Saturday, May 9, 2009

DCF found mother of baby tossed from car was fit for custody

By KRISTA KLAUS | News Channel 8
and KEITH MORELLI | The Tampa Tribune

Published: May 7, 2009

Updated: 05/07/2009 04:18 pm



Child welfare workers investigated an abuse allegation involving 3-month-old Emanuel Wesley Murray in April but closed the case once his mother sought a restraining order against the man suspected of threatening the infant.

In a state report released Thursday, the narrative of a child safety investigation conducted by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office describes Jasmine Bedwell's ex-boyfriend as a violent man bent on hurting the 17-year-old foster child who was the new mother of an infant son.

The sheriff's office has a contract with the Department of Children & Families to investigate child-welfare cases.

"Last week, the paramour beat the mother up causing her to go to the hospital," child protection investigator Michelle Money-Richardson wrote in the report, which was opened April 8. "The paramour has twice kicked in the mother's door and threatened to come back with a gun."

Nearly three weeks later, the report was closed, and Bedwell kept her son after investigators and child welfare officials determined she was doing everything she could to protect him.

"The child appeared to be free of any obvious signs that would suggest abuse or neglect," the report states.

Now, grief and questions

A week later, Emanuel died horrifically. Investigators say the ex-boyfriend, Richard Anthony McTear Jr., tossed the infant out a car window along Interstate 275 near Fowler Avenue early Tuesday.

Questions have surfaced in the community and beyond: Why did investigators think this teen and her baby were safe, and why didn't they take the infant into state custody?

"Clearly she's made some judgments we do not agree with," Nick Cox, the SunCoast regional director for the Department of Children & Families, said of Bedwell. "Part of the reason they didn't shelter the baby is that they would really have a hard time taking him away. She was taking actions to protect the baby. She filed the restraining order. She was back in school."

In addition, Hillsborough Kids Inc., the agency that oversees local foster care for the state, was in the process of moving Bedwell to another location.

"We didn't have a reason to take the baby away from her," Cox said. "Mom is a victim. She's a domestic violence victim. We haven't seen anything yet to suspect mom is flipping her nose at us. I hate villainizing mom."

A review has been ordered

DCF Secretary George Sheldon has ordered a review of the case; findings are expected next week.

"A lot of services went to this woman," Sheldon said a day after the infant was found along the interstate by a passer-by. "There were visits a couple of times a week, referrals for mom to go to The Spring" of Tampa Bay, a domestic violence shelter.

"I'm sure we will find areas where we could've done more," he said, "but early indications are a lot was done."

Jeff Rainey, chief executive officer of Hillsborough Kids Inc., confirmed that Bedwell had been referred to The Spring but declined to go. She had been in the Independent Living Program for more than a year and was learning to live on her own and care for her son.

The state program allows foster teens about to age out of the system an opportunity to learn to live on their own while receiving state supervision and a subsidy to help with rent and other living expenses.

Bedwell lived alone with her baby, Rainey said. Although McTear likely did spend time at the home and used Bedwell's address as his own, he did not live there, Cox and Rainey said. That would have violated terms of the program.

Rainey said caseworkers adored the girl, visiting her almost daily. Her primary caseworker even took her shopping and called her on weekends, he said.

Caseworkers described Bedwell as a great mother. She had returned to school and was working to turn around her life, one marred by abuse she had suffered and years in foster care, Rainey said.

Caseworkers are devastated, he said; they went to the hospital with Bedwell and continue to be with her. "They're saying, 'Did I do something wrong?' There's definitely guilt there. They're grieving, too," Rainey said.

Another social agency, the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, had agreed to help Bedwell seek a restraining order against McTear, which she did. Because she is 17, her guardian is responsible to help her through the process, the report states.

That guardian is not identified.

Whether the process would reach fruition was up to Bedwell, the report states.

"It cannot be determined if the mother will follow through with the protection of the child against Mr. McTear," the report states.

Bedwell had been granted a temporary restraining order against McTear and was to have appeared for a court hearing Monday for a permanent injunction. She did not show up, and the restraining order was dropped.

Deputies said early Tuesday that McTear went to Bedwell's home and a fight ensued. At one point, he grabbed the infant, who was strapped in a car seat, and threw the car seat twice, with Emanuel falling to the concrete floor, according to the sheriff's office.

Investigators said McTear then abducted the child and fled in his car. The baby was pronounced dead where he was found along the interstate, and McTear was arrested a few hours later.

Abuse investigators in April said they saw no immediate hazards for the child, that the mother was able to take care of him and that there was "positive interaction" between the mother and child.

The mother, the report states, "is caring for her baby independently." The support of social services agencies significantly reduces "concerns regarding the safety of the child victim."

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.