Recognizing signs of physical child abuse
When an officer checking on a child abuse report first spotted the 3-year-old, the little girl was “walking abnormally slow” and “appeared very thin to the point I could observe the skeletal structure of her face,” a Riviera Beach police officer wrote in a report.
When the girl was taken to the hospital, the officer saw sores throughout her body, marks that appeared to be the result of being tied down and “multiple marks consistent with what appeared to be belt marks.” He also noted that her fingernails were completely bitten off.
“[The girl] was completed emaciated and appeared to be in pain whenever a part of her body was touched or moved by the nurse,” the officer said, adding that the 3-year-old girl weighed only 22 pounds.
Takeia Burns, 31, was later charged with aggravated child abuse and child neglect. Burns’ relationship to the girl and four other children in the home was redacted from the police report.
Burns told police that she was trying to potty train the girl and would let the girl stay in a soiled diaper as punishment, according to the report. She said she noticed there was a weight problem, but the girl’s primary doctor no longer accepted their insurance, police said.
According to the police report, a call came into Riviera Beach police Sept. 2, reporting that “there was a child who was being abused and not being fed.”
An officer responded and saw Burns outside the home, the officer wrote. He asked to go inside. When he saw the child, he was concerned about her “safety and well being,” and called fire rescue to respond, the officer said. The 3-year-old and a 10-month-old in the home were taken to the hospital, according to the report.
The officer went with the child and watched as a nurse examined her. He said when the nurse took off the girl’s red sweater, “it revealed a large open sore on [the girl’s] right arm between the bicep and forearms; just at the bend of the inside of the arm.”
A similar injury was on her left arm.
“Based on my training and experience, these injuries are consistent with ligature marks, which often occur as a result of a person or animal being tied down,” he wrote. She also had similar markings on her legs, he said.
In addition to the bruising, the nurse also discovered that the toddler was likely in the same diaper for so long that there was “dried fecal matter that was flaky and stuck” to her, according to the report.
“Upon the conclusion of the medical assessment of [the girl,] it was learned she had a fractured rib, bilateral bleeding on her brain and multiple bruises on her head,” the officer wrote.
The Department of Children and Families was called in, and an investigator spoke with Burns about the girl’s injuries.
Burns denied knowing how the girl was injured and said she wasn’t able to take the girl to the doctor about her weight because of an insurance issue.
The DCF investigator then decided to “complete a safety plan,” and the five children — ages 11, nearly 4, 3, 2 and 10 months — would be placed in the custody of another adult.
The 3-year-old who had injuries was being treated in the pediatric intensive care unit of St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, according to the report.
On Sept. 3, officers interviewed an older child in the home. He told officers that Burns “would get very upset with [the girl] because she was not learning how to use the bathroom,” the officer wrote.
He said Burns left her in soiled diapers for long stretches and he had seen her eating out of the garbage, according to the report.
“I think it was because she was hungry,” the boy said. He told officers Burns didn’t let the girl eat every day because she didn’t want her “to keep pooping,” police said.
He said he wanted to help her but was afraid of Burns.
Next, they spoke to Burns.
“Burns admitted she did not take [the girl] to the hospital as her weight was declining because she wanted to wait until the bruise on her eye went away,” the officer wrote.
She said the girl got the bruises by falling down. She said she was struggling to potty train her, according to the report. “[Burns] further stated she has let [the girl] stay in a soiled diaper but not for long periods of time,” the officer wrote. “Burns further admitted that when [the girl] soiled her diaper she would strike [her] on her back using a belt, which is consistent to the injuries that were located on [the girl’s] back.”
The officer asked her why the girl was eating the garbage and didn’t have fingernails. Police said she didn’t have an answer.
She did confess to tying the girls arms down with spandex pants to prevent her from eating the garbage, police said.
Burns was arrested last Tuesday and the next day was released on bond. Her arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 10.