Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Non-custodial mom sues DCFS over 8-year-old daughter's torture killing at the hands of her custodial dad, paternal grandmother (Chicago, Illinois)

Nice job by the Chicago Tribune. Too often the papers merely repeat the usual scandal regarding child protective services. Christy Gutowski digs further. We find out how a family court judge gave dad, an unemployed felon, full custody, based on nothing but lies and false allegations. The only improvement would be naming the judge--but hardly any reporter is that brave (or that foolish) any more.

Dad is identified as ANDRE FORD.


DCFS sued over girl's 'torture' death Father and grandmother being held in 8-year-old's slaying

By Christy Gutowski, Tribune reporter
7:34 p.m. CDT, July 14, 2014

The family of an 8-year-old Chicago girl beaten and strangled last summer is suing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, alleging the agency missed "telltale signs" of abuse.

The tortured body of Gizzell Ford was discovered July 12 in her paternal grandmother's trash-strewn Austin apartment. The grandmother, Helen Ford, 52, and her son, Andre, 29, the child's father, are charged with murder and remain held without bail.

A 2013 Tribune investigation into Gizzell's death found that a DCFS investigator failed to spot signs of trouble after visiting the ramshackle home one month earlier while the straight-A student was being brutalized.

The newspaper also disclosed that a respected child abuse doctor who examined Gizzell weeks before she died had questioned the grandmother about a suspicious injury on the child's buttocks but did not call the DCFS hotline, according to agency reports.

In the wrongful death lawsuit, members of the girl's family accused DCFS and Dr. Norell Rosado of failing to protect Gizzell. The suit also names DCFS investigator Shirley Contreras, who no longer works for the agency, as a co-defendant.

"All of the warning signs pointed that something was very wrong in this household and indicated that Gizzy was being abused on a regular basis," said Martin Dolan, the family's attorney, who filed the lawsuit late last week in Cook County on behalf of the girl's mother and maternal grandfather. "Because DCFS sat idle while Gizzy was fighting for her life, she lost the battle."

DCFS spokeswoman Karen Hawkins declined to comment on the pending litigation. In an earlier interview, Rosado cited privacy laws that he said prohibit him from public comment about a case. But in that interview, he told the Tribune he never failed to notify DCFS if he spotted a sign of child abuse or neglect during an exam.

Contreras did not respond to a request for comment.

The only government intervention in Gizzell's short life came eight months before her death when a Cook County judge awarded temporary custody to her father, Andre Ford. The unemployed felon lived with his mother and used a wheelchair because of a debilitating illness. Ford had argued that the child's mother, Sandra Mercado, was homeless and failed to get Gizzell to school regularly.

Mercado, who denied the allegations, lived with her father in Melrose Park, she said. Mercado said she was about to return to court to try to get her daughter back when Helen and Andre Ford called DCFS and alleged that Mercado's boyfriend had molested Gizzell — an allegation that was later deemed unfounded.

Rosado examined Gizzell as part of the ensuing molestation investigation. During the exam, he questioned Helen Ford about an injury that "looked like a healing loop mark over the buttocks," according to a DCFS report obtained by the newspaper.

Even though the doctor did not notify the hotline, his report was available to DCFS and members of a Cook County child advocacy center, which includes police and prosecutors, who should have reviewed it.

Anger over the child's death sparked a legislative hearing in winter 2013 in which DCFS disclosed it made mistakes in recording statistics for child maltreatment deaths. The agency pulled its monthly death statistics from its website soon afterward and has yet to disclose data for the past two fiscal years.

The previous 30-year average was 77 child abuse and neglect deaths in Illinois, with about one-fourth of the cases having prior DCFS involvement.

"We don't want any more kids hurt or being killed like my granddaughter," said Juan Mercado, the child's maternal grandfather. "If DCFS had done their job, this wouldn't have happened and Gizzell would still be alive."