Woman who reported suspected child abuse threatened with jail time - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Woman who reported suspected child abuse threatened with jail time

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) -

By Al Showers – bio | email

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A Diamondhead woman was trying to do the right thing when she reported a suspected case of child abuse. But Michelle Williams now says she was the one threatened with jail time.

Williams told WLOX News she thought her name could be kept secret when she called the Mississippi Department of Human Services anonymous abuse hotline to report her suspicions. But she soon learned that wasn't the case at all.

Monday, Williams walked out of Youth Court angry that her anonymous tip earned her a subpoena to court.

"I will never, ever call DHS again," Williams said. "I will never, ever call and that's a shame, because I feel like I should have had a right to be anonymous."

Williams said after calling the Department of Human Services Hotline, she thought the authorities would take it from there. But last week, a sheriff's deputy delivered a subpoena to her.

"When I received a subpoena from youth court, I told them that I wasn't going to go because I was scared for my children and for myself and for my safety. These people know where I live."

Williams said she contacted Youth Court and the Department of Human Services several times to express her concerns about testifying against the couple who once lived around the corner from her.

"I'm scared that they are going to retaliate because I did the right thing," Williams said. "I was told by four people through DHS that if I didn't show up, that I'd be in contempt of court and arrested."

Youth Court Prosecutor John Jennings said he couldn't comment on Youth Court matters.

"When I talked to the prosecutor today, he told me that he was not made aware of the situation. He gave me a tremendous guilt trip and said that if I didn't show up, that the kids would be returned home today. So I felt, as a Christian woman, I needed to do what was right."

But Williams wonders why the DHS hotline didn't do right by her and keep her name out of the investigation.

The Department of Human Services website offers a link to report suspected abuse or neglect, and it lists the hotline number for those who prefer to remain anonymous.

"It's supposed to be anonymous. They do ask for your name and your phone number, and I believe your address also. But they assured me it would stay anonymous."

WLOX called the DHS hotline to ask how the tip-line worked, and we were also assured callers could keep their names confidential.

Linda Millsap, Director of Family and Children's Issues at DHS, said Williams' name should never have been put in the case file.

"It is very unfortunate Miss Williams' name was revealed," Millsap said. "Remaining anonymous is extremely important. Children's lives depend on it."

Director Millsap said she will meet with the in-take workers at the call center Tuesday to reiterate the names of the callers should never be written on their reports.

As it turns out, Williams did not have to testify against the couple she reported. They entered a plea agreement with the court, which meant the proceedings didn't have to go any further. But by that time, Williams says everyone knew who she was.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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