph Williams is now facing charges of murder and assault on a child causing death. The District Attorney’s Office filed a motion last Friday asking a judge to detain him without bail ahead of trial, arguing that he failed to “control his temper” with the infant.
“We are so deeply sorry for the family, whose enormous grief we can only imagine,” District Attorney Chesa Boudin said in a statement Monday. “My office has filed murder charges and we will put every resource at our disposal into prosecuting this case. We know nothing can make the family whole again, but we will work our hardest to make sure there is justice.”
In an interview with investigators, Williams allegedly said the victim had a “crying problem” and would not stop crying, court records show. While he initially told police the baby stopped breathing after spitting up milk, Williams later said the infant pulled down a television onto his own head. Williams said in both versions of the story that he was in the bathroom when the baby stopped breathing.
Williams is expected to appear in court Tuesday and plead not guilty. His attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway, called the case tragic but said her client is presumed innocent.
“Mr. Williams is devastated by the death of this child who was very close to his family,” Hathaway said. “He is a young father himself, who has no criminal record. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and graduated from Fremont High School in 2002.”
The case has raised concerns not only because of the death of a child but because Williams had been arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in two previous incidents this year and released without any charges being filed against him, as the San Francisco Chronicle first reported.
The District Attorney’s Office has said that prosecutors previously declined to file charges against him in part because the woman police accused Williams of attacking in both cases did not want to cooperate with the investigation.
But Kathy Black, who runs a shelter for domestic violence survivors called La Casa De Las Madres, said cooperation is just one factor authorities need to consider when deciding whether to pursue a case.
“There’s a reason why the burden of pressing charges was removed from the victim,” Black said. “It was removed because they were involved in complicated relationships. But that shouldn’t inform how someone causing harm to another person is treated under the law.”
The District Attorney’s Office has since clarified that it does file cases regardless of whether a victim agrees to testify, if the allegations can be proven otherwise. The office issued a statement Monday saying veteran prosecutors in the office “considered all of the facts” in both prior incidents and found “the evidence could not prove that Mr. Williams, rather than the other party in the altercation, was criminally responsible for the incidents.”
The statement described Williams and the woman as being engaged in mutual combat. The office said the woman told police she started the fights, and that Williams suffered worse injuries in one of the altercations than the woman.
Hathaway, the defense attorney, also argued that Williams was not the aggressor in the most recent incident from last month.
“I have seen photographs of the injuries Mr. Williams suffered during that incident and they are substantial,” Hathaway said. “He was bitten and scratched so severely that the injuries are still healing today. I can only surmise that the reason he was not prosecuted was because he himself had been attacked, and I want to remind the public that those domestic incidents have nothing to do with the case at hand.”
But Black questioned whether documented injuries could have at least warranted a misdemeanor. She said there are options between filing a felony case and “dropping the charges.”
Data from the District Attorney’s Office shows the filing rate for felony domestic violence cases fell under Boudin in 2020 to the lowest level in five years, with charges filed in 15 percent of the 885 arrests made by police compared to charges being filed in 22 percent of the 1,074 arrests in 2016.
For misdemeanor cases, the filing rate increased under Boudin from charges being filed in 30 percent of 570 arrests in 2016 to 36 percent of 488 arrests in 2020. However, there was one year under former District Attorney George Gascon — 2018 — when the filing rate jumped to 43 percent.
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