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Judge dismisses charges against social workers in boy's death

Elaina Brown, left, and Kelly Williams sit in court during their preliminary examination on felony charges.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Elaina Brown, left, and Kelly Williams sit in court during their preliminary examination on felony charges.

A judge has dismissed felony charges against two Child Protective Services workers, who were accused of failing to protect a three-year-old boy from his mentally ill mother.

Social workers Elaina Brown and her supervisor, Kelly Williams, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse.

The charges stem from the death of three-year-old Aaron Minor, who was found dead in May in the Detroit apartment he shared with his mother. His mother Deanna Minor, who had been missing, was found in a psychiatric hospital.

Prosecutors maintained that Brown and Williams didn’t do enough to protect the boy, who came onto CPS radar in late April, as Deanna Minor’s behavior reportedly became more hostile and erratic.

Brown visited their apartment with police twice after that initial report. But she and Williams didn’t do enough to follow up and ensure the boy was safe, particularly after reports came in that Deanna Minor wasn’t taking her medication, prosecutors argued.

“They went twice, and never followed up on an ongoing investigation,” Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Carin Goldfarb said during a three-day preliminary examination, “as to what happened to this child, and to his mother, as protective services abandoned and ignored them.”

But others, including some of the prosecution’s own witnesses, argued that Brown and Williams did as much as they could under the circumstances, and couldn’t reasonably have been expected to foresee the boy’s death.

Colin Parks, CPS program director for the Michigan Department of Human Services, testified that the two social workers appear to have followed department policies, and made good-faith attempts to follow up on subsequent complaints.

“The worker attempted to go back out to the home. I know the mother did not have a telephone. I know the worker made attempts to evaluate what was going on. I know the worker didn’t close the case out,” Parks said.

Parks said that case workers must weigh a number of factors when deciding whether to remove a child from a home. He said that a parent’s mental illness and failure to take medication is something for caseworkers “to assess,” but that on its own is not grounds for removal.

Parks and other witnesses also noted that there were no signs or reports that the boy was being abused or neglected, only that his mother was becoming increasingly unstable and uncooperative with authorities.

Judge Kenneth King agreed, ruling on Thursday that while “hindsight is 20/20,” there was insufficient evidence to prove that the workers should have foreseen the boy’s death.

King added that the inability to determine exactly how the boy died was another complicating factor. Prosecutors and a medical examiner suggested the boy might have been smothered, but admitted it was impossible to determine the exact time or manner of death.

In a statement, Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy said her office is “reviewing the court's decision for a possible appeal.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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