State Child Protective Services worker Elaina Brown did not believe a toddler was being abused or neglected when she visited the boy’s Detroit apartment to check on him and his mother.
Brown went to the apartment in April after receiving a report about the mother’s mental illness. She visited twice — then never saw the 3-year-old and his mother again.
A month later, Aaron Minor’s decomposed body was found inside the apartment, authorities said. His mother was in a psychiatric ward.
Brown and her supervisor, Kelly Williams, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree child abuse and willful neglect of duty. A judge will soon decide if the case will go to trial.
The child’s mother, Deanna Minor, 28, was charged in August with felony murder, second-degree murder, first- and second-degree child abuse and failure to report a dead body. She has been deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Prosecutors allege that Brown, 24, and Williams, 47, were “grossly negligent and reckless.” They failed to monitor the child’s well-being, failed to follow Michigan Department of Health and Human Services policy and ignored reports that the boy’s mother was “increasingly incapable of caring for the child due to mental illness, and that the child was, therefore, at a continuing risk of harm,” according to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We must seek to hold these defendants responsible for their alleged inaction. The ultimate result in this case was the death of a child that never should have happened,” Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement.
Brown visited the apartment April 21 and 22 after receiving a complaint from Deanna Minor’s mental health worker, according to the prosecutor’s office. Minor had been acting hostile, wasn’t taking her medication and wanted someone to take the boy because she couldn’t take care of him, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Lynette Wright, a district manager for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, testified during a hearing Monday that the boy appeared “fine” when Brown visited, the Free Press reported.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Maria Miller said the hearing continued Tuesday, and a judge will later decide if there’s probable cause for the two women to go to trial. Miller said she can’t comment further about the case.
Prosecutors say Brown spoke to Williams on April 22 after visiting the apartment. Days later, on May 9, Brown sent a letter to Deanna Minor asking her to contact Child Protective Services within 24 hours, but Minor failed to do so.
At that point, CPS officials — specifically Brown and Williams — were supposed to contact police and file a petition with the juvenile court. But prosecutors say they didn’t.
Tim McDaniel, Brown’s attorney, told The Washington Post that his client followed CPS policy when she visited the apartment within 24 hours of receiving the complaint from the mental health worker. Brown was initially unable to get inside, so she called police. After she got in, she noticed that there wasn’t enough food in the apartment, so she told the child’s mother to “correct” it, McDaniel said. Brown returned the next day and saw that there was more food in the home.
Brown also made a personal assessment of the child and determined that he was fine, McDaniel said. If there were signs of abuse or neglect, Brown’s co-worker and police officers who were also at the apartment during the first visit April 21 would have noticed.
“If she had made a personal assessment that the child was not fine, then that’s when you take steps to do something about that,” McDaniel said. “But the child was fine.”
McDaniel said a mental health worker who was more familiar with Deanna Minor and stayed in contact with her saw the child again April 27, and he also appeared fine that day.
“If they had recognized that she was unable to take care of herself and her child, they could’ve had her committed anytime,” McDaniel said of Deanna Minor’s mental health worker. “The records indicate that they didn’t see any red flag.”
On May 25, just over a month after Brown’s first visit, a maintenance worker noticed a strong odor coming from the apartment and found Aaron’s body on a bed. Nearly a day later, police found Deanna Minor in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital, the Free Press reported.
Williams’s attorney, Deanna Kelley, did not return a call from The Post on Tuesday. But she told the Associated Press that the boy’s death was “unspeakable,” but said every tragedy isn’t “the result of a crime.”
“Human nature is to want to hold someone accountable,” Kelley said, according to the AP. “What’s so scary is to charge them with an intentional act … when you disagree with a judgment call.”
A forensic pathologist testified in court that the boy’s manner of death was homicide, but the cause was unknown, the Free Press reported. Because there were no physical signs of trauma, the child was likely smothered, the pathologist, Leonardo Roquero, testified.
Nine days before the child’s body was found, Deanna Minor collapsed outside her apartment and was hospitalized for two days, the Free Press reported. Police did not say where or why she was hospitalized.
It’s unclear how long the child had been dead when his body was found, or how long he’d been alone in the apartment.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.