CPS finds abuse...eventually
The little boy showed up at school last December with a black eye. He'd been absent for a few days and the bruise, by then, was faint but still there and so the child's teacher asked him what had happened.
The boy had a ready excuse. He'd fallen down the stairs. But there was something in the six year old's voice that made the teacher pull him aside and ask again.
“Mommy doesn't want me to tell anyone at school that my dad hit me,” the little boy said.
The teacher did his job that day. The question is, did anybody else?
Not the extended family, apparently. They'd suspected abuse but didn't do anything about it. Not the mother, certainly. She told authorities that her son fell down and that he often lies.
Tucson police took pictures but the injury wasn't deemed serious enough to warrant further investigation and so the fate of this boy was left in the hands of Child Protective Services.
On Aug. 23, eight months after he showed up at school with a black eye, CPS pronounced that the boy had indeed been abused by his stepfather that long ago December day. This was little solace to the teacher who had reported it or to the little boy who had endured it.
Michael Ibarra died on Aug. 11, the result of injuries he suffered the previous week when his stepfather reported that he'd fallen down the stairs -- again.
“Michael told me that his father had pushed him down the stairs and then (eight) months later, that's what he did again and it killed him.,,,,” Michael's teacher, David Dalrymple, told me this week. “They didn't do anything about it and that's what led to his death.”
Dalrymple is understandably angry that neither the police nor CPS took his report seriously.
According to Tucson police and a CPS report released this week in response to public-records requests, the boy had been absent for several days before arriving at school on Dec. 4 with a bruise beneath his left eye. The Arizona Republic requsted the report several weeks ago, as did the Arizona Daily Star and a Tucson television station. The agency is still withholding parts of the report, saying Pima County prosecutors have not yet cleared it for release.
After the boy admitted that he'd been hit, the school called CPS and the police. His mother, Monica Ibarra-Dogbevi and stepfather, Koffi Dogbevi claimed that Michael fell and was prone to “telling stories” and soon after, records indicate they withdrew the boy from the school, angry that police and CPS had been called.
The CPS caseworker suspected early on that Michael had been abused. On Jan. 19, during a follow-up visit, he told her he was “not supposed to tell about what happened at my old school because my mom and dad said if I tell I will be taken away.”
But the little boy talked anyway, telling her about being slapped in the face for failing to say good night to his stepfather, about being hit in the temple “because I wasn't doing my homework fast enough.” About missing school recently because of a bump on his head. “I'm not supposed to tell anybody,” he confided.
Despite the caseworker's concerns, CPS decided there wasn't enough evidence to offer Michael any protection. The caseworker did notify the school of their concern but they didn't have much to offer the family, other than six months of free daycare for Michael and his year-old brother and an 800 number for Community Information and Referral.
In April, CPS notified the couple that the report of abuse had been proposed for substantiation and that the case would be closed. Nothing, however, would happen in time to save the boy.
In August, Dogbevi called 911, explaining that his stepson had fallen down the stairs while he was babysitting and that the boy was unconscious. Michael awoke long enough to tell his rescuers that he was being spanked at the top of the stairs when he fell. He died eight days later, just a few days before CPS declared that he'd suffered physical abuse last year.
In addition to the injuries suffered from his August fall, he had bruises in various stages of healing, and several older fractures. He also had a bunch of relatives who came out of the woodwork to tell police that they'd suspected all along that the boy was being abused.
Sadly, it appears they never bothered to say anything to the police when it might have mattered. Neither did CPS.
Chuck Rydzak, a Tucson police spokesman, said they would have assigned a detective had they known CPS suspected abuse. Instead, they investigated his death. Dogbevi has been charged with murder and Ibarra-Dogbevi with child abuse.
CPS officials, meanwhile, haven't explained why they didn't notify the police about their concerns. But a spokesman says the agency's Protective Services Review Team couldn't make a formal finding of abuse without first giving Dogbevi a chance to appeal.
“It's a complex process and it can take awhile,” spokesman Steve Meissner said. “It's detailed and has to be respectful both of the rights of the child and of the person being accused.”
I'm not sure how the rights of the child were respected here, other than his right, presumably, to a decent burial. But Meissner, at least, admitted that something went wrong here. That's a refreshing change from past cases when I've been assured that CPS workers did everything right -- right up until the moment of death.
“A kid's dead,” Meissner said. “That's never acceptable.”