Mother charged in son's injury

Doctors say boy, 4, was shaken severely

Sun follow-up

May 09, 2008|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun reporter

The mother of Damaud Martin -- a 4-year-old boy who doctors say was severely shaken and is in a coma-like state -- was arrested on child abuse and other charges yesterday, Baltimore police reported.

Tamekia A. Martin, 27, of Northeast Baltimore, was jailed and is expected to appear in court today, according to court documents. Attempts to reach Martin and her attorney were unsuccessful.

Damaud's case was reported in The Sun last month as an example of the city Department of Social Services' inability to protect some of the most vulnerable children in Baltimore.

The agency was supposed to be watching over Damaud. He and his elder sister had been placed in foster care after their mother was arrested on an assault charge in October 2006, a charge that was later dropped. They were returned to her care in November, and Damaud was injured in January.

The boy, who turned 4 in April, has been in a coma-like state since Jan. 19. He is being cared for at Kennedy Krieger Institute, according to family members, and has shown little sign of recovery.

"He responds to voices and touch, but he's still in the coma," said Rosita Martin, the boy's maternal grandmother.

Tamekia Martin previously told The Sun that she did not hurt Damaud. She said that he fell off a bike and hit his head, and later the same day fell down a flight of stairs.

But in charging documents, police said Tamekia Martin gave them "conflicting stories of how the victim was injured." Police said that doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital who examined the boy determined that his injuries, including bleeding in the brain, were consistent with "abusive head trauma."

Tamekia Martin was charged with first- and second-degree child abuse, first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment, police said. She was arrested by members of the warrant apprehension task force.

Damaud's injury was uncovered by reporters who were examining chronic staffing shortages and other problems at the city Department of Social Services, which oversees the care of 7,300 children.

Maryland Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald is trying to reform the city agency, one of 24 local arms, and has instituted programs to better train existing workers and recruit new ones.

Among other things, The Sun found that only about one caseworker in 10 holds a master's degree in social work, and fewer than 10 percent are licensed social workers. The city agency has to deal with more cases of suspected child abuse and neglect than that of any other jurisdiction in Maryland. Abuse or neglect was determined to be a contributing factor in the deaths of 35 children in Baltimore from 2002 to 2007.

The death of a 2-year-old who swallowed methadone sparked public outrage earlier this year when it was learned that the Department of Social Services and the city Health Department had missed chances to save the girl, Bryanna Harris. Five Social Services staff members were fired or disciplined in the case. Bryanna's mother, Vernice Harris, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was given a suspended sentence.

Damaud and his sister, Sandoria, 7, were removed from their mother's care in October 2006 and placed with their grandmother, a licensed foster parent. The children stayed with Rosita Martin until November, when a juvenile court judge ruled that they should go back to their mother because she had taken a parenting class, leased a rowhouse and had part-time work.

A Department of Social Services caseworker was supposed to be keeping a close watch on the family. In December, Damaud wound up at the hospital with pneumonia. A month later, he was rushed to Johns Hopkins with a severe brain injury, according to court records.

As a result, the caseworker who was monitoring the family was fired and a supervisor reprimanded. The caseworker told a reporter that she handled Damaud's case appropriately and was challenging her dismissal.

The Social Services Department has also taken steps to prevent Tamekia Martin from ever having custody of her children again.

Last week, Social Services officials appeared in juvenile court to discuss the children's future. Sun reporters were not allowed to sit through the hearing. It is unclear when a final decision will be made.

Yesterday, Rosita Martin said she didn't think her daughter hurt Damaud.

"I think [Tamekia] is sticking up for a friend," said Rosita Martin, who is trying to get custody of Damaud and Sandoria. "I don't think she understands that this could cost her everything in her life."

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