Couple deny killing twins

Teen left hospital despite reports of domestic abuse

Allegations a `dramatic red flag'

1-month-olds later found beaten and malnourished

August 13, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A Northeast Baltimore teenager arraigned with her boyfriend yesterday in the beating deaths of their 1-month-old twins was physically abused in the hospital by that boyfriend shortly after giving birth, according to court documents.

Though Johns Hopkins Hospital knew about the abuse allegations, Sierra Swann, 17, was allowed by hospital workers to go home with Nathaniel Broadway, 24, and their twin daughters on April 14, the day after he was "beating on" her, documents show.

Swann and Broadway pleaded not guilty yesterday in city Circuit Court to charges of first-degree murder and child abuse causing death. Their trial date was scheduled for Dec. 15.

The day after she gave birth to the twins, Swann declined medical attention for her swollen top lip, which Johns Hopkins Hospital nurses noticed after being told that Broadway was "beating on" Swann in the room, according to court documents.

"Security called, loud voices yelling from room noted," a nurse wrote on a progress sheet that also mentioned that Broadway was "on security restriction."

Another hospital form in the court records documents "domestic violence" on April 13.

A spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins Hospital refused to discuss the Swann case yesterday or explain the hospital's policy regarding new mothers who are thought to be victims of domestic abuse on hospital premises.

When Swann gave birth, hospital officials knew she was a drug abuser, had a previous child taken away because of neglect, and lacked both prenatal care and a support network, according to the records.

A hospital social worker also noted in a report that Swann "seems intellectually limited."

Hospital officials have the legal authority to hold newborn children they consider to be in danger of abuse by their parents.

They have previously said that Hopkins employees followed all required screening procedures before discharging the infants.

However, Barbara A. Babb, director of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said the allegation of domestic violence in the hospital room is a "dramatic red flag" indicating serious problems.

"One has to wonder if he engages in violent behavior in such a public place, what is going to happen behind closed doors?" Babb said. "Given all the other red flags popping up in the case, that would have sealed the deal. There is a provision for social services to petition the court to protect the children."

She said the case was a "tragic example of one lost opportunity after another."

After details of the twins' deaths became public in May, officials and child advocates pointed to the case as an example of a flawed child welfare system.

Hospital officials released Swann after being told by the Department of Social Services that there were no "active" allegations of child abuse pending against Swann.

Social service workers say they did not know Swann, a foster care runaway, gave birth until after the twins were killed.

"We didn't know where she was or anything about the birth or anything until after the reports of the twins death," said Norris P. West, spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, which oversees city social services.

Swann gave birth to the first twin April 12 on the way to the hospital, with the baby lodging in the leg of her sweat pants. The second child was born at Hopkins.

Emunnea and Emonney Broadway were found dead in May. Their small bodies were reported bruised, battered and malnourished.

They were living in the basement of an abandoned Northeast Baltimore rowhouse that lacked basic amenities such as electricity and toilets.

According to hospital records, Swann was admonished the day before being discharged for not feeding her babies properly.

"Patient advised that infant should be held for feeding and propping up a bottle with formula in infant's mouth is not a safe practice," wrote a nurse, according to court records.

A transcript of Swann and Broadway's interview with police in May shows that Swann knew little about child rearing and did not remember the names of any of her doctors.

She said she didn't get prenatal care because she slept through her appointments.

"I started making appointments, and I just missed them," she said, according to the court records. "I kept oversleeping and all that."

Swann has denied harming the children and said she doesn't know how they got so many bruises and broken bones.

Broadway said that he and Swann were good parents who looked after their children. As police questioned him about whether he or Swann shook or hit the babies, he became agitated.

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