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South L.A. boy died after previous reports of abuse

Dae'von Bailey had injuries that suggested blows or other trauma over an extended period of time, a police lieutenant said.

July 25, 2009|Hector Becerra and Garrett Therolf

A 6-year-old boy whose battered body was found on the floor of a South Los Angeles home was the subject of roughly a dozen calls to Los Angeles County's child abuse hotline alleging abuse or neglect, a county official briefed on the case told The Times on Friday.

Dae'von Bailey had injuries that suggested blows or other trauma over an extended period of time, said Lt. Vincent Neglia of the LAPD's Abused Child Section. Police are searching for the boy's stepfather, Marcas Fisher, 36, as a "person of interest" in the case.

Dae'von's death appears to fit a pattern in which children have been killed after their cases already had come to the attention of county child welfare officials. The Times previously reported that last year, 14 children died after being evaluated by the county Department of Children and Family Services. Some of those deaths involved breakdowns in the system in which some agencies knew about potential abuse but had failed to share the information with other agencies. In other cases, investigators found that poor decisions by social workers had contributed to the deaths.

The county Board of Supervisors has repeatedly been warned by auditors and other experts that the child welfare system lacks efficient ways to share information about risks faced by children. After the reports in The Times, the board last month voted to approve a new effort to ensure that agencies share information.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes South Los Angeles, called on the board Friday to appoint an independent investigator to thoroughly review Dae'von's case. Thomas said the probe should include looking at the boy's contact with Family Services and any other government agencies to identify any breakdowns that might have contributed to his death. The inquiry, if approved, would be the first of its kind since 2006.

"We need to get to the bottom of this," Ridley-Thomas said. "To have a county that has a stain on its image, to have children dying under these circumstances, is very, very difficult to bear. . . . The public has a right to have confidence that we are taking care of these matters competently."

Family Services Director Trish Ploehn, who since taking office two years ago has made better accountability of social workers a top priority, said she's already launched "a full and comprehensive internal investigation."

"This was a tragic and senseless death," Ploehn said. "I've had a full team of people looking at it all day."

On Friday, neighbors on South 87th Place tried to make sense of what had happened to Dae'von, whom they described as a sweet, well-behaved child. Relatives found him dead on the floor after being alerted by a frantic call from an unidentified person in his home. Fisher was not in the house when officers arrived. Neglia said Fisher had "no history of violent crime" but that he did have a history of property crimes. The coroner's office had not determined the cause of death.

The county official, who was not authorized to comment on the case and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, said the dozen calls reporting abuse or neglect occurred at various times in Dae'von's life. The source said county officials had opened an investigation after each call. But it remained unclear Friday whether social workers had concluded that abuse had occurred or whether the county had an active case file on Dae'von at the time of his death.

The boy's mother, Tylette Davis, 28, said Fisher had been with her when she was pregnant with Dae'von, but he wasn't the boy's biological father. She separated from him some time ago.

Davis said she never witnessed Fisher abuse Dae'von, but she said that about three years ago, Fisher "whipped" one of her older sons until "his butt was all red."

Davis said that none of her six children, including Dae'von, were living with her because she was "going through things, and I thought he could take care of the kids while I got my stuff together."

Dae'von and Davis' 5-year-old daughter -- who is now in protective custody -- were staying with Fisher; a 14-year-old daughter was staying with a cousin in Compton; and her other three children were staying with her mother, also in Compton.

Early Friday morning, shortly after she was notified of her son's death, Davis said county social workers went to her mother's home and removed her 9-year-old son, 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. She said that she asked a woman why they couldn't stay with her.

"She said I made a bad judgment by letting my two youngest kids stay with" Fisher, Davis said. "I'm hurt. I just lost my son," Davis said. "There's no way to describe the pain. . . . I want Marcas to turn himself in."

Neighbors said Fisher and the children had moved into the house about three months ago. The street, with tall palm trees and tidy stucco homes and apartments, is described by residents as a relatively quiet oasis -- neutral ground for the street gangs that battle over turf elsewhere.

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