By Valerie Reddell
LIVINGSTON — A long nightmare finally ended for the Burman family this week when a Polk County jury found Elizabeth Annette Davis, 27, of Livingston guilty of interference with child custody on Tuesday. The trial was held in Judge Kaycee Jones’ 411th District Court. The state and Davis’s attorney Joe Roth agreed to a negotiated sentence of six months in jail.
Davis was indicted after she took her daughter and disappeared from a Florida hotel in November 2017, where she was working as a contractor assisting with hurricane recovery.
Travis Kade Burman was called to testify about the circumstances that led up to the moment that Davis disappeared with their child.
In response to questions by Polk County Assistant District Attorney Kirby Wills, Burman described their relationship up to the time of Davis’s department.
Burman and Davis had lived together since 2015. They got reacquainted while Burman was playing football at Lamar University in Beaumont, but the two families had known each other for years.
He had applied for a job with the Baytown Police — intending to follow the rest of his family into law enforcement — but was passed over in favor of an experienced officer. He was working other jobs while he planned to enter Angelina College’s law enforcement academy.
In September 2017, Davis went to work for a company that was assisting with disaster recovery after Hurricane Irma struck Florida.
After a two week school in Dallas, then Davis was deployed to Florida. Burman and their daughter went along, with dad taking care of the child while Davis worked.
“Things went fairly smoothly,” Burman said. At least for the first several weeks. They spent their daughter’s first birthday on Miami Beach. They traveled every two or three weeks, living in motel rooms.
After about five weeks, Burman said Davis’s mother entered the picture and the relationship got rocky.
“Elizabeth’s attitude changed,” Burman said. “(Dawn Bello) is not someone I like to have around my child, and I noticed some of the same things in Elizabeth. It started to scare me.”
Bello and Davis had left before, keeping the baby away from Burman for extended periods, but Davis would return and the couple would reconcile.
When Davis disappeared in November 2017, she didn’t return. Also, Davis was six months pregnant with their second child.
Davis wanted to go to Puerto Rico and work on hurricane recovery, but Burman objected. He had already learned of negative experiences that friends and family had while serving with military humanitarian missions to the island. They described it as looking “like a nuclear bomb dropped on Puerto Rico.”
Burman said he believed it wouldn’t be possible for Davis to receive prenatal care there, and it wasn’t a safe place for their daughter.
On Nov. 8, 2017, Davis took the baby, the dog and left in the car, Burman said.
“I stayed at the hotel,” Burman testified. “I was gonna let her have her space. I thought she would take a drive and cool down, but she disappeared. I had no vehicle. I was being a stay at home father. I was stranded. “
He told jurors he waited up virtually all night for Davis and the baby to return. He had “passed out” from exhaustion and worry after dawn.
He startled awake when a police officer knocked on the hotel room door, and feared his worry about a possible car crash was true.
The officer wasn’t there about a crash. He was serving papers ordering Burman to appear in a Florida county court.
Davis had filed a domestic abuse complaint — an action that could have ended his plan for a law enforcement career — as well as the wrath of his parents and brother who all are licensed peace officers
Court officials determined the allegation was unfounded, but he was stranded in Florida.
He wouldn’t see his baby daughter for a year, and he missed the birth of his son.
While she was in hiding, Davis changed her name and obtained a new birth certificate for the little girl.
In the affidavit she completed to get that identifying document, Davis gave a different date of birth and claimed she had given birth in a rest area alongside the highway. There was no father listed of this Florida birth certificate.
The new names for the mother-daughter duo proved a challenge to pronounce for the East Texas based witnesses, as well as the U S Marshal who rescued the children in Mobile, Alabama.
(Editor’s note: The small children involved in this trial are not being identified in compliance with the Enterprise’s policy on crime victims unable to speak for themselves.)
Burman returned to his parents home in Livingston and attended the Angelina County Law Enforcement Academy, then joined the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Burman said supervisors at PCSO asked him to explain some negative comments that Dawn Bello about him on social media.
His explanation prompted Capt. Rickie Childers to open an investigation for interfering with child custody on Oct. 11, 2018.
Tara Burman, Kade’s mother, intended to attend the academy at the same time as Kade, but she ultimately decided to focus her efforts on finding her grandchildren.
It took months, but she ultimately tracked them down — with some assistance from a private investigator — to the hotel room on the I-65 corridor in Mobile, Alabama.
Childers notified the Gulf Coast Fugitive Task Force that Davis and the child had been located.
Inspector Beau Martell took the stand to describe how his team retrieved Burman’s toddler daughter — and the son he and his family had never seen.
Martell said he met with the hotel manager who said he had seen Elizabeth Davis at breakfast on multiple mornings.
“The primary focus of the mission was the safety of the child,” Martell said. “One member of our team — a female marshal — was tasked with taking physical possession of the child as soon as the door was open,” Martell said.
The rest of the team would focus on the three adults inside the room — Davis’s brother had also been identified in the room.
The marshals took up a post in a room that was diagonally across the hall from the one Davis and her family occupied.
As agents were lined up on both sides of the door, a member of the hotel staff knocked on the door with fresh towels. When one of the adults stuck out their hands for the towels, marshals grabbed their wrists and pulled them into the hallway.
The team was surprised to see two children inside the room.
Each of the adults were separated and detained for investigative purposes. Davis was arrested on an outstanding Texas warrant.
When Martell asked the adults to identify the baby, they each claimed they didn’t know the child’s legal name, telling Martell they referred to the baby by a nickname.
Martell said he did allow Bello to attempt to soothe the children who were crying in response to the marshal’s surprise appearance.
When he interviewed Davis, she repeatedly provided a different name.
Martell said he warned Davis about the potential federal penalties for providing a false name to a federal officer, but she provided the false name a second time.
The marshal also told the jury he obtained consent to search Davis’s purse where he found a Colorado driver’s license bearing the name Erin Nicole Simon of Colorado Springs, a debit card, and a Texas driver’s license identifying her as Elizabeth Davis.
When Davis asked to take her passport with her when she was taken into custody, he found what appeared to be authentic passports for the two alternate identities she had been giving to the marshals.
While Capt. Rickie Childers was on the witness stand, he told jurors that providing false information to the Florida Department of Vital Statistics made those identifying documents as forged.
Childers was able to obtain a birth certificate that matched the fake passport obtained for Burman’s daughter.
In obtaining that new birth certificate, Davis claimed the child had been born at a roadside rest area in Florida. In fact, the baby had been born at a Beaumont hospital, where Kade Burman had been present.
The children were temporarily in the custody of the Florida Department of Health and Human Services.
After Florida case workers spoke with investigators at Texas’ Child Protective Services, both children were returned to their father.
Paternity testing performed after the children were returned to Burman determined there was a 99.99 percent probability that Burman was the baby’s father.
Jurors found Davis guilty Tuesday afternoon.
Davis has been in custody at the Polk County jail since Dec. 7, 2018, in lieu of a $100,000 bond. She will complete her six-month sentence in June.
Child custody orders signed by County Court at Law Judge Tom Brown will prevent her from having access to the children, family members say.