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County Left Abused Boy in Home

Social workers made several field visits to the home of Chazarus Hill Jr., 3, who was fatally beaten, Alameda County officials say.

September 23, 2003|Donna Horowitz | Special to The Times

A 3-year-old boy who was allegedly beaten to death by his father had been visited several times by social workers who found insufficient evidence to remove the child from his home, according to the Alameda County Social Services Agency.

The agency, which launched the investigation after receiving complaints of abuse from neighbors in the middle-class East Oakland community, has begun an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Chazarus Hill Jr., said spokeswoman Sylvia Myles.

The toddler, known as "Cha-Cha," was taken to San Leandro Hospital about 2 a.m. Saturday, where he was pronounced dead.

His father, Chazarus Hill Sr., 23, was arrested on suspicion of murder and is scheduled to be arraigned today.

Hill's wife of five months, Kimberly Ford-Hill, 32, was arrested on a warrant charging her with unlawfully taking public aid.

"This is first and foremost a tragedy," Myles said. "Any time a child dies, it's a loss our community cannot tolerate. Despite all the safeguards to ensure we respond more appropriately, sometimes our best efforts don't work."

Myles said the agency's social workers went to the home several times after getting anonymous complaints about the boy's treatment, but "there was no physical indication of abuse."

She declined to detail the visits, including how many there were and over what time period, adding that, "We will be conducting a thorough investigation of the case."

The boy's great-grandmother, Sadie Catchings, said he was beaten by his father when he made mistakes counting or reciting his ABCs.

Oakland Police Sgt. Lou Cruz, who is investigating the case, said the father would hit the child with a leather belt, his hand or tree branches when he made a mistake.

"It's a disturbing case," Cruz said. "It appears the child was beaten extensively on Friday, but it appears he had been beaten other days as well."

Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele, who sits on the board's Social Services Committee, said she did not have any details on how the county responded.

"I think for me ... this is part of a big, terrible picture," she said.

Steele noted that 20 children younger than 5 in Alameda County have died at the hands of their parents since 1994.

In all, about 200 children have died by violence in that period, she added.

Steele tracks the number of children in the county who die in violent incidents and recognizes them in annual tree-planting ceremonies.

"Unfortunately, this happens a little too often, not just in this county," she said.

Donice Sandoval, director of communications for the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, called for "a public review of what happened in terms of the [Child Protective Services] response, whether they did respond or whether it was beyond their control."

Sandoval added, "The community did exactly what they were supposed to do -- get involved, call the authorities."

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