Twins slipped through gap in city services

Agencies let teen mother leave Hopkins with girls

Dead infants `malnourished'

A runaway, foster care, a home without basics

May 18, 2004|By Laurie Willis, Allison Klein and Ryan Davis | Laurie Willis, Allison Klein and Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

An apparent gap in child protective services allowed a teen-age mother with a history of abuse to leave Johns Hopkins Hospital with her newborn twin girls that she and the infants' father are accused of beating to death less than a month later, city officials said yesterday.

Officials from several agencies are to meet today to try to determine why a teen runaway - whose first child was removed from her custody when she was five months' pregnant with the twins - was allowed to take the girls home to the basement of an abandoned Northeast Baltimore rowhouse that lacked basic amenities such as electricity and toilets.

The child protection team in the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Emergency Department will discuss the case of Sierra Swann, 17, of the 1900 block of E. 31st St., who has been charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of her daughters, said Staci Vernick, a spokeswoman for the Hopkins Children's Center.

Swann and the babies' father, Nathaniel Broadway, 24, of the same address, were denied bail yesterday. Police say the couple beat the girls - fracturing their skulls and ribs - and failed to properly feed them.

Emonney and Emunnea Broadway were rushed to Hopkins via ambulance May 11, where doctors pronounced them dead less than 30 minutes after police received a 911 call.

According to charging documents, Dr. Jean Ogborn - a hospital physician - stated that "both infants were cold to the touch, indicating that the infants had been dead for a period of time before being brought to the hospital." The report said the girls had "significant weight loss."

City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said the girls were normal size at birth, weighing 6 1/2 to 7 pounds, but weighed only 4 1/2 to 5 pounds at death.

"They should have been 9 or more pounds," he said. "They were grossly malnourished."

Beilenson will attend today's meeting with doctors, nurses and social workers who treat and handle suspected abuse cases. The team works closely with the city's Department of Social Services and the child abuse units of the police and state's attorney's office, Vernick said.

Emonney and Emunnea lived with their parents in the basement of the vacant rowhouse. Police Detective Eric Sharp said a mattress rested atop milk crates, there was a crib for the babies, and clothes and furniture were strewn about. The stairs leading to the basement were covered with trash, junked furniture and other items cluttered the back yard, and a white T-shirt covered a window.

Sharp said the couple told him they fed the children infant milk formula.

As officials begin assessing where mistakes were made, questions abound over who's to blame for the apparent gap in the system that allowed Swann and Broadway to take home their babies.

The Hopkins child protection team meets regularly to evaluate cases, Vernick said, and it "takes action when necessary" to bring alleged abusers to justice and to protect children.

"They really advocate for the safety of children," she said.

Vernick said she could not discuss the specifics of Swann's case, nor procedures for discharging children to mothers who have a history of abuse.

The hospital staff had referred Swann to Beilenson's office for the city Health Department's Maternal and Infant Nursing Program, a home-visit program designed to ensure that high-risk pregnant women receive prenatal care, including treatment for substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. The referral was mailed in, rather than sent by quicker e-mail or facsimile.

Swann, 17, a foster-care runaway, was never enrolled in the program. Beilenson said his department got the referral May 6 and had scheduled a nurse's visit May 13. The babies died May 11.

Officials said the infants' brief existence was tumultuous.

Swann gave birth to one of the girls while en route to Hopkins, Beilenson said, though it's not clear how she was taken there. The baby came out into the leg of her sweat pants, where the newborn stayed until a doctor removed her, Beilenson said. The second baby was born at the hospital.

A social worker visited Swann at the hospital after doctors learned that she did not have prenatal care and had tested positive for marijuana use, said a source close to the investigation who asked not to be identified.

Beilenson said a call was made to Child Protective Services and that officials were told there was not an open case involving Swann, enabling the couple to leave with their newborns.

But the couple had a 2-year- old girl who was removed from the home Dec. 12 because of abuse and neglect, according to Sue Fitzsimmons, spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services.

A foster care case was open for the girl who had been taken from them, but the case involving Child Protective Services had been closed because she had already been placed in foster care, Beilenson said.

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