Family members of Deandre Green, a 2-year-old boy who was fatally beaten last week, allegedly by his mother's boyfriend, said they had warned police and Los Angeles County child welfare officials at least twice about possible abuse in the last few months of the child's life.
Deandre's father told The Times in an interview Tuesday that in October, he had taken his son to the Hawthorne Police Department to show officials bruises on the child's chest and stomach. Deandre's cousin said she had called the county Department of Children and Family Services in February to report her concerns.
The cousin, Lavetta Jones, and other family members said their calls went unreturned for weeks. At one point, a someone at the county told them the person they needed to talk to was on vacation, the family members said.
"It wasn't as urgent as it should have been," the boy's grandmother, Sharlynn Pinkard, 43, said. "We truly sensed something wasn't right."
County officials declined to comment immediately on Deandre's case.
It remains unclear exactly what steps authorities took after receiving the allegations of abuse regarding Deandre -- and whether social workers ultimately confirmed the accusations. Under law, police and social service agencies are required to notify each other of such allegations.
What is clear is that Deandre continued to live with his mother and her boyfriend. On Saturday, the boy, who was living in Long Beach at the time, was pronounced dead at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center. Officials said he showed signs of repeated abuse, and Long Beach detectives have arrested his mother's boyfriend, Hector Ernest Jr., 26, on suspicion of killing the boy. He is being held without bail.
Deandre's death comes as the county continues to face scrutiny in its handling of child abuse cases. Earlier this month, 2-year-old Viola Vanclief was killed while in the care of a foster family agency that contracts with the court despite a long history of child abuse incidents. About 35 children since January 2007 who passed through the county system have died from abuse or neglect. They have declined to disclose records related to the dozen most recent cases.
Long Beach Police Officer Jackie Bezart confirmed that detectives are examining at least two reports of abuse submitted to the county before Deandre died but said she could not provide more details.
Officials at the Hawthorne Police Department said they got involved in the case in February when the county informed them of an abuse claim. Patrol officers made at least three visits to an address in Hawthorne where authorities believed Ernest was living.
"We acted immediately," Hawthorne Police Lt. Gary Tomatani said. "Within 24 hours we were on the doorstep investigating."
Hawthorne police apparently didn't know that Ernest was living in Long Beach with Deandre and the boy's mother, Cameo Green, at the time.
According to relatives, care of Deandre was shared among several family members, including his mother and father.
But in an interview Tuesday at the family's Hawthorne apartment, the father, Deandre Fitzgerald Franks, 22, a baggage handler at LAX who is separated from the mother, said he had initially tried to report allegations of abuse to the Hawthorne police several months ago.
In October, he said, he began to suspect that his son was being abused when Deandre told him his mother's boyfriend had pulled on his lip. When Franks lifted up the boy's shirt, he found bruises on the child's chest and stomach, he said. Other relatives who helped care for the child, including his grandmother, said he had complained of pain from where his mother had allegedly hit him.
The family bathed and dressed Deandre and took him to the Hawthorne police station, Franks said, adding that he sat the child on the counter and asked officers if they could take a report for an abuse case. Franks said the person working the desk was dismissive of his assertions and warned him that if he was lying, he would be arrested. Angry at their response, he left the station, he said.
Hawthorne police said they have no record of Franks' visit but plan to contact him to sort out exactly what happened.
"It doesn't mean he wasn't at our lobby," Tomatani said. "But if he was, we didn't officially document it."
The department is investigating whether there was a lapse in their response, he added, so they can correct it to "prevent future tragedies such as these."
When Franks called the boy's mother in October to confront her about the abuse, she told him the child had been hurt while falling off of a toy firetruck, Franks said. (Green could not be reached for comment.)
Over the next few months, Franks and other family members said they continued to notice bruises and scratches on the boy's face and legs.
Hawthorne police said county social workers informed them of abuse allegations Feb. 24.
The next morning, officers visited the Hawthorne home where they thought the boy was living and did so again twice more.
Sometime after March 1, they referred the case back to DCFS and to the Long Beach Police Dept., Tomatani said.
Out of frustration, Franks said he was tempted to take his son away from the mother and her boyfriend to protect him from abuse but wanted to do things legally.
"By the time it took to go through the right channels and avenues," said Denise Haywood, 46, the boy's great aunt, "it was too late."
On Saturday, the mother called the father's family to say that the boy had died.
Franks visited his son after he died, kissing him and squeezing his face, where he had a scar near his right eye and tears dried on his cheeks.
"That tore me up inside," he said, wiping away tears.
"I keep waking up every day crying because I haven't been seeing him," he said.
Deandre, his family said, was a lively little boy who shared his father's love of cars and would parade around the house singing songs and scribbling on photos and toys.
Franks would carry him around the neighborhood on his shoulders. And on Tuesday, before going to the mortuary to make funeral arrangements, the family bagged up Deandre's toys: a ball, toy cars and a red bike with training wheels they had given him for Christmas.
The bike was too big for him; they had hoped he would grow into it.