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L.A. Supervisors investigate toddler deaths

March 24, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
County officials are demanding answers after the unrelated deaths of two toddlers. Family members say they warned police about possible abuse.There were new developments Wednesday in the investigation of two separate beating deaths of toddlers. County social workers were supposed to be on top of those cases. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is now taking action.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors wants to know how and why social service workers missed several critical clues that led to the deaths of two toddlers in two separate incidents.

"Babies are gifts from God, and I believe that what they did was abuse his gift, that they took his gift back," said Lavetta Jones, one victim's cousin.

Deandre Green, dead at age 2 and a half. Long Beach Police suspect beatings by his mother's boyfriend killed him.

Hector Ernest Junior was arrested, but investigators still need information from neighbors and anyone else who may have witnessed Ernest and the toddler together.

The toddler told family members himself that Ernest hurt him.

"He had his lip busted a month ago. He told everything. The little boy came crying for help," said one family member.

The boy's relatives called police in Hawthorne, Long Beach and County Department of Child and Family Services.

"We read the hotline report, we read the chronology of what happened," L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Yaroslavsky says the social workers had hard information.

"The original response from the DCFS was ultimately overridden, but the initial reaction from the social worker was 'check this out over the next five days,'" said Yaroslavsky. "It should have been checked out within 24 hours."

The DCFS is under fire about another death. It contracted with United Care Inc. to place and care for Viola Vanclief. The 2-year-old foster child was beaten to death with a hammer.

Supervisor Gloria Molina grilled welfare workers.

"We are finding unbelievable errors on the part of our social workers who are not following basic protocols," said Molina in a televised Board meeting.

"If you are overloaded and overworked and you are trying to get from one child to another, there will be things that fall through the cracks," said a DCFS representative at the meeting.

"Those errors are compounded and compounded, and unfortunately we do not find out until the child dies," said Molina.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich is now calling for a special investigative unit, and the county is moving children out of United Care Inc.

Meantime, a family makes a plea.

"He suffered so much in his last months here, and so we don't want this to ever happen again, so if there's anyone with any information, please contact the Long Beach Police Department," said Lavetta Jones.

If you have information related to either of these cases, you're asked to call Long Beach Police at (562) 570-7244.