Crime

Janiya Thomas not first Manatee County child dead despite prior involvement with child protective services

Michelle Jordan holds a picture of her son, Ginobli Yarn, 9, who died Saturday when he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle in his hometown of Rubonia. Ginobli was a rising fourth grader at Palm View Elementary School. RICHARD DYMOND/Bradenton Herald
Michelle Jordan holds a picture of her son, Ginobli Yarn, 9, who died Saturday when he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle in his hometown of Rubonia. Ginobli was a rising fourth grader at Palm View Elementary School. RICHARD DYMOND/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- Janiya Thomas was not the first child in 2015 to die despite prior investigations of their family by child protective services in Manatee County.

Ginobli "Nobi" Yarn, 9, died in Rubonia after he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle on the street on July 4.

About a month before that, on May 26, investigators received a report that when Nobi's mother, Michelle Jordan, was working, she would leave her four children with their grandmother, who would not adequately supervise the children. The report said the grandmother would tell the children to stay inside and they would not listen and go outside anyway.

An investigator from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office responded to the report about Yarn's mother with a phone call, but never investigated in person and never spoke to the children.

"In May 2015 ... the case manager documented concerns that (redacted) would leave the house and no one knew where he was," stated a report about the family after Nobi's death.

Another issue brought up by the hotline reporter was completely redacted.

A Critical Incident Rapid Response Team report filed by the Florida Department of Children and Families after the death found fault with the way investigators with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office and case managers with the Safe Children Coalition handled the investigation.

There are a total of five child death cases in Manatee County so far in 2015 where child protective services was involved with the family in the prior five years. Of those, Nobi's and Janiya's families had contact with child protective services within the prior year.

Janiya's body was found in a locked freezer on Oct. 18 after her mother, Keishanna Thomas, had refused to disclose her daughter's location to authorities. Thomas had 12 prior reports about her to child protective services, and it's unclear how long Janiya had been dead before she was found. Janiya was last seen by case managers with Safe Children Coalition, which contracts with DCF, in June 2014 before they closed the case as non-compliant, listing the risk to Thomas' five children as "intermediate."

A history of reports

There were a total of three reports about Nobi's family to the child abuse hotline since June 2012.

The CIRRT report on Nobi's death, obtained in response to the Bradenton Herald's public records request to the Department of Children and Families, is heavily redacted.

Specifically, the CIRRT report said:

The sheriff's office should have investigated the complaint in May.

A safety plan constructed in June 2015 did not adequately address safety threats to the children.

Two sheriff's office employees in the child protective services division were out on sick leave between January and April, resulting in the case being taken over by a supervisor.

The family and case manager did not always follow through with child services provider recommendations in a timely manner.

There was no regular communication between service providers and case managers.

Nobi died on July 4

At 7:12 p.m. July 4, Nobi was riding his bicycle north on 14th Avenue East approaching the intersection with 72nd Street Court East when he crossed the road in front of a car driven by a 22-year-old Palmetto woman, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report. Witnesses said the woman was exceeding the 30-mph speed limit and Nobi did not stop at the posted stop sign.

Two calls about Michelle Jordan, Nobi's mother, came in June 2012 when then 6-year-old Nobi fell outside and got a black eye while playing with children. That investigation was closed "with no indicators of maltreatment."

The next report about Jordan, dated June 2014, is nearly completely redacted. It seems to reference the mother not seeking alternative care or medical care for one of her children, despite recommendations that she do so.

"It was confirmed that Ms. (redacted) had not sought appropriate (redacted) care for her child," the report stated. "Furthermore, Ms. (redacted) failed to seek treatment for (redacted) during the course of the investigation, despite being offered assistance to do so."

Case management remained involved with the family for an unspecified amount of time after that report, with the latest date mentioned in May 2015. Different case manager reports were inconsistent with each other, with one listing a child with an unspecified disability and another saying the child was not disabled.

Maj. Connie Shingledecker, who heads the Child Protective Services division at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said the "meat and potatoes" of the problems in this case were with the Safe Children Coalition case managers who did not adequately follow up on the voluntary services that Jordan was supposed to pursue.

"If you look through the CIRRT, you'll see that the main problem is with the ongoing services provided by the Safe Children Coalition," Shingledecker said.

The final report in May spurred phone conversations between the investigator and the mother, the abuse reporter, the case manager and a detective. The investigator did not conduct any interviews with the children and "did not attempt to make any face-to-face contact with the mother or the child victim." The case was closed the next day due to "no jurisdiction."

"We contacted the case manager to resolve the issue," Shingledecker said. "We should have done the investigation."

No jurisdiction means that facts surrounding the case do not meet "statutory criteria," including if the alleged perpetrator is a public school official acting in an official capacity, a staff member of a hospital acting in an official capacity or a law enforcement officer or jail employee acting in an official capacity. Following that information in the report, a line identifies the alleged perpetrator as the mother and then the rest of the sentence is redacted.

Shingledecker said knowing the redacted portions of the report, the May case should have been closed. However, it should not have been closed due to no jurisdiction.

"The problem wasn't in closing the case, it was in how they closed the case," Shingledecker said. "That was not the appropriate closure to use."

Reacting to the case, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office added a second-level review requirement before cases could be closed as no jurisdiction, whereas before supervisors had the authority to close cases without additional review, according to the report. The decision on how a case qualified for no jurisdiction must also be properly documented in the Florida Safe Families Network.

The mother has not been charged with anything in connection with Nobi's death, but that death investigation is still ongoing, according to DCF spokeswoman Michelle Glady.

The other three cases of child deaths with previous child protective services involvement within the past five years are:

A 2-year-old who was killed in a car accident while his mother was reportedly under the influence of alcohol while driving.

A 1-year-old drowned in a family pool after he got out of the home undetected while his mother was doing laundry.

A baby born at 33-weeks gestation died shortly after her delivery, born with a medical anomaly that may have resulted from the mother's substance abuse.

Glady said reports in those cases were not available until the death investigations are complete.

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

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