Crime

Bradenton case manager said risk to Keishanna Thomas' children was 'intermediate,' recommended closing case anyway

Bradenton police say body of girl found in freezer

The body of a child believed to be missing 11-year-old Janiya Thomas was found in a freezer in a Manatee County home Sunday, Bradenton police said.
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The body of a child believed to be missing 11-year-old Janiya Thomas was found in a freezer in a Manatee County home Sunday, Bradenton police said.

BRADENTON -- A Safe Children's Coalition case manager thought there was an "intermediate" risk to Keishanna Thomas's children, but recommended the case be closed due to non-compliance anyway in June 2014, reports released Monday by the Department of Children and Families show.

Thomas has been charged with abuse of a dead body, aggravated child abuse and child abuse after the body of her daughter, 11-year-old Janiya Thomas, was found stuffed in a freezer. It is unclear how long Janiya was dead before she was found on Oct. 18. The girl's siblings said they hadn't seen her for more than a year. Before that, they told investigators that Keishanna Thomas would lock Janiya in the bathroom and beat her.

The same case manager had asked Janiya where she attended school, despite previous DCF reports showing she was homeschooled. The child responded that she went to Sea Breeze Elementary -- something the school district has no record of. That detail is never questioned in the May and June reports, which were the last known dates that an investigator saw Janiya alive. Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski said Monday he is still waiting on Janiya's cause of death, at which point additional charges may be filed against Keishanna Thomas.

Keishanna Thomas had a total of 12 reports of abuse to DCF before her daughter's body was found. She has four children besides Janiya, ages 15, 12, 9 and 2. On June 24, 2014, when Thomas was part of the Voluntary Protective Services program with Safe Children Coalition, case managers recommended closing her case as non-compliant. Safe Children Coalition, which contracts with DCF to handle certain child protective services in Manatee County, did not comment Monday, citing an open investigation.

Thomas told the case manager she was no longer going to comply with visits because it was summer, according to the report.

"Summertime is for fun and the children want to spend time with family and friends and should not be forced to

stay home and wait for a case manager to visit them weekly," the report quotes Keishanna Thomas as saying. She then told the case manager she had plenty of support from family and friends but would not provide any names, saying she already felt case managers in her home were "intrusive" and "embarrassing."

Thomas also refused to seek anger management services and to have family counseling services, citing issues with transportation because her car required expensive repairs. At the end of the report, the case manager listed the risk level to the children as "intermediate," but chose to close the case anyway.

"There are concerns with regard to the history of the children and the fact that there is significant reported history as to this family," the report states. "2004 is the last verified physical abuse -- as there is no other history with regard to the verified events within the household at this time -- if a new physical abuse case comes in as to this family than (sic) potential court intervention would be appropriate."

It said the children were all in their rooms during the visit on June 24, 2014, which means the case manager could have been one of the last people to see Janiya Thomas alive. On June 11, the case manager said Janiya was playing with one of her siblings and laughing, and that she didn't know what she was going to do over the summer. She was the most verbal of all the children, the report states.

In May and June, the same case manager asked Janiya about school, and she responded that she went to Sea Breeze Elementary, though a case manager in April had reported that she was homeschooled. Mike Barber, spokesman for the Manatee County School District, reiterated Monday that the last record they have of Janiya Thomas in Manatee schools is at Manatee Elementary in 2013, before the mother pulled her out for homeschooling. The district has no record of Janiya ever attending Sea Breeze.

On May 29, a case manager interviewed Janiya and said the child seemed "surprised" that there were only 13 days left of school. Janiya said her favorite subject was science and that she loved school. On April 2, a case manager said Janiya was homeschooled and "is doing well with the added attention."

Three different case managers handled Keishanna Thomas's voluntary services over a three-month period.

Thomas also told case managers that her children spent a lot of time inside because it was not a safe neighborhood and she was concerned for their safety. They lived in the Village at Cortez apartment complex, 4880 51st St. W. in Bradenton.

Investigators say they discovered Janiya was missing in September when they tried to remove all of Keishanna Thomas's children from her care. Thomas reportedly beat and punched her 12-year-old son after he was caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, and investigators with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office decided to shelter her children.

Thomas claimed that Janiya was staying with relatives in New Jersey but would not provide a name or contact information. She was arrested on Oct. 16. Relatives later called law enforcement, saying Keishanna Thomas had dropped off a locked freezer at their home two days before she was arrested. The body of Janiya Thomas was found inside, and her siblings later told investigators that they hadn't seen Janiya in a year and believed she was dead.

When her children kept asking Keishanna Thomas where Janiya was, she eventually told them, "She is at 'God's mom's house.'"

-- Education reporter Meghin Delaney contributed to this report.

Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby

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