Rules Weren't Enough to Protect Battered Boy: Monitoring Ended before Worst Abuses

Article excerpt

Child care officials followed all the rules to ensure the safety of 5-year-old Richard Holmes and had no warning that he would be bitten, pounded with a hammer, gagged, bound and chain-locked in his room 22 hours a day, investigators said yesterday.

All those cruelties occurred after officials monitored Richard in his new home for six months last year, five investigators told reporters after a week of reviewing Richard's life and treatment in foster homes and county custody.

In December, child welfare workers, relatives, lawyers and Juvenile Court Judge Lee Sislen agreed that Richard would probably be OK and closed the case, allowing the boy to continue living in a Germantown apartment with his father and his father's girlfriend.

On April 17, the father, Alan Lee Holmes, 27, and girlfriend, Alba Ingrid Scarpelli, 31, were jailed in lieu of $500,000 bond on charges of abusing Richard. Miss Scarpelli is also charged with allowing Richard's half-sister to pound him with a hammer.

"There was absolutely nothing in this case that I could say . . . that what happened to this child was going to happen," said Daryl Plevy, a lawyer in Montgomery County's Department of Health and Human Services.

The Washington Times learned that Holmes and Miss Scarpelli "rigorously" attended weekly counseling and parenting sessions in their quest to pass the monitoring program and have Richard assigned to them.

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan last week ordered an investigation of the manner in which Child Welfare Services handled Richard's case. The five investigators, including Maryland Department of Human Resources consultant Steven Berry, reported yesterday that officials were blameless.

All laws, regulations and policies were followed. There were no breakdowns because of a shortage of resources or personnel, said Winifred Y. Wilson, a social services officer with the county health department. Restricted by federal and state confidentiality laws pertaining to children, the investigators' report described five years in the life of a boy who had physical and mental health problems, who was the nephew of a murderer, and whose father pleaded guilty to abusing him when he was 13 months old.

"This case in particular is a very complicated case," said Chuck Short, director of the human services department.

Investigators said child welfare officials were not pleased with Richard's foster care assignments, but child welfare officials were restricted because laws and regulations give high priority to assigning children to biological relatives.

"There is much more to it than meets the eye," Ms. Plevy said. "They worked very diligently to protect this child."

Child welfare workers investigated 12 reports filed by teachers and administrators at Lake Seneca Elementary School, which Richard attended in September and October while he, his father and Miss Scarpelli were being monitored.

Some of the reports were about the same suspicions - fingernails cut back until his fingers bled, inordinate hunger - but child welfare workers found reasonable causes for the conditions, and Richard continued to live with his dad.

Investigators said caseworkers sometimes contact children and custodial parents three, four or five times a week, but they would not say if that occurred in Richard's case.

Richard lived for more than three years with his grandmother, Margaret Holmes Adams, in the 13000 block of Atlantic Avenue in the Twinbrook area of Rockville.

That's also the address given by Patrick Keith Holmes, who was 20 in December 1995 when he was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years for the murder of a 7-Eleven clerk in Montgomery Village.

Richard was first placed with his grandmother in 1992 and, said Ms. Plevy, "from everything we could tell, she was a loving, caring provider. …