Despite ‘red flags,’ Florida 3-year-old under state supervision restrained to death in blanket

Miami HeraldOctober 28, 2013 

A review of Michael McMullen’s death, provided Monday morning to the Miami Herald, says the little boy was wrapped so tightly in a straight jacket-like blanket that he simply stopped breathing. MIAMI HERALD PHOTO

So afraid of his mother’s boyfriend was Samantha McMullen’s son that he asked state child protection investigators to rescue him and his siblings from the man, so he “would not kill them.”

The little boy was removed from his mother’s home — but not from danger.

Again and again, when case workers from Lutheran Services visited McMullen’s four children at their maternal grandmother’s house in Lee County, McMullen was there, with the boyfriend who had been accused of beating both her and her kids.

McMullen, her boyfriend and her mother all were charged with murder last week when 3-year-old Michael McMullen, police say, was restrained to death by the three adults — while under the supervision of a privately run child welfare agency under contract with the state. Michael is among about 25 children who have died since last spring after the Florida Department of Children & Families had investigated allegations of abuse or neglect and declared them to be safe.

A review of Michael’s death, provided Monday morning to the Miami Herald, says the little boy was wrapped so tightly in a straight jacket-like blanket that he simply stopped breathing. Along with McMullen, boyfriend Douglas Garrigus, 21, and the boy’s grandmother, 56-year-old Gale Watkins, also are facing murder charges.

“It’s horrific — a horrific murder of this poor baby,” DCF Secretary Esther Jacobo said Monday

Both DCF and its private social work agency should have done a better job of recognizing “the red flags” that were present in the boy’s home, Jacobo said. “At the very least,” Jacobo added, case workers should have significantly increased the number of visits to the troubled family’s home. Investigators and caseworkers also should have seriously considered asking the judge who oversaw the family to remove the four children from the grandmother and place them in the home of either another relative, or a foster family.

Michael’s death, Jacobo added, remains under investigation. “This is very early,” she added. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

The 11-page review shows that both DCF and Lutheran Services had observed — and dismissed — a host of critical red flags:

• On July 8, a month after Michael and his three siblings were sent to live with Watkins, DCF’s abuse hotline received a report that Michael and the other children were being forced to sleep in a “cat crate.”

Watkins said Michael “liked to sleep in the crate with his comforter because ‘he feels safe’” there, a report said. She denied the children were forced to sleep there, as did Michael’s mom, who was in the home when an investigator arrived to look into the allegations. One of the children reported that both Michael and another youngster slept in the crate.

• In August, a Lutheran Services case worker observed one of the children with a “penny-size” bruise, and the girl told the worker her grandmother had hit her. Though Watkins first denied hitting the girl, she later acknowledged the punishment, saying Michael and his sister were biting each other. The case worker saw no teeth marks on either child.

• Though he had been repeatedly accused of beating both McMullen and her children, Garrigus was also in the home, and possibly living there along with McMullen. Watkins told a caseworker that one of the children “pees his pants” when Garrigus arrives — an indication the boy was petrified of his mother’s boyfriend.

• One of the children told the case manager that he and his siblings “sleep a lot” at their grandmother’s house, and, during one home visit, the children were already in bed by 5:30 p.m.

One of the children described the kids’ routine to a case worker this way: “We take a nap, then lunch and drink, then go to bed, eat dinner and get medicine…We sleep a lot.”

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service