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Los Angeles boy's beating death came after two exams, records show

Documents raise more questions about social workers' decisions in the Dae'von Bailey case as the manhunt for a murder suspect intensifies.

July 30, 2009|Hector Becerra

Months before the body of a beaten 6-year-old boy was found on the floor of his home last week, strong evidence existed to suggest that he was the victim of sustained abuse at the hands of the man now accused of killing him, according to documents obtained by The Times.

Authorities on Wednesday issued a murder warrant for Marcas Fisher, who police believe beat his ex-girlfriend's son, Dae'von Bailey, to death a week ago. Police cordoned off a South Los Angeles neighborhood Wednesday morning in what ended up being a fruitless search for Fisher. Detectives believe he is in hiding with aid from friends or family.

Los Angeles Police Department officials said Wednesday that social workers had approved an agreement between Fisher and the boy's mother that placed Dae'von in the man's home. Fisher had been convicted of rape as a teenager and had a criminal record as an adult.

The appropriateness of that placement is one of several questions being raised by police and county officials about how social workers handled the case.

On April 27, the county Department of Children and Family Services was informed that Fisher had shoved Dae'von into a bathroom sink, injuring the boy's nose and causing him to miss a week of school.

When a social worker arrived at the house two weeks later, Dae'von said Fisher had "socked him in the nose" but Fisher insisted that the boy's injury was from an "accident," according to documents obtained by The Times. Dae'von was treated for a contusion at a private medical office, the records show. But social workers ultimately allowed Dae'von to remain with Fisher.

Then on June 3, the county received another allegation, that Fisher had punched Dae'von in the stomach. When social workers arrived, Dae'von said Fisher hit him in either the stomach or chest, according to the documents. One of his siblings confirmed the story -- but later recanted. Fisher denied hitting the boy.

Again, Fisher took Dae'von to a doctor, and the medical provider who examined him later reported "there were no signs of physical abuse and stated that Dae'von had given more than one version of the incident. . . . She had no concerns for Dae'von," according to the documents. The county concluded that the boy's abuse allegations were "unfounded" and took no action.

Less than a month later, the boy's body was found in a house on 87th Place. County records show that Dae'von's body was found with "multiple bruises, to his face, arm, chest, back, wrist and elbow . . . [and] multiple circular contusions to both feet."

Social workers were not the only ones who knew about the earlier allegations of abuse. In an interview with The Times, LAPD Det. Frank Ramirez said that in April and June, the child had told adults at his school that he had been abused. Officials at the school informed the county, he said.

"The boy did what he should do," Ramirez said. "He reported it to the school, and the school did what they should do. They reported it to DCFS. And unfortunately he's dead."

County officials want to know whether social workers did an adequate investigation of the alleged abuse, talking to people besides Fisher and the boy. They have also asked whether the doctors examined him properly.

Both issues have come up before as the county has struggled to address a pattern in which children have been killed after their cases already had come to the attention of county child welfare officials.

The use of private doctors to evaluate potential abuse has been the subject of debate, with critics saying doctors in private practice are not always trained to detect abuse.

In the wake of Dae'von's death, Supervisor Gloria Molina has proposed a pilot program in parts of the San Gabriel Valley and the Eastside in which all children who come to the county's attention as possible child-abuse victims would be examined at a county facility by forensic pediatricians and other experts trained to spot abuse. Dr. Astrid Heger, executive director of the L.A. County-USC Violence Intervention Program, said Dae'von was exactly the kind of child who needed to be examined by experts at these county-run centers. There are currently six such "hubs," but children who come to the county's attention, like Dae'von, are not always referred to them.

"These kids are trying to figure out how to survive," Heger said. "It takes an enormous amount of courage for a child to say, 'He hit me.' It's like he's looking at you and me and saying, 'Rescue me.' And what happened? We didn't. And that's the tragedy."

Molina has also recommended adding a new layer of oversight to the county's process for investigating allegations of child abuse. Under the proposal, a supervising social worker and an assistant regional administrator would review each case even when a social worker had determined the allegations to be "unfounded."

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