Monday, December 24, 2012

Will there be justice for Jeremiah Swafford?


The jury has yet to reach a verdict in the trial of Dwight Stacy Justice.

On Thursday, the jury continually sought clarification of laws, interview transcripts, and further jury instructions, then after considering the evidence and testimony all day Thursday, the jury informed the judge that they were divided 8-4.

The Jurists, who at times seem frustrated and confused, will continue deliberations on Monday at 9:30 a.m. at the Cleveland County Courthouse.

Justice is on trial for the first-degree murder of 2-year-old Jeremiah Swafford, if convicted he faces life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

Justice has also been charged with felony child abuse.

Jeremiah’s mother, Kathy Lynn Swafford, is scheduled to stand trial in March on almost identical charges.

A grave and chaotic scene

On February 13, 2009, Justice placed a 911 call, claiming that Jeremiah had been injured in a fall and requested emergency medical assistance.

In the background of this recorded 911 call you can hear Jeremiah’s mother, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”.

Paramedics, who testified at Justice’s trial, described a very grave and chaotic scene when they arrived at the home.

Cleveland County EMS worker, Paul Fetter, testified that when he arrived at the scene, Kathy Swafford was outside, “yelling and screaming” on her cell phone and pointed him to her apartment.

"She was upset," he said. "It was not a nice conversation."

Upon entering the apartment, Fetter encountered Justice with Jeremiah cradled in his arms, rocking, and saying, “Come on, breath, breath, breath”.

"I thought I was looking at a dead child," said Fetter, "He was gray and ashen.” “But to my surprise he gave a small breath…a little gurgling. We call it ‘agonal.’ It wasn’t life-sustaining.”

Fetter, further testified that there was a lot of arguing and yelling occurring at the home, which increased when Swafford got off the phone, so he called for police assistance.

"I didn't feel comfortable," Fetter said. "I felt like we needed to get out of there."

Jeremiah arrived at the Cleveland Regional Medical Center by ambulance, with injuries so severe that he was airlifted to the Carolinas Medical Center, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

According to the Gaston Gazette’s coverage during the trial,

“Dr. Paul Michael Peindl, an emergency department physician who treated Jeremiah at Cleveland Regional Medical Center, testified that the boy’s injuries weren’t consistent with a fall from a bed. The little boy was bleeding from the rectum. There was blood in his stomach.

Peindl said Jeremiah had lost roughly half the blood in his body resulting from some “traumatic” event. Some of the blood was lost from his mouth, nose, and rectum and more had pooled in his skull and abdomen.

Peindl called for help from Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Jeremiah was then airlifted from Shelby to Levine Children’s Hospital, where he was eventually taken off life support.”

Jeremiah passed away on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2009 at 3:15 p.m.


A violent death

The autopsy report on Jeremiah describes a very violent and traumatic death.

Jeremiah had “blunt force head trauma with skull fractures, subdural hemorrhage, and retinal hemorrhages.

According to the Shelby Star the injuries listed in the autopsy included:

  • Skull fracture
  • Bruising of the forehead
  • Focal (underneath right eye) bruising
  • Abdominal bruising
  • Abrasions of the lower lip
  • Bruises and abrasions on the face
  • Tear of the upper lip
  • Abrasion of the left knee
  • Blue / green discoloration of the abdomen
  • Bruising to the arms
  • A blue / brown bruise to the chest
  • Abrasion across the jaw line
  • Bruise under the jaw

Jeremiah was literally beaten to death.

The autopsy also states:

“The mother reported to authorities that the stepfather would often ‘be mean’ to the child and this included hitting him and causing bruises,” according to the autopsy. “She stated that he may have slammed his head against an arm of the chair the night before.”

Previous reports of abuse

After Jeremiah’s horrific death, his grandmother, Kathy Jean Swafford, great-aunt, Cathy Cochran and other family members publically blamed the Cleveland County Department of Social Services for failing to protect Jeremiah.

The family told reporters that they repeatedly called the police and DSS, begging them to remove Jeremiah from his mothers care.

In a news report by on February 17, 2009, Jeremiah’s great aunt, Cathy Cochran stated that she went to the Cleveland County Department of Social Services in December 2008 with an urgent warning.

“I told them it was urgent that they have him removed from the house. If they didn't, he wouldn't be alive for month to three months,” Cochran said.

"This boy would still be alive if they'd just taken him out of that house.” Cochran contends.

In an eight-page report released February 20, 2009, by the Cleveland County Department of Social Services about their involvement with Jeremiah before his death, DSS denied the families claims of multiple reports.

This report, which releases the names of the reporters, a violation of state and federal law[i], denies the family member’s ascertain that they made multiple reports of abuse and neglect, bluntly stating:

“The Cleveland County Department of Social Services specifically denies the recent reports of family members that they have made multiple reports of abuse or requests for assistance regarding Jeremiah Swafford. All incoming calls to the Cleveland County Department of Social Services reporting child abuse and neglect are recorded and logged, and other than those calls referenced in this summary, there have been no calls, reports or requests for assistance. Similarly, a review of county 911 calls has been made of all known addresses or telephone numbers of those persons now claiming to have made reports or requests for help, and there are no records of such calls except as referenced in this summary.”

Today in a phone interview, CCDSS Director, Karen Ellis, related that while only intake phone calls to DSS are recorded and logged, they do have a way to track incoming and outgoing calls at DSS.

This system, which she referred to as the “Trunk” system enables CCDSS to perform a search of all phone calls received or dialed, and those records can be accessed and searched going back for an indefinite amount of time.

“It’s not something that we run regularly, but it has the capability that we could program it to be able to spit out dates and times, and like, what time calls come in,” said Ellis

“…unless there was a need, you know…it’s not like we’re sitting around here monitoring employees, we got bigger fish to fry”, reassured Director Ellis

Although Director Ellis was unsure if private and unlisted numbers are revealed on this system, she did make it clear that she trusts her employees completely to log any reports they receive, that may not come in on the intake line.

“All of our reports are logged, and documented, and keyed into the system, even if they're not accepted for investigation. We keep a record of every call made, and they have to be properly screen and not just by one worker,” said Ellis.

When asked if it was possible that some of the calls from family members could have went directly to CPS workers that the family had dealt with previously, Director Ellis asserted,

“Well all of our staff they document that, we have specific procedures about concerns and our documentation.”

“We checked those allegations out thoroughly and any concern that was raised was documented here, and if it’s not documented, it didn’t happen,” said Ellis.

While the family and DSS disagree upon the number of reports family members made concerning the abuse of Jeremiah, one thing is clear, there were at least four reports of abuse made, by at least four separate family members, and still Jeremiah died.

Something obviously went wrong, somewhere.

[i] Release of the Name of the Reporter

Due to the reporters potential vulnerability to actions by the alleged perpetrator, the name of the reporter should be protected to the fullest extent possible. The reporter's identity may be divulged only under the following conditions:

1. By specific order of the court to release the identity of the reporter; or

2. By decision of the agency director, the reporter's name, address, and telephone number may be shared with the district attorney or law enforcement when the sharing of such information is necessary for the performance of their duties; or

3. By decision of the agency director, identifying information about the reporter may be shared orally with an individual or investigative team that has mandated authority to conduct a criminal investigation into allegations of criminal abuse; (e.g., in an SBI child care investigation of sexual abuse).

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