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Foster mom, boyfriend probed in child's death

March 16, 2010 12:12:46 AM PDT
A South Los Angeles foster mother and her live-in boyfriend are under investigation in the death of a 2-year-old girl who was struck with a hammer.Thirty-year-old Kiana Barker and 38-year-old James Julian were arrested last week for investigation of murder, but were later released without charges. Police continue to investigate the child's death. The district attorney's office said it needs more evidence to file charges.

Legal documents reveal the first findings by investigators and the mistakes made that may have led to Viola Vanclief's death.

Barker operated a daycare one the 100 block of East Gage Avenue. She told investigators that she accidentally struck Viola with a hammer while trying to free her after the girl became trapped in a metal bed frame from the torso down on March 4.

The coroner said the young girl died of blunt force trauma. There was also bruising to the lower back, buttocks and hips, according to the complaint filed by the Department of Social Services.

One of Barker's neighbors is baffled and said she never knew Viola had been staying at the house next door.

"My sister was the one that told me that they had taken the little girl on a stretcher," said the woman who didn't want to be identified. "She was really nice up until a couple of years ago. I mean, she used to come over and talk with my mom and interact with my sister. She had other foster kids there and they used to be able to come and play with my kids."

The neighbor said things changed when James, a convicted felon for armed robbery, moved in.

United Care Inc., the foster care agency that cleared Barker and apparently did not know her boyfriend was living with her, is under scrutiny. The agency has been citied many times because of caregiver abuse, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"The facts and details surrounding Viola's death are not yet fully available to us, so it would be inappropriate to comment on any specifics at this time," the director of United Care said in statement.

The LAPD juvenile division is seeking the public's help in the case. Anyone with information was asked to call (213) 486-0580.