Three months after getting his son out of foster care, dad ANTRONE SMITH apparently beat him to death.
County returned kids to dad months before murder
5:20 am, Oct 24, 2011
By Jennifer Edwards Baker
Latasha Tye is living her worst nightmare.
The Western Hills foster mother and her husband, Joe, took DeMarco Jackson, 2, into their home when he was eight days old.
They also cared for his four other siblings for about two years until all the children – 6, 4, 3 and 10 months – were returned to their biological parents in July by Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services.
Now, three months later, DeMarco is dead, and his father, Antrone Smith, 29, faces a murder charge.
“I tried to save him. I tried to take him back. I tried,” sobbed Latasha Tye, 40, Monday after attending Smith’s arraignment at the Hamilton County jail. “The county failed my baby. I told them he wasn’t ready to go. All he wanted was me.”
She said she knew the children needed to be reunified with their parents. That’s always the goal.
But, she said, she feared something bad would happen to DeMarco.
He didn’t want to go. He cried and screamed for her.
“I can’t get it out of my head,” she said. “He was the happiest baby, always singing.”
On Friday, DeMarco was pronounced dead at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center after Cincinnati police responded to DeMarco’s family apartment on Bracken Woods Lane in Westwood. He was not breathing.
Smith, 29, is held at the jail on $500,000 cash bond. He faces one count of murder.
Tears splashed down on his handcuffs, which bound his hands in front of him, as he stood in front of Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge David Stockdale Monday. He pleaded not guilty.
The case will go to a grand jury for possible indictment on Nov. 2.
Smith’s court-appointed lawyer, Timothy McKenna, said he could not comment because he just got the case.
The child’s mother, Latricia Jackson, also declined comment outside court.
Sgt. Gary Conner of the Cincinnati Police Homicide Unit said coroner’s officials have concluded the boy suffered from some type of a beating and blunt force trauma to his abdomen.
When police questioned Smith, he acknowledged he struck his son but did not explain why, Conner said.
“He may have been a little rough,” Conner said. “He never gave a reason.”
Detectives handed Smith a photo of his son while they interviewed him.
“He was in tears,” Conner said. “He was very sorry. He was kissing the photo. When his son went to the hospital, he rode in the ambulance with him and stayed at the hospital the entire time.”
Conner said he was not sure why the children were removed from Smith and Jackson’s care.
Tye said she was not permitted to divulge that information.
Sitting on a bench across the hallway from Jackson Monday, she wracked heavy sobs.
So devastated, she could barely speak as she tried to explain how she tried to warn the county and doctors at Children’s Hospital something didn’t seem right in the boy’s household with his parents.
Two days they were returned to their parents, she recalled, DeMarco was hospitalized at Children’s for a seizure. She said he also had a black eye and bruise on his back.
She didn’t buy the seizure story and tried to warn doctors.
“He never had seizures with me,” she noted.
No one listened, she said. The children remained with their parents.
Now DeMarcus is dead.
“They let my baby down,” Tye cried. “I blame the county. These kids are just another number to them. It’s about closings cases and moving on, not what’s best for the kids. He beat him to death. They said they had to reunify the kids with their biological parents. He beat my baby because he wasn’t adjusting to him.”
Brian Gregg, spokesman of Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services, said DeMarcus’ four siblings are now safe in foster care.
He acknowledged Monday the agency took custody of the children in 2009 and then returned them to the parents’ custody earlier this year.
The county first became involved with the family over a “neglect situation” in 2007, he said. He did not elaborate.
While he could not discuss specifics of the case and DeMarcus’ death, he said, he did outline the general procedure for returning children to their parents once they have been removed from their care.
Child caseworkers outline a plan parents must follow to get their children back, which is then is overseen by a juvenile court magistrate who eventually makes the final decision on whether the children can be returned to their birth parents.
Also, the court appoints an advocate, or guardian, for the child who is supposed to represent their best interests.
“Our efforts most often mean providing intensive services to the family in order to ensure it is safe for the child to return,” Gregg wrote in an e-mail to a reporter. ”Those services could include drug and alcohol assessments and rehabilitation, mental health counseling, parenting classes, domestic violence counseling, etc.”
At some point, if parents have lived up to their end of the plan, a final decision must be made on reunifying the children.
The court makes this decision after input with county child caseworkers the child’s advocate or guardian, the prosecutor, the parents and their attorneys and other parties, Gregg said.
“In this case, in August, all parties agreed and the children were reunited. There were no objections that I am aware of,” he wrote. “Obviously, we are upset with what has happened. We deal with 16,000 children a year here, but even one death is too many. Our workers take it hard.”
Jim Feuer, a spokesman for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital said he could not comment due to patient medical confidentiality laws.
“This is terrible,” said Tye’s sister, Shona Harris, who accompanied her to the jail on Monday, along with several other family members. “This did not have to happen. She cried out to everyone and no one would listen.”
Tye does not know where DeMarcus’ siblings are, or if she will be able to care for them again.
And despite this nightmare, she said she still intends to be a foster parent.
“I love, love kids,” she said. “I always have. I just want the rules to change. If a baby is taken at birth from their parents and the parent doesn’t have their life together by the time the baby is 1, they shouldn’t get them back. There’s too much attachment and emotion. But if a parent is trying, I understand that. I want them to have their children back if they are trying.”