A glaring omission

August 17, 2004

NOW COMES WORD that Sierra Swann, the Baltimore runaway teen charged in the beating deaths of her twin daughters, may have been assaulted by the children's father in the hospital after giving birth. And that staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital knew about the alleged abuse. Can this tragedy be any more disturbing -- two baby girls dead within a month of their entrance into this world? The answer is yes, given the notations about the alleged abuse in Ms. Swann's hospital records.

As detailed by Sun reporter Allison Klein, court records show that nurses attending Ms. Swann observed her swollen top lip the day after the April 12 birth of the twins; they were told her boyfriend and father of the twins, Nathaniel Broadway, was "beating on" her at one point; they noted in her medical chart "loud voices yelling" from her room and that Mr. Broadway was "on security restriction." Those notes offer substantive reasons to question releasing newborn twins to their 17-year-old mother, as Hopkins did. But more emphatically, they represent a glaring omission on the part of Hopkins staff to intervene and try to protect the girls. To say that they should have known better is to state the obvious.

If twins Emunnea and Emonney Broadway weren't yet victims of abuse, the hospital had reasons to suspect they might be in danger of neglect -- enough to alert child protection service workers.

Until last week's court appearance by Ms. Swann and her co-defendant in the murders, Mr. Broadway, the Baltimore Department of Social Services had been singled out as the institution that failed in its duty to the children. When the twins were found beaten to death in the basement of a vacant rowhouse, Hopkins said a staff social worker had called DSS during Ms. Swann's stay at the hospital and asked if there was an open abuse case against her. The reply was, "No open case."

While the answer was correct, DSS failed to alert the hospital to the fact that Ms. Swann was a runaway from foster care -- a fact that would have played into Hopkins' decision to release the twins with their mother after their birth. But the hospital then failed to acknowledge that it had a list of indicators, known to its staff, that showed Sierra Swann was troubled and in a troubling relationship.

Hopkins knew the 17-year-old was a high school dropout. It knew that child protective services was involved with her 2-year-old daughter, who no longer lived with her. It knew that she didn't keep her prenatal appointments. It knew that she delivered the first of her twins in the leg of her sweatpants en route to the hospital. It knew that Ms. Swann had a "domestic violence" incident while in the hospital.

Johns Hopkins Hospital stands out as an unparalleled resource in this community. An estimated 900 children a year enter its pediatric emergency room with indications of abuse. Hopkins' record of professionalism in dealing with these children cannot be measured by one case. But how could its staff have been so wrong about the prospects for Ms. Swann's twins?

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