(This is a copy of the
original story on the AJC site.)
Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.
Sad histories marked by futile complaints
GBI agents visited DFACS offices at seven locations Tuesday to collect files on these children:
Four-year-old Lisa Caruso died of head injuries Aug. 21, 1996, in a two-story house in southern Cherokee County. Her mother, Bonnie Caruso, 39, later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Six months before Lisa was killed, DFACS had investigated a report of possible child abuse after Lisa arrived at Scottish Rite Children's hospital with a black eye and swollen face.
Judith Davis, a 9-year-old girl diagnosed with cerebral palsy and mental retardation, drowned in the swimming pool at her foster family's DeKalb County home in March 1997. The death was ruled an accident, but an internal review by DFACS later determined that the child should have been under intense 24-hour supervision, and "it would appear that Judith did not receive the appropriate supervision."
In April 1996, Tavelle Davis, 3, was dead on arrival at Hughes Spalding Children's Hospital, malnourished and covered with bruises, bite marks and sores. Prior to his death, the child had been the victim of shaken baby syndrome, according to doctors, and required extensive medical care. Despite the apparent abuse and DFACS' recommendation, a judge ordered the child returned to his Fulton County home. He died less than a year later. No criminal charges have been filed in his death.
Raymond Ellis had been paralyzed from a car accident since he was 19 months old, leaving him in need of medical care for the rest of his life. But DFACS records show he spent the rest of his life enduring second-degree burns, dirty diapers and neglect that resulted in his legs being amputated. Throughout his 16 years, many doctors pleaded with DFACS to remove the Sumter County boy from his mother's care, but he never was. On July 7, 1997, Raymond died from a massive infection that doctors believe could have been prevented with proper care. An internal DFACS report said the agency "failed to protect a very vulnerable child from maltreatment."
Jalliyah Humphrey was only 21 months old when her body was found in a heavily wooded lot in Athens in June 1997. An autopsy found multiple trauma injuries, including a fractured skull and a split liver. DFACS became involved 18 months earlier when Jalliyah suffered a broken leg, but the agency closed its case without reconciling discrepancies about the circumstances, state records show. Poor medical care and a lack of housing kept DFACS involved after a subsequent complaint, but the child remained with the man believed to be her father until her death. Jamel Humphrey is now serving a life prison sentence.
Kendall Hunt died Sept. 1, 1998, after being drowned in his bathroom sink. He was 6 months old. From the time he was born, family members, physicians and parenting experts complained repeatedly to DFACS about bruises and cigarette burns on the infant's hands and wrist. The agency took custody of Kendall, then 4 months old, but a Glynn County Juvenile Court judge promptly returned him to his mother. His mother's boyfriend has been charged with Kendall's murder.
Trey Jarvis choked to death in July 1997, three weeks before his first birthday, when a cord holding his pacifier wrapped around his neck. After the death, an internal investigation by DFACS found that Trey was routinely put to bed with the string around his neck and noted other complaints had been received about cleanliness and safety in the Brunswick foster home where he lived. A DFACS investigator recommended that the agency stop placing foster children there.
Minnie Laster, who had been born prematurely with cocaine in her bloodstream, was 2 months old when she fell between a bed and a wall and suffocated. Her September 1996 death was ruled an accident, but DFACS investigators later questioned the wisdom of placing the child in the home of a relative who was taking care of 10 other children. "Fulton County (DFACS) becomes vulnerable to charges that her placement into the over-crowded --- and apparently undersupervised --- home did not remove her from risk," a later internal inquiry concluded.
Jamorio Marshall, 10, died of blunt force trauma Feb. 12, 1998, shortly after being suspended from school for stealing $5. Clarke County prosecutors believe his mother and her boyfriend beat Jamorio with a belt for several hours. The mother is serving a life sentence and the boyfriend's trial is pending. DFACS files show the family had a decade-long history with the agency over reports of neglect and abuse, and the agency had removed the child and his siblings from his mother's care. DFACS had placed Jamorio in his grandmother's care, but she had dropped him off with his mother after the incident at school. DFACS had begun looking for a group home for Jamorio when he died.
When Terrell Peterson, 5, died in January 1998, his emaciated body was so battered that a cause of death couldn't be determined. Since 1991, various people had made eight separate reports to Fulton County DFACS alleging mistreatment of Terrell and his siblings. Still, Terrell remained in the custody of his family. Criminal charges were filed against Terrell's grandmother after an alleged beating, but were dropped after a DFACS caseworker failed to appear in court. Terrell's grandmother, mother and the mother's boyfriend have been charged in the boy's death.
Octavious Sims was killed by his parents April 11, 1996, three days shy of his first birthday. An autopsy found that the baby was starved, immersed in boiling water and finally beaten to death. His parents, Christian and Ricky Lee Sims, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 20 years in prison. They were no strangers to DFACS. Over a six-year period, the agency received 11 calls complaining about the care of Octavious and his siblings. The agency said only two complaints could be verified, but even then, only minimal steps were taken to protect the children.
Three-month-old Martrabius Smith of Atlanta died in January 1998 after adults left him at home with a baby bottle containing a toxic amount of an adult herbal remedy. Martrabius' family had an extensive history with DFACS. Martrabius' mother and most of her 12 siblings were the alleged victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect, DFACS records show. One was hospitalized for shaken baby syndrome. The agency did little to protect the children, a subsequent review found. "In many cases, child protective services just documented the family's problems," a DFACS investigator wrote.
Donald Wright, 18, died in August 1996 in a Bibb County foster home after suffering a seizure and strangling on a wheelchair harness. DFACS had removed the boy, who suffered from mental retardation and cerebral palsy, from his mother several times after reports of abuse and neglect. But state files contain numerous reports against Donald's foster mother, including complaints that she tied children to their beds. Weeks before Donald's death, a caseworker found him home alone, locked in a filthy, smelly room.
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