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Charges Filed in Death of Girl That Spurred Overhaul of D.C. Child Welfare System

Courts: A housemate is accused. The fatal beating revealed the failure of several protective agencies.

November 15, 2000|From The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A Washington woman was charged Tuesday in the beating death of Brianna Blackmond, the toddler whose slaying exposed a tragic series of failures by agencies responsible for protecting her and prompted a top-to-bottom overhaul of the District of Columbia's child welfare system.

Police arrested Angela Theresa O'Brien, 31, at 1:30 a.m. at her home in northwest Washington. She has been charged with murder.

Court records released Tuesday contain fresh details about how the 23-month-old child allegedly suffered at the hands of O'Brien, a close family friend who was sharing her home with Brianna's mother, Charrisise Blackmond.

According to an affidavit filed Tuesday in District of Columbia Superior Court, Brianna was having trouble adjusting to the house. O'Brien frequently spanked and beat Brianna because the toddler was not interacting with other children in the house--some Blackmond's, some O'Brien's--was not talking and was holding food in her mouth, the affidavit says.

Witnesses told police that Brianna was handcuffed and beaten several times from Dec. 24 to Jan. 5. On Jan. 5, Brianna went to the bathroom on the floor.

O'Brien beat Brianna with a belt, lifted her by the back of her shirt and slammed her against a wall and the floor, according to the affidavit and police.

Witnesses to the beating told police that Brianna then "went to sleep."

Later that day, O'Brien called 911. Paramedics brought Brianna to Children's Hospital, where she died the next day.

"What Brianna went through is very tragic. It's very disturbing," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Oscar Mayers Jr., who is prosecuting the case, after an hourlong court hearing Tuesday.

O'Brien's attorney, Joanne Slaight, argued that her client is not a threat to the community and that she should be released pending her trial.

But District of Columbia Superior Court Commissioner Ronald Goodbread ordered her held without bond until a preliminary hearing Monday. Outside the courthouse, Slaight said, "She's innocent."

Tuesday's arrest marked a dramatic turn in the investigation, which appeared to be hampered by missteps made in the critical hours after the alleged beating.

Police were faulted for not moving quickly enough to seize possible evidence from the house and for not promptly interviewing the other children who were inside. Sources say interviews with some of those children now form the core of the case.

Terrance Gainer, the District of Columbia's executive assistant police chief, said the case was difficult to investigate because several people who were inside the house when the slaying occurred declined to speak with detectives.

"It was truly a murder that occurred with extreme secrecy," Gainer said.

In the hours and days after Brianna's death, O'Brien told police and reporters that the toddler injured herself during a fall down a flight of stairs. But Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Arden reported that her injuries were inconsistent with a fall down steps.

Arden ruled the death a homicide, finding that Brianna died of severe blows to the head. He said her injuries were more consistent with a fall from a third-story window.

Brianna's death and the revelations about how her case was handled shook the public's confidence in the district's child welfare system.

At least seven government agencies responsible for protecting Brianna and helping her family failed to do their jobs in the months and weeks before her death, according to confidential records obtained by the Washington Post.

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