Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

When Children Aren't Protected | Manatee Sheriff's Office Errors Lead to Tragedies

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

When Children Aren't Protected | Manatee Sheriff's Office Errors Lead to Tragedies

Article excerpt

OUR VIEW

Confronted with ambiguous hints of child abuse, investigators and their supervisors weren't thorough enough when looking into two troubled families, new Manatee Sheriff's Office reviews have found. In both cases a child later died, raising questions about the failure to provide effective interventions.

[broken bar] The first of the two reports focuses on Keishanna Thomas, charged with murder in the death of her daughter Janiya, 11. The infamous Bradenton case unfolded last September, when law enforcement -- investigating a report that Keishanna had punched her 12-year-old son -- learned that one of Thomas' five children was missing: Janiya, who hadn't been seen in months. Her mother refused to reveal the girl's whereabouts, but weeks later the body was found in a small, locked freezer. A grand jury indictment charged that the mother had confined Janiya to a bathroom, starved and drowned or asphyxiated her. Keishanna Thomas faces trial next November.

This was a high-risk family that had long been on child- protection radar. Keishanna Thomas had given birth at age 16, and two of her children were considered special-needs. There had been prior abuse reports and complaints between 2000 and 2015, but the trouble signs were not regular occurrences and were sometimes unsubstantiated.

After Janiya's tragic death, the Manatee Sheriff's Office looked at its own investigations of the family from 2013 through 2015. Essentially, the review found that investigators and supervisors fell short in four episodes. These included a November 2013 domestic violence report; a March 2014 allegation that Keishanna Thomas had struck her son with an electrical cord; a May 2014 report that a teen daughter with disabilities experienced hygiene and health problems; and the September 2015 punching case that led to the grim discovery of Janiya.

The review found that at least two investigators and some supervisors failed to fully meet their duties as spelled out in child-protection policies. …

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