Archive for December, 2011

Poor Auntavia. When a child is murdered it should be asked: “What did we do wrong?”

A note to my friends: Thanks for your showing of support. I appreciate it. I have written another article for you and hope you will look at it and give me your feedback. I consider the writing part of my job fighting for people.

By Attorney David Engler

Nick Kerosky, the Director of Trumbull County Children Services expressed succinctly the attitude of most bureaucratic children service directors, “There’s no support that it [wrongdoing] ever happened. I don’t believe it ever happened,” Kerosky said.

“While the death of a child is always a tragedy, it is unfair and unethical to assume that a death means that there must be wrongdoing on the part of CSB.” Director Kerosky said in a press release, in response to allegations that the 2003 death of 3 year old Auntavia Diggs was in part due to CSB’s inaction

Kerosky believes that one, two or three children deaths in Trumbull County, Ohio during a 6 year period should not give rise to criticism of CSB. I suppose he is talking about me when he suggests it is unethical to assume a death means that there must be wrongdoing on the part of CSB.

I will not comment about my pending action on behalf of a dad who lost his only child, a daughter, (without being represented,) to a foster-parent who quickly murdered the little 22 month old, strangling the life out of her. CSB said she would be a good foster parent. She left the impression of her ring on the baby’s neck.

No I want to talk about poor Auntavia who was tortured, burned and then murdered by people CSB said were appropriate to watch children.

Relatives say Ethel Wilbert-Bethea who is serving 21 years for murder reached out to CSB three times to give the baby back. CSB’s records, which we learned from the State Audit are sometimes ‘adjusted after the fact’, reflect a Hogan’s Heroes Sargent Schultz mentality of “I’ve seen nothing. I’ve heard nothing.”

5 months earlier in 2003, little 4 year old Logan Guiton was murdered while in foster care by Michael Ledger. His head was cracked against a wall in the house where he was placed by CSB. Ledger is serving 15 years to life. The CSB director at that time said there were no records to suggest CSB had any culpability.

This is the point: when any child in their care dies, it should be assumed that children services erred. An agency should not be afraid to look at itself in every instance and find out how it could have prevented the tragedy.

Look at The CSB mission statement. …it is to protect children in Trumbull County from being abused in their schools, homes and to especially protect those children from the most likely abuser, a family member. The standard of care becomes even greater when the child falls into the care and custody of CSB. It would seem that a child being molested in CSB’s own building would be a clear case of a colossal CSB screwup when it was known or should have been known that the father was a voracious sexual predator who had his siblings removed from his home when he was released by department of Youth Services. While in Mahoning County lock up as a juvenile, he was a sexual predator. The grandmother complained to CSB about him being a sex offender. CSB does not keep notes, when it does not fit its story.

Trumbull County Children Services Bureau fails when a child gets sexually abused. Anywhere. Anytime.

It will happen again. And at every turn CSB should be asking itself what did we do wrong. This doesn’t mean CSB will be sued. It is a fundamental shift in philosophy from what Kerosky said about the murder of poor Auntavia, to a more principled belief, that when it comes to the safety of our children there is no margin of error. There can be no hesitancy to act. Each tragedy should be a moment to learn from mistakes and work harder to prevent the loss of a child in the future. CSB is protected from just about every form of liability except the one that springs forth from the expenditure of 15.5 million dollars of taxpayer money each year to affirmatively keep kids from dying. CSB is in a statistical tsunami of children’s deaths and abuse and its answer is to say bad things happen. The rate of children’s death by caregivers in Trumbull County is either a statistical anomaly or an indication that something is broken and needs fixed.

“Poor Joshua! Victim of repeated attacks by an irresponsible, bullying, cowardly, and intemperate father, and abandoned by respondents who placed him in a dangerous predicament and who knew or learned what was going on, and yet did essentially nothing except … dutifully recorded these incidents in [their] files.” It is a sad commentary upon American life, and constitutional principles – so full of late of patriotic fervor and proud proclamations about “liberty and justice for all” – that this child, Joshua DeShaney, now is assigned to live out the remainder of his life profoundly retarded. Joshua and his mother, as petitioners here, deserve – but now are denied by this Court – the opportunity to have the facts of their case considered in the light of the constitutional protection that 42 U.S.C. 1983 is meant to provide.”

This was the famous dissent given by Associate Justice Harry Blackmun in the DeShaney v. Winnebago County Children Services case that stands as law today. The mother of Joshua had sued the county CSB for allowing the child to go back to the care of his father despite a clear indication that the father was a child abusing bully. A child was abused by his father and CSB failed to act. The majority in the case stated that Joshua could not recover from Winnebago County because the federal laws are meant to protect violations of a state actor, not a private actor like Joshua’s father or in the case in Trumbull County, Wilbert-Bethea who murdered Auntavia. The Supreme Court did say that there might be state court remedies, but those are unlikely since governmental immunities protect CSB from all but the most egregious acts of indifference. They are not protected however when the offender who kills or molests is an agent of the State like a foster parent or the harm takes place on its own property.

It is unlikely that CSB will change from within and become the type of agency that understands that every death of a child is one too many and at each death or each incident of abuse CSB should ask itself what it did wrong.

Our victimized children do not fail us, we fail them.
CSB is given $15.5 million dollars a year to perform a job the rest of us believe is proper and right.

And this is not a condition that is found just in Trumbull County, Ohio. It has happened with three murders of children in Hamilton County this past year.

The State of Florida, after the sickening murder of a young boy and girl by their adoptive father, revamped its entire child protective service organization to allow not-for- profits and faith based groups a chance to be held more accountable than government agencies grown indifferent with time and attitudes of “it wasn’t me.”

Yes there should be no shame in each time a child is murdered, abused, or abandoned for the wealthy tax payer funded agency to say to itself, “what did we do wrong.” Not to take this attitude will only lead to more unspeakable horrors.

Attorney David Engler
Phone: 330-729-9777
http://www.DavidEngler.com Attorney Engler’s website
Areas of Practice: Family Law, Elder Law, Domestic Relations, Bankruptcy, Criminal

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It’s Never Too Late To Make a New Friend

By Attorney David Engler

Wanda and Stella
Wanda and Stella

Wanda is my Mom. Parkinson’s disease has slowly but assuredly taken her strength and her voice. The stroke on the Royal Wedding Day this spring did not help matters either. But as the New Year approaches she is in the Maine Veterans Home. She does not want to see her 86th year. She has prayed to her husband and my father, Bill who passed 21 years ago, that she wanted nothing more to do with her worn body. They met 59 years ago. She was a nurse at the VA hospital in Cleveland and he was a disabled vet getting a degree at Kent State.

Stella is 93 and cancer is fighting her will and she knows the battle is nearly over. The last great battle she saw was working as an Army nurse in England helping to heal GI’s as they returned from Normandy. Not coincidentally she married a soldier whom she met a few years later and he took her to Maine. Over time she would have two children and help turn a family owned bar and grill into a large seafood wholesaler specializing in selling Lobsters, of course. The great irony Stella explained was that she could never taste what her family sold because she was allergic to shell fish which should not be confused with seafood.

About 15 months ago we moved Mom from her home in Ohio to live on the first floor of my sister’s home in Maine. She was falling and insisted that she could care for herself; the reality was she could not make the one step from the living room to the kitchen.

So off to Maine she went. The state motto is “Life As It Ought To Be”. My sister is busy with an 8 year old adopted Chinese whirlwind named Molly and a professorship at the U of Maine. Three 911 calls in 6 months and it was clear that Mom needed nursing home care. So in May of this last year she gets put in a room with Stella. Stella’s hair is wispy from the many chemo treatments she received to slow down cancer’s assault. Long before the cancer her hearing went. She seems to fill in the words if you can talk loud enough. Mom had one good eye before the stroke and Parkinson’s and now that one went bad. Reading and watching the news was a daily companion, now she can just listen to Ann Curry.

The room looks like any other nursing home. Cards crowd the bulletin boards and the closet door is a backdrop of art work created by grandchildren. What makes the room a home is each other. The nurses and aides see the two holding hands trying to make sense of a death that is unscheduled but waiting. It was Stella who told the staff that she and Wanda have a pact that they would like to hold hands and race into heaven together. The spunky nurse from Portugal attracted to Maine by her country’s fishing heritage, said “It was more like a turtle race to Heaven”, since neither seemed closer to the end despite their bodies having months ago failed.

So it was on Christmas Day this year that I traveled to surprise my Mom. At first she did not recognize me. I have heard how hard that is to hear. But after a few minutes she asked about each of the kids that she raised when they were small and that I feed her a favorite dark chocolate mint from Philadelphia Chocolates. It was my favorite Christmas memory. And what I took home was this picture I snapped with my iPhone that neither old nurse could have imagined. A new friend was made in what will surely be their last year on this Earth. It is the power of a touch of a hand and someone that cares when you least expect it.

Attorney David Engler
Phone: 330-729-9777
http://www.DavidEngler.com Attorney Engler’s website
Areas of Practice: Family Law, Elder Law, Domestic Relations, Bankruptcy, Criminal

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VINDY: Atty. Engler probing deaths at Trumbull Children Services

Published: Sun, December 18, 2011 @ 12:10 a.m.

ATTORNEY LOOKS INTO DEATHS OF 2 IN 2003
By Ed Runyan

runyan@vindy.com

WARREN

An attorney who has applied pressure to Trumbull County Children Services for months says he’s uncovered evidence that the agency’s problems date back to 2003 — when two children died.

Atty. David Engler encouraged the criminal investigation of employees that is now taking place regarding the alleged videotaped molestation of a 9-month-old child in the agency’s custody in April.

He also sought to have Children Services employees placed on leave during the investigation, and he filed civil suits against the agency for allegedly failing to prevent the death of a child in its custody in 2009 and for allegedly not following the Open Meetings Act.

Now he’s researching the deaths of two children in 2003 that he says indicate the agency has failed for years in its mission to protect children.

Engler points to the deaths of Logan Guiton, 4, at the hands of Michael Ledger of Dickey Avenue in Warren, and Auntavia Atkins, 3, who died at the hands of Ethel Wilbert-Bethea on North Bank Street in Cortland.

Those deaths, combined with the death of Tiffany Banks Cross, 20 months, on April 2, 2009, total three for which Engler believes the agency is in some way responsible.

Engler says that’s a high number of deaths associated with a county children-services agency, which indicates a “dysfunctionality of Trumbull County Children Services.”

The agency denies accusations that an employee in one of the cases ignored warning signs.

The agency’s executive director, Nick Kerosky, was not working in Trumbull County when any of the deaths occurred, but he agrees that three “does seem like a lot.”

“No child should die. One is too many,” Kerosky said. “When a child dies, you have to look and see what could have been done differently.”

He added, “There’s a lot of danger out there for kids, and that’s why we have the agency we do.”

Logan Guiton
Michael Ledger of Dickey Avenue Northwest, now 49, called 911 at 4:20 a.m. Jan. 19, 2003, saying Logan Guiton, his son’s brother, was not breathing. Prosecutors said Ledger injured the boy’s head by hitting it on the drywall of a bedroom wall. The boy died two days later in a Cleveland hospital.

Ledger pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

Ledger was Logan’s legal guardian. The boy’s mother placed him and his 6-year-old brother in foster care, Warren police said. Ledger was the biological father of the 6-year-old, but he was not Logan’s biological father, according to Vindicator files.

Robert Kubiak, executive director of Children Services in 2003, said the agency had no reports of Logan’s having been abused at Ledger’s home.

“My review is that the agencies working on this case handled it appropriately,” Kubiak said.

Auntavia Atkins
Auntavia Atkins, 3, died Sept. 3, 2003, of a head injury after being taken to the hospital Aug. 29, 2003, from a home on North Bank Street in Cortland where she was living with Ethel Wilbert-Bethea, her husband and other children, according to Vindicator files.

Wilbert-Bethea, now 47, was sentenced to 21 years in prison after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and four counts of child endangerment.

Auntavia was not in Children Services custody, nor was she part of the agency’s foster-care program, officials said. Auntavia’s mother, Angel Diggs, gave Auntavia to Wilbert-Bethea to watch for her while Diggs worked on getting a full-time job and a place to live, according to Vindicator files.

Cortland police were called to Wilbert-Bethea’s home, where emergency responders found Auntavia in serious condition and took her to a hospital.

The girl also had retinal hemorrhaging, chronic rectal bleeding, malnutrition, missing hair and burn marks on her body, police said.

Diggs told The Vindicator in 2003 that she repeatedly asked a Children Services caseworker to visit Auntavia, but nothing was done. Diggs said she told the agency that she’d been told Wilbert-Bethea was abusing Auntavia.

“I asked my caseworker to visit, but she didn’t. If she would have, she would have saw what was going on,” Diggs said.

Kubiak, the director at the time, said he could not respond to Diggs’ allegations.

Markita Parks of Warren, who along with her mother, Fannie Parks, served as foster parents for 11 years, said Diggs and a Children Services caseworker told her that Wilbert-Bethea had contacted the agency three times to tell it that Wilbert-Bethea wasn’t able to handle Auntavia.

Markia and Fannie Parks told The Vindicator last week that the caseworker asked Fannie Parks to take the child, and Fannie Parks agreed. Parks and her mother already had custody of Auntavia’s brother. Parks eventually adopted the boy, Markita said.

The request for Parks to take Auntavia came about three to four weeks before Auntavia died, Markita Parks said.

“The minute a foster parent says they can’t handle it, an emergency worker needs to get involved,” Markita Parks said.

Parks said the agency’s handling of the Auntavia case made her and her mother “furious” and caused them to get out of foster parenting in 2005.

Kerosky said last week he looked into the allegations made by Fannie and Markita Parks and checked with the caseworker.

“There’s no support that it ever happened. I don’t believe it ever happened,” Kerosky said.

When asked whether Children Services had any knowledge of Auntavia prior to her death, Kerosky said he would not comment.

Tiffany Banks Cross
Tiffany Banks Cross was 20 months old on April 2, 2009, when she died at the hands of her foster mother, Bonnie Pattinson.

Pattinson and her family were living in a duplex on Center Street West in Champion Township when emergency responders were called to the home because the girl was not breathing.

Pattinson, now 33, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to nine years in prison. The coroner ruled that Tiffany died of asphyxiation, and a county prosecutor said there were marks on the child’s neck consistent with the rings Pattinson was wearing.

Thomas Cross, Tiffany’s biological father, filed a lawsuit against Trumbull County Children Services, accusing the agency of failing to protect Tiffany despite what he says were warnings that the girl was being abused. Engler is the attorney for Cross.

In the suit, Cross said he warned the agency that the girl might be in danger, saying he noticed bruising on her and dog hair in her formula.

The Vindicator filed public-information requests with Children Services asking whether any disciplinary action was taken against any agency employee regarding the deaths of Guiton, Atkins or Banks Cross.

Kerosky, who became executive director Oct. 1, 2010, said no disciplinary action was taken in any of the cases.

“Those cases were all investigated and looked at by the state” Department of Job and Family Services, Kerosky said. He “had not read the reports” emanating from those investigations, Kerosky said, but Ohio JFS had found that Children Services had done nothing wrong, Kerosky said.

After asking the state agency for information on its investigations into the three deaths, the agency replied: “Regrettably, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services cannot comply with your request due to state law that makes such records confidential/nonpublic.”
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Attorney David Engler
Phone: 330-729-9777
http://www.DavidEngler.com Attorney Engler’s website
Areas of Practice: Family Law, Elder Law, Domestic Relations, Bankruptcy, Criminal

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Philadelphia Abuser shows need for more investigation and recordkeeping

By Attorney David Engler

Weston

The Philadelphia Enquirer reported December 9, 2011 on one of the nation’s most horrific example of abusing a ward or in Linda Weston’s case a “payee”. Weston is accused of imprisoning intellectually challenged adults in a Tacony cellar and stealing their federal benefits. Weston was the official recipient of Social Security benefits for 10 men and women from 1995 to 2011, according to a source familiar with the ongoing investigation.

“She had applied to be the “representative payee” for an 11th beneficiary, her biological daughter, the source said.

In an ongoing investigation, the Social Security Administration has found that Weston was getting the checks for four relatives, including children; five individuals who were not related; and one person who had the same last name but whose relationship to Weston has not been firmly established.

As of October, Weston was terminated as the payee for seven of the beneficiaries, the source said.

Of those beneficiaries, three were with Weston at the time of her arrest; two are dead; one no longer needed a representative payee; and one was switched to a more suitable payee.

Payments for the three others were suspended, pending the results of an investigation by the administration’s Office of Inspector General, the source said.

Police continue to probe the 2005 death of Donna Spadea, 59, while in Weston’s care in Philadelphia.

Another person who died under Weston’s care was Maxine Lee, 39, of Philadelphia. In November 2008, she was found dead in a house that Weston was renting in Norfolk, Va. Norfolk police said Lee died of natural causes. A medical examiner attributed Lee’s death to meningitis, with severe malnutrition as a contributing factor.

Weston had served less than four years in prison for a 1984 conviction for starving to death a man, 25, she kept trapped in her Philadelphia apartment. She was arrested in October with her daughter and husband after the landlord of a Tacony apartment house found four intellectually handicapped people locked in the building’s cellar.

A sweep of the apartment where Weston was staying turned up identification records for as many as 50 people, including power-of-attorney paperwork, forms of identification, and Social Security numbers. Police said it suggested a vast fraud operation.

People who are convicted of crimes are banned by law from accepting government checks on behalf of others, but it is a self-reporting system.

The social security administration is very lax on who is appointed as a representative payee and should be encouraging more professional organizations or registered guardians to act as payees. Each year billions are stolen in benefits from the poor by those who are claiming to help.

The answer is not only better background checks but accurate record keeping that can be reviewed by other family members, a court or agency at any time. Our company, eGuardianship.com www.eGuardianship.com has pioneered the nation’s first online real-time reporting system for wards. Such systems ensure proper recordkeeping and help to minimize if not eliminate fraud.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) is proposing a bill that would give the Social Security Administration access to FBI databases in order for caseworkers to conduct criminal background checks. It’s a start.

Attorney David Engler
Phone: 330-729-9777
http://www.DavidEngler.com Attorney Engler’s website
Areas of Practice: Family Law, Elder Law, Domestic Relations, Bankruptcy, Criminal

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