Mom claims her 3-year-old daughter died after being positioned in couple’s custody

HOUSTON – A Houston couple were charged, according to their mother, in connection with the beating death of a 3-year-old girl who was taken into their care by Child Protective Services for safety reasons.

Huey Hamilton, 53, and Shawanda Hamilton, 36, are charged with child injury in connection with the beating death of Tarija Carter. The little girl died in January 2020 and it took months to determine the cause and circumstances of her death.

“This has been a chronic situation,” said Harris County Attorney Gilbert Sawtelle. “There were healed injuries all over the body and there was evidence of non-accidental trauma.”

“The main injury that led to her death was an injury to her knee caused by a blunt force trauma that allowed bacteria to enter her bloodstream and kill her,” added Sawtelle.

Tarija was left behind with the Hamiltons by her birth mother, Rhodashinique Phillips. She said she and her children had lived with Shawanda Hamilton, the children’s godmother, in 2018 but had to move out when Huey Hamilton returned home from prison.


Phillips said she was out of luck, unemployed and facing homelessness. She has also been examined by CPS. She said CPS decided to move Tarija and her 1-year-old sister to the Hamiltons for safety reasons.

“I didn’t want to lose my children to the state,” said Phillips. “You were safe. I saw my children. You were safe. They were fine. No harm. She sent me pictures. She took them to dinner. Everything was in order.”

In spring 2019, Hamilton blocked Phillips’ access to their children. When Phillps complained, she said her CPS clerk told her she could lose custody if she tried to get her.

“When I called my social worker, Nicole Nicolas, she said to me, ‘You go over and pick up the kids, but if you don’t have an apartment of your own, we’ll pick them up and they’ll go to the state. ‘”

Phillips said she last saw her daughter alive in August 2019. She said the next time she saw Tarija she was at the little girl’s funeral.


The Hamiltons face up to 99 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

Melissa Lanford, Texas Department spokeswoman for Family and Protection Services, said in an email to KPRC 2 containing the agency’s report on Tarija that Phillips was the person who decided to put their children in the care of the Hamiltons bring. Her full statement is below:

“As mentioned in the report, CPS was not part of the decision to allow Tarija to stay with the family friend. This decision was made by the mother. CPS did not have an open case with Tarija when she died. “

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