Child welfare agency failed to rescue abused child

Posted: August 10, 2013

Police Officer Teresa Sanchious wiped away tears Thursday, struggling with emotion as she told a jury she wished she had done more to save 3-year-old Jaquinn Brewton.

Taking the stand on the third day of the trial of Jaquinn's godmother, Nadera Batson - charged with beating Jaquinn to death in a filthy West Philadelphia apartment in 2011 - Sanchious said she and her partner saw Batson pushing Jaquinn in his stroller through a Rite Aid parking lot just days before the boy's fatal beating.

On that Sunday afternoon, Jaquinn's unkempt appearance caught Sanchious' eye. His bushy hair was way too long for the warm weather, and he seemed almost overdressed in his jeans and long-sleeve shirt. He was wearing only one shoe; his left foot was covered in a sock and looked swollen.

"His foot didn't appear to be the normal size for a 3-year-old," Sanchious said Thursday.

After inquiring about Jaquinn's shoes, Sanchious noticed a burn mark on his arm.

"He's always getting into things," she said Batson replied.

In court, Sanchious said she radioed for a supervisor, who was busy, then called the Department of Human Services "numerous times."

It was unclear from her testimony whom she called at DHS.

When no one answered, Sanchious said, she left a message with the child welfare agency, then gave Batson the address of a barber who would cut Jaquinn's hair for free. She said she also took Batson's number and address so she could check up about the haircut and drop off some things for the boy at the end of her shift.

But her shift got busy. She said called Batson about nine times that Sunday to see if she had gotten the child's hair cut. But she never made it to the Chestnut Street apartment, where for the last three months Jaquinn had lived with Batson and her boyfriend, Marcus King, sleeping on trash-strewn cushions and enduring what prosecutors have described as daily beatings. They say Batson regularly beat the 3 1/2-foot, speech-delayed child with belts, shoes, and metal brushes and burned him with boiling water and a cooking torch.

When Sanchious returned to work three days later, she learned that the boy was in the hospital, brain dead.

Batson told police the child fell down a flight of steps. The boy's tiny frame was covered from head to toe with new and old bruises, scars, and burns. He had second-degree burns on his feet and buttocks. The medical examiner said he died of blunt-force trauma to his abdomen.

The 15-year veteran of the force said she has lived with guilt ever since.

"It made me feel that I could have done a whole lot more the day I encountered that lady and the baby," she said on the stand, her voice catching.

What Sanchious didn't know was that DHS had already failed to help Jaquinn months before she spotted him in the Rite Aid parking lot.

According to city and state reports obtained by The Inquirer - and interviews with Jaquinn's mother, Ashley Brewton - DHS had known months earlier, in March 2011, that Jaquinn was missing and living somewhere with Batson. But they didn't look for him or take the simple step of telling police that he could be in danger. That was a violation of DHS policy and a missed opportunity that might have alerted Sanchious that the boy could be in trouble.

A DHS manager had learned that Jaquinn was unaccounted for while investigating a report of neglect made against Brewton, involving Jaquinn's older sister. During that investigation, Brewton told DHS that she had given the child to Batson in March when she moved into a homeless shelter with three of her other children.

"I needed help," Brewton testified Thursday. "I thought she was a friend, so I allowed my son to go with her."

Brewton, according to the reports and interviews, told DHS she was no longer in contact with Batson after they had a dispute. She didn't know a specific address, she said, but knew that they lived on the 4700 block of Chestnut Street.

The social worker "should have called in a missing person report after her attempts to see Jaquinn were unsuccessful," according to a state-mandated review of the circumstances of the child's death.

The review criticized DHS for not consulting with its law department to take possible court action to find Jaquinn. The agency violated policy by missing several monthly visits with Jaquinn, the report said. And it failed to complete two previous abuse investigations involving Jaquinn's family within the required 60-day time frame.

The report recommended that DHS revise its policy on searching for missing children.

Alicia Taylor, a DHS spokeswoman, said that within days of Jaquinn's death, the agency took steps to do that.

"We reinforced the policy with our directors and administrators, going over the policy and procedures and reiterating that the law department should have been consulted," Taylor said.

She said the agency was unaware of any calls made to DHS by Officer Sanchious that Sunday before Jaquinn's death.

"This is new information to us," Taylor said. "In light of this testimony, we have begun an internal investigation and so far we have found no record of a call to our hotline, and all reports of abuse come through our hotline."

By law, police officers are required to report suspected child abuse.

In court earlier Thursday, Marcus King, who has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in Jaquinn's death, testified that Batson regularly beat the child as punishment for his potty training.

Once, after burning his feet with hot water, she used Batson's work blowtorch to burn the child's behind, leaving festering burns on his body.

The couple didn't take Jaquinn to a doctor, he said, because they didn't want to get in trouble.

Contact Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or or follow @MikeNewall on Twitter.

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