The mother of a 12-year-old murder suspect is banned from any contact with her son because of allegations she encouraged him to kill himself and likened his situation to the persecution of Jesus.
In an emergency hearing on Thursday afternoon, Broward Circuit Judge Charlie Kaplan ruled the boy's mother, Guerla Joseph, must undergo a psychological evaluation before she can contact the boy. The Lauderhill youth is accused of fatally beating his 17-month old second cousin while baby sitting her.
A Department of Juvenile Justice guard testified in court that she supervised a Monday visit at the juvenile detention center and heard Joseph tell her son that if he was moved to another program, he should kill himself. It was unclear why three days elapsed before department officials reported the conversation to the boy's public defender on Thursday. State officials are legally required to report suspected child abuse.
The guard, whose full name was inaudible in court and who would not give her name later, said Joseph appeared agitated and told her son his situation was "similar to Jesus being persecuted" and like Jesus, he "would kill himself first." The mother also told him that if anyone spoke to him, he should refer them to her, the guard testified.
Joseph was not in court Thursday. In a phone interview later, Joseph denied she said anything about suicide to her son and questioned why officials did not notify her of the court hearing.
"I never, never tell him that. That's a trick. They make it up," she said. "I'm not giving up, I'm going to keep praying for my son. I never said that to him."
A native of Haiti, Joseph speaks with a heavy accent and her English is sometimes imperfect. The guard testified Joseph spoke English to her son on Monday.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is not identifying the boy, who has a different last name, because of his age and because he is charged as a juvenile.
The judge said he was very concerned and the attorneys involved told him it could be considered possible child abuse.
"She may have committed a crime ... ," Kaplan said. "Thank God nothing happened between Monday and today."
Samadhi Jones, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, said officials are reviewing how the incident was handled.
"DJJ is reviewing the situation and will take appropriate action regarding the supervising officer," Jones said.
She said to reveal any more details would violate the department's obligation to protect the youth's confidentiality.
Prosecutor Maria Schneider and Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes said they were very disturbed when the guard told them Thursday that the mother was urging suicide.
The judge also ordered DJJ to swiftly move the child from the local center to another facility out of the area, possibly as soon as Thursday night. Officials would not say where he was going but said it was a longer-term secure program where he can get more appropriate treatment, therapy, counseling and education.
The boy is charged as a juvenile with second-degree murder in the death of Shaloh Joseph. His attorneys have advised him to accept a plea agreement that would confine him to juvenile detention for about 20 months, followed by probation. But the case is on hold because two psychologists found the boy is not legally competent to proceed because he is immature and does not fully understand relevant aspects of the justice system.
The two sides agreed he should remain locked up until he understands, which they hope will take a few months.
Schneider said the detention center made special arrangements to let the mother visit her son every day. Parents and siblings can visit, but usually only on three specified days a week. Joseph's visits with her son were more closely monitored than most, officials said.
A Broward Sheriff's Office spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that its Child Protective Services team is investigating an allegation of abuse regarding the family but said the agency is legally prohibited from revealing any details.
Tensions between the mother and her son's lawyers have escalated. Joseph, who works in a home for disabled seniors, has told the judge she is unhappy with the way the lawyers are handling the case. She says her son is innocent.
Weekes, the boy's lawyer, said everyone involved in the case from the youth's mother to the victim's parents, extended family and lawyers are in a "very, very tough position" as they try to resolve the case.
"All we've been trying to do is get this child into a program that's good for him," Weekes said.
Joseph said Thursday she wants her son to go to trial, believing he would be allowed to come home until the trial starts. She said she has brought him three things at the detention center íV a Bible, his toothbrush and toothpaste.