Woman says Tampa Domestic Violence shelter put secrecy before safety when her child was molested
This is the story of a Good, Loving Mother, Taneka Rodman, and her five Children. In a time of a Mother’s worst nightmare, this dear Lady faced the unending nightmare alone.
TAMPA, FL – Just before Thanksgiving, after three weeks at the Spring, Rodman noticed a new resident. She seemed lonely.
The woman lingered near the family’s room and seemed to follow them at dinner time. Rodman had a soft-spot for loners; her 5-year-old had trouble with bullies. She invited the woman to sit with them. Akilah Wimbley, 33, seemed nice enough.
When Wimbley began to take an interest in the girl, giving her small gifts and offering to buy her shoes, the mother was only relieved. Someone was being nice to her daughter.
Rodman trusted Wimbley to watch her kids one day when she needed to go to the store. The Spring requires parents to sign a “babysitting agreement” to leave them with another resident. The women signed one of those forms.
What no one knew: Wimbley was a felon with a violent past.
Ten years ago, she threatened to kill her ex-boyfriend’s family and burn down his house. Police found her on his block with a knife. She pleaded guilty to aggravated stalking.
The next year, she beat her mother and went to jail, where she hurt a couple of deputies as they tried to uncuff her. Authorities transferred her to a mental health center, where her doctor said she had “severe delusional fantasies.”
In 2009, she called 911 during a dispute with her brother, who told Wimbley not to beat her 4-year-old son with a shoe. She told deputies he held a knife to the boy’s throat, an allegation the boy denied.
“She told me to tell you that my uncle had a knife,” the boy told deputies when they arrived. “But he didn’t.”
The next year, deputies accused Wimbley of child abuse after they found multiple injuries on her young daughter, including a 3-inch open wound on her thigh. Police said she burned the girl with scalding water as punishment for messing her diaper.
Wimbley pleaded guilty to child neglect and was still on probation when she entered the Spring.
Rodman didn’t know any of that on Dec. 1, 2014.
She was in bed that day feeling sick and thought her 5-year-old was in the computer room with her brothers. One of the boys came to rouse her, and they couldn’t find the girl.
She wasn’t in the lobby. She wasn’t on the playground. The mother tried not to panic as she and a shelter worker, Susan Potier, searched. Potier wound up in Wimbley’s room in the wing for women without children.
“Taneka, come!” Potier called.
From the hall, Rodman saw Wimbley poke her head out of the room: “We’re not doing anything.”
In a later statement to police, Potier told officers that Wimbley said the following:
Her mother gave me the child to have. She put it in writing. She is mine now.
But when police spoke to Wimbley two hours later, she said she wasn’t with the girl.
She didn’t even know her.
The Spring takes every precaution to guard against dangers outside its walls. But like many domestic violence shelters across the country, it does not perform background checks on the victims who come seeking shelter.
Florida’s 42 accredited domestic violence shelters are barred from doing so by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which certifies and distributes public funds to each facility.
“To require such screening could deter survivors of domestic violence from seeking shelter when they are in danger and need to leave the abuser to protect themselves and their children,” said coalition spokeswoman Leisa Wiseman. “Survivors need to be encouraged to seek shelter services, and should not face additional barriers when fleeing the abuse.”
That’s different from some homeless shelters that take in children. Tampa’s Metropolitan Ministries checks clients’ backgrounds. The Salvation Army and the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida run them through a sex offender database.
“A very big concern here is making sure kids are safe,” said Muffet Robinson, spokeswoman for the Orlando homeless coalition.
When Nikki Daniels ran the Family Justice Center in Tampa — which helped connect domestic violence victims and others to services — officials there conducted background checks on people who came into the building. A criminal history alone didn’t exclude someone from getting help, and Daniels said it didn’t deter victims from seeking it.
“It made them feel safer,” Daniels said.
Police reports show a handful of instances in which women at the Spring have fought over shared bathrooms or missing belongings or what was on the communal TV. In one case in 2014, a woman on felony probation was accused of hitting a 9-year-old girl in the face.
The Spring’s chief executive officer Mindy Murphy would not sit down with the Times for an interview nor would she allow reporters to visit the shelter. She answered questions in a brief email that did not address how the shelter handled the molestation allegations or whether the Spring made any policy changes after the incident. She also refused to answer general questions about the shelter’s safety protocols.
“While victims of domestic violence live in our shelter, they are responsible for the supervision of their children,” she wrote.