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Board: Why no aid for boy?

Police arrest a third suspect in the case -- a babysitter they say burned the boy's hands on a stove.

June 18, 2008|Andrew Blankstein and Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday demanded an immediate investigation into why a 5-year-old South Los Angeles boy suffered "unbearable" abuse for two years without detection by authorities or social service agencies.

And, on the same day, Los Angeles police announced the arrest of a third suspect in the case -- a 26-year-old babysitter who they say disfigured the boy's hands by burning them on a stove.

Police say that La Tanya Monikue Jones also conspired with the boy's mother, Starkeisha Brown, 24, and her live-in girlffriend, Krystal Denise Matthews, 21, to hide the abuse.

Brown and Matthews were each formally charged Tuesday with one count of torture and conspiracy, as well as other charges of child abuse, corporal injury to a child and dissuading a witness. They were scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Compton, but the hearing was moved to June 25. Brown's and Matthews' bail were set at $1.1 million and $1.08 million, respectively.

The two are expected to plead not guilty, and each faces up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Monikue Jones, the babysitter, has been charged with conspiracy to dissuade a witness, corporal injury to a child and child abuse, among other accusations. According to authorities, Monikue Jones let her 4-year-old son go with Brown and Matthews to a meeting with Department of Children and Family Services officials last week in a bid to fool them into thinking there was no abuse in their home.

According to authorities, Brown and Matthews have a history of troubled behavior.

Brown was a convicted felon and known gang member who for more than a year was wanted on a no-bail arrest warrant.

Matthews pleaded guilty in June to slashing her younger brother across the face with a box-cutter.

Nonetheless, Brown and Matthews shared their small South L.A. apartment with Brown's 5-year-old son. Over a two-year period, authorities said, the boy endured "unbearable psychological and physical abuse," including cigarette burns, near-starvation and beatings. The conditions went undetected by county officials until an anonymous caller alerted them earlier this month.

Department of Children and Family Services officials declined to provide specific information about the case, but suggested that they didn't know about possible abuse of the boy until being tipped off a few weeks ago.

Agency spokesman Stuart Riskin said the department would respond only when there was an open case or if it was contacted via its child protection hotline. He said a parent's gang membership, outstanding bench warrants or criminal background alone would not necessarily prompt the county to check on the welfare of the child.

Brown has two prior state prison sentences, for robbery and petty theft, as well as misdemeanor violations. She was in prison for at least a year after giving birth to her son, whose name has not been released. During that time, the boy stayed with relatives, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

Brown appears to have regained custody of her son when she left prison in January 2007. But that March, a judge issued an arrest warrant for her in connection with parole violations. It is unclear why officials could not locate her.

Matthews also has a criminal history, including convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and forgery. In May, Matthews got into a fight with her younger brother, slashing him in the face with a box-cutter. She was arrested and eventually pleaded guilty.

The probation report related to that case describes Matthews as someone trying to raise children on her own against hard odds.

"She is apparently another example of a young woman struggling to establish a life for herself after being raised 'in the system,' " the report said. "She does not appear to have had positive parental role models. She appears to have had difficulty in adjusting to life in placement, given her criminal record and noted contacts with law enforcement."

In the probation report, Matthews said she graduated from Hollywood High School and attended Westwood College. Matthews was granted probation, with officials saying she should be ordered to take anger-management and parenting classes.

In the report, Matthews said she wanted to move in with Brown, whom she identified as her aunt.

Los Angeles police said the 5-year-old was hung by his hands and wrists from a doorjamb and beaten with some sort of leash or chain. He was routinely denied food and water, burned with cigarettes on his body and genitals, and left to sit in his own urine and feces.

The boy's mother allegedly committed some of the acts for about two years without detection -- until last week.

Because of the anonymous tip, Brown and Matthews were ordered to report June 9 to a children's services office along with the boy to discuss the abuse allegations.

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