Children's Stories

Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Monica Wheeler

June 5, 1993-Sept. 23, 1997

Blunt force impact injuries

Monica was the second child to die while under the care of her mother's boyfriend, Michael Lorenzo Tubman. The first was her 2-year-old brother, Andre, who was found drowned in a bathtub in 1994 while under Tubman's watch. Police didn't pursue the death as a homicide, and the medical examiner ruled it an accident, even though the boy had five bruises on his head.

Three years later, a doctor reported suspicions that Monica, nicknamed "Mookie," was being abused. A social worker and police officer visited Monica's home, spoke to the children and closed the case as "unsupported." They didn't examine the home or conduct background checks, which could have revealed the earlier death. Within weeks, Tubman beat and strangled Monica. He hit her so hard, he left a fist print on her back. After Monica's death, police reopened her brother's case, and the D.C. medical examiner's office concluded that it was improperly ruled an accident. In exchange for pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Monica's death, Tubman was not charged in her brother's case.

"The District government is no good," Monica's godmother, Tina Bell, said recently. "They're responsible for what happened to Monica."

Kendra Anderson

July 6, 1998-Aug. 31, 1998

Blunt impact head injuries

Kendra was the District's youngest homicide victim in 1998, slain after Child and Family Services closed its file on her family. Her mother had been accused of neglecting her children in Maryland as far back as 1994. In February 1996, an elementary school counselor called the District to say that the children were dirty. The social worker assigned to monitor the family provided few services and apparently never checked the mother's past. The agency stopped monitoring the family in May 1997. Social workers did not know Kendra was born a little over a year later. A month after her birth, Kendra was beaten to death, her ribs, skull and back fractured. No one has been charged.

Dhani Brown

Jan. 26, 1998-Sept. 22, 1998

Blunt impact head injury

In the spring of 1998, Dhani and his mother were visiting his grandmother in North Carolina when the infant suffered a burn on his head. Someone contacted the state child protection agency, but Dhani and his mother returned to the District.

On July 10, 1998, workers at a D.C. community clinic called police to report the same burn, and to say that the mother was not bringing in her baby for medical appointments.

A social worker visited the home and was told that a hot compress used to treat the head injury caused the burn. Even though Dhani's injury looked "pretty bad," the worker closed the case as "unsupported" -- unaware of the pending North Carolina case.

By fall 1998, Dhani and his mother were staying with an in-law, Fernard B. Strowbridge, who had been charged with aggravated assault that summer. On Sept. 18, Strowbridge beat 7-month-old Dhani when he wouldn't stop crying. The baby died four days later. Strowbridge was later convicted of first-degree murder.

The fatality committee questioned why the case was closed when there was evidence of abuse. "Intake social workers need to clearly document and explain why they are not supporting a complaint," an agency report said.

Diante Aikens

March 24, 1996-Feb. 14, 1999

Child abuse syndrome

Diante wore the stripes of abuse on his body. A doctor at Children's Hospital first reported the marks to authorities after Diante's mother brought him to the emergency room May 7, 1998. The doctor described them as "multiple linear markings over both forearms consistent with being struck by a cord or a linear object." Police investigating the abuse report said they told the mother not to hit her son with a belt and closed the complaint as "unsupported."

Seven months later, a counselor at Nalle Elementary School said Diante and his siblings appeared famished at a Thanksgiving dinner, grabbing food and eating off the floor. A social worker said she couldn't locate the family and closed that complaint on Jan. 29, 1999. Sixteen days later, on Valentine's Day, Diante was dead. The medical examiner said he died from the accumulated damage of repeated assaults. When detectives charged the mother and her boyfriend with first-degree murder, they cited the injuries noted during the Children's Hospital visit, the same injuries they had dismissed while Diante was alive.

The charges were later dropped when the U.S. attorney's office did not present the case to a grand jury within the required nine months. Prosecutors declined to say what happened. "It is still under investigation," said Monty Wilkinson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office. "We just weren't in a position to move forward with an indictment."

Brianna Blackmond

Feb. 9, 1998-Jan. 6, 2000

Blunt impact trauma

Brianna was 23 months old when D.C. Superior Court Judge Evelyn E.C. Queen ordered her removed from foster care and returned to her mother, Charrisise Blackmond, who had an IQ of 58 and a history of neglecting her children. Within two weeks, Brianna was dead. She had been beaten and slammed against a wall. Blackmond's roommate, Angela T. O'Brien, is charged with murder. Blackmond is charged as an accessory. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Nine days before Brianna was sent home, the child protection agency had decided that the toddler should stay in foster care. But the social worker assigned to the case, YaVonne DuBose, neglected to tell the judge. The mother's court-appointed attorney, Jacquelyn M. Walsh, subsequently filed a motion stating that DuBose and city lawyer Michael Orton agreed that Brianna should go home. The judge sent Brianna home without holding a hearing. DuBose and Orton now say they never consented to the move. Judge Queen later retired from the bench.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company