24-pound first-grader put by court in care of great-grandmother

July 07, 1992|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,Staff Writer Staff writer Melody Simmons contributed to this article.

A 6-year-old West Baltimore boy who was allegedly abused and underfed by his grandmother and her boyfriend was placed in the care of his great-grandmother yesterday by the city's juvenile court.

Maurice Royster, a first-grader at Matthew Henson Elementary last spring, was taken by police from his grandmother's North Payson Street rowhouse Sunday afternoon after relatives complained that the youngster had been repeatedly abused.

Police took the boy, who will turn 7 next month, to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Doctors concluded that Maurice was "suffering from severe malnutrition," police said, and that he showed signs of physical abuse. A fracture of the child's right forearm had never been set.

Authorities said Maurice weighs just 24 pounds, less than half the average weight of boys his height and age.

After Maurice was allowed to leave the hospital Sunday evening, he and his 5-year-old sister, who also had been taken from the rowhouse in the 1500 block of N. Payson St., were placed in the care of the Baltimore Department of Social Services until yesterday's hearing. Juvenile Court Master Bright K. Walker placed Maurice and his sister in the care of their great-grandmother, Eugenia Harrington.

Mrs. Harrington said last night that Maurice told her his grandmother would get "real angry" and beat him when he wet the bed.

Maurice's grandmother, Yvonne Johnson, 46, and her boyfriend, James Carroll, 55, have been charged by police with child abuse and battery. Ms. Johnson was being held on $50,000 bond at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Mr. Carroll was being held without bail pending a psychiatric evaluation that was ordered by a Baltimore District Court judge.

The charges against them stem from complaints by two 14-year-old girls, twins who are Ms. Johnson's daughters and Maurice's aunts.

The teen-agers told police that Ms. Johnson had been abusing Maurice "for a long period of time." They said she and Mr. Carroll "repeatedly" locked Maurice in the basement "and on many, many occasions failed to feed him," court documents charge.

One of the girls, Flora Wilson, told a reporter yesterday that she and her sister went to police because they believed their mother was doing wrong.

"If you hurt God's children, God's going to punish you," Miss Wilson said while sitting in the dining room of an older brother's home. "God don't like ugliness."

The twins were placed yesterday in the custody of a brother, Ronald Johnson, who lives in the 1800 block of W. North Ave.

Officer Eric A. Snair, the West Baltimore patrolman who talked with the teen-agers Sunday, said the girls told him they had "snuck" out of the house to go to the police station, which is several blocks from their mother's house. The girls told him they did not want to go back to the house if he was going to pursue their complaint, the officer said.

When Officer Snair arrived at the home, he found a man, later identified as Mr. Carroll, at the house along with Maurice and his younger sister. Maurice was upstairs in the bathtub.

The child had marks on his back and on the back of his legs, his belly was bloated, and it appeared as though he was losing his hair, the officer said, adding that he looked like a Third World poster child.

The house was neat and clean, and there was plate of rice and hot dogs on the dining room table. But when the officer asked Maurice when he had last eaten, the boy said the preceding afternoon.

Officer Snair said the child told him that his grandmother and her boyfriend "beat him and lock him in the basement when he is bad."

According to school officials, Maurice was enrolled at Matthew Henson Elementary in January as a first-grader. He was absent 42 of 102 days, officials said.

The school is less than one block from the house where Maurice lived with his grandmother. Homeowners there said they were stunned by the allegations levied against one of their neighbors.

"You hear about it, but you don't think it will happen in your own backyard," said T. C. Palomino, who lives in a rowhouse across the street. "Kids are precious, they can't defend themselves."

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