In Child Abuse, Police May be the Last to Know
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In child abuse, police may be the last to know By DON WAITT Of TheJimes^Staff There was suspicion surrounding the injuries that led to the death of 9-month-old Jimmy R. Collins, but the Allendale infant was in the grave more than two weeks before Shreveport police learned of that suspicion. By then, Jimmy's mother had already been arrested on a charge of cruelty to her second child, a 2-year-old daughter. The Aug. 14 death of Jimmy R. Col-lins from head injuries has raised some probing questions about just who is responsible for notifying police about infant deaths where foul play is sus-pected. And it has raised some questions about the ability of different agencies to work together toward a common goal. In the case of Jimmy, it was more than two weeks after his death before Shreveport juvenile investigators began their investigation. Even then, they learned of the death not from respon-sible officials, but instead after arrest-ing his mother on a charge of cruelty to her other child. And it was several days after Jim-my's death before the Child Protection Center, the state agency that had been investigating the case while Jimmy was still alive, even learned that the infant had died, according to Times contacts. "Due to an unfortunate set of circum-stances and events, the death of the child got shifted from one place to another, but it never found the proper home," said Assistant Caddo District Attorney Steve Waller. "It was one of those things where everybody did what they were required to do, but they didn't tell anybody else about it." The problem, as pinpointed by Waller, is a lack of communication and coordination between the Caddo- Shreveport Child Protection Center and the investigators in the Shreveport ju-venile division. Referring to the death of Jimmy as an example, he said, "There are some real problems. This is not just a one-shot deal that got messed up." Shreveport juvenile officers have been investigating the death of the 9- month-old infant for the past few weeks and are awaiting a written coroner's ruling on cause of death before turning their findings over to the Caddo Parish District Attorney's office for review. Caddo Coroner Dr. Robert Braswell has tentatively ruled cause of death as being from head injuries. It must be noted that the death is still being considered an accidental death while it is under investigation and that no criminal charges have been filed in connection with the case. Sgt. Ken Lewis, supervisor of the Shreveport police juvenile division, said Jimmy's mother was arrested on Aug. 30 after witnesses told police they had seen a wipian beating a young girl in Allendale at about 2 a.m. Evelyn Jean Collins, 25, of 604 Lawrence was charged with cruelty to her 2-year-old daughter land released on $3,500 bond. She has retained private counsel and is scheduled to be tried on the cruelty charge. Lewis said his investigators de-termined fhat Jimmy and his sister had been living with two adults at Ms. Collins' residence. He said Ms. Collins' 2-year-old daughter has since been placed with the Child Protection Cen-ter. "The authorities have stepped in," said Waller. "There has been action taken regarding the protection of that child." 1 While questioning Ms. Collins, Shreveport juvenile officers learned that the woman's infant son had died at LSU Medical Center on Aug. 14 after being admitted for treatment on July 23. Lewii said Ms. Collins told the attending physicians that her child had suffered head and rib injuries after falling off a bed. The doctors questioned Ms. Collins' explanation of the injuries, Lewis said, and so contacted the Child Protection Center, a! state agency under the De-partment of Health and Human Re-sources, which began its own investiga-tion. However, officials at the center did not notify police about the case even after the infant had died, Lewis claims. Identification officers at the Police Department were notified, however, when the Jcoroner's office conducted an autopsy, ^fter photographing the child, the identification officers advised juve-nile investigators of the case, but Lewis said his officers apparently overlooked the report. The upshot was that Jimmy Collins died on Aug. 14 from suspicious injuries, but days went by before the investiga-tion was picked up again by the Child Protection Center, or even started by Shreveport police. What follows is a list of points d uring the case where notifica-tion was, or was not, made: • According to Louisiana state stat utes, doctors, hospital personnel, teach-ers and sccial workers are required by law to notify the parish child welfare unit "OR' the police about suspected child abuse. In the case cited, the LSU Medical Center physicians did notify the Child Protection Center. However, they did not notify police. Joe Miciotto, an LSU Hospital administrator, ex-plained that the hospital's legal obliga-tion was met by notifying the parish agency. Upon the death of the infant, the hospital notified the Caddo Parish cor-oner, meeting its legal obligation con cerning a suspicious death. Miciotto again noted that the hospital was not required to notify the Child Protection Center or the police about the death, • The same Louisiana statute re-quires the Child Protection Center to investigate a complaint of child abuse and then forward its report to the district attorney. Waller said he did receive a report of the investigation while the infant was alive, but that he heard of the infant's death from the center's investigators days after the death. At no time, either before or after the infant's death, did the center's in-vestigators notify juvenile police in-vestigators, Lewis said. The state law does not require them to do so. Charlyne Langton, a supervisor at the Child Protection Center, said it has been her impression of the center's policy that the district attorney would notify police about possible child abuse, not the center's investigators. But Waller disagrees. "We have peo-ple who take agency policy decisions and interpret those to be more powerful than the law," Waller said. "Upon the death of the child, certainly the police should have been brought in." Waller acknowledged that state law and the Child Protection Center's policy call for reports to be sent to the district attorney, but he said the center should also report possible criminal violations to the police. "If there's some misinterpretation over there, it needs to be cleared up," Waller said. "If a child dies and it's abuse, you're not talking about child abuse. You're talking about homicide." Waller said the center's investigators fail to realize that the state statute in question deals with suspected abuse and neglect of a child. A child, he said, can be neglected, and possibly abused, without a criminal violation occurring. Waller reasons that when the center's investigators suspect a criminal vio-lation has occurred, the state statute becomes moot and the investigators are obligated to notify law enforcement authorities. "When they stumble upon a crime, yes, they can report it to the district attorney," Waller said, "but they also have an obligation to get the informa-tion and cooperate with the police." Waller, saying that the center has undergone numerous staff changes over the years, is somewhat sympathetic. "I think many of these workers are kept in a state of confusion by policy directives from Baton Rouge, by what their super-visors tell them, by what police tell them and by what I tell them." Another factor to consider, Ms. Langton said, is that the Child Protec-tion Center's responsibility is to protect the child and keep him from becoming a repeabvictim. The pursuing of criminal charges is the responsibility of police, she said. But in the Jimmy Collins case, Lewis argued, it was a matter of notification, • . • • • • .- I It- (Times photo bv Lee Shivelv) Responsibility in child abuse cases unclear not responsibility for criminal in vestigation. • The state statute also requires that police notify the Child Protection Cen-ter about possible child abuse cases. In this particular case, the center knew about the case before police, but Lewis said his office is good about notifying the center of such cases. However, the confusion about notification in the infant's death even lapsed into the interdepartmental poli-cy of the Shreveport Police Depart-ment. Shreveport police were notified of the death by the coroner's office, but that notification was lost somewhere between the identification officers who photographed the body and the juvenile investigators. Said Lewis, "There's fault all the way around. We have to take our share of it." As Waller noted, all five links in the informational chain — the hospital, the child welfare unit, the coroner, the district attorney's office and the police — did what they were required to do by law. But, he said, by following the letter of the law, the black print on the white pages, the end result was a lack of communication, and an infant whose death went unnoticed by investigators for several days. In such a case, conjecture is easy. But there is one hypothetical question that begs to be asked. Since more than two weeks elapsed between the death of Jimmy and the beating of his sister, could the authorities, had they been acting quicker, stopped the beating of the sister? Answered Waller, "It's possible."
|Title||In Child Abuse, Police May be the Last to Know|
Collins, Jimmy R.
Louisiana State University Medical Center (Shreveport, La.)
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|Source||Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport Medical Library (http://lib.sh.lsuhsc.edu)|
|Coverage-Spatial||Shreveport (Caddo, La.)|
|Rights||Physical rights are retained by Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center Shreveport. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.|