Task Force Begins Work On What Went Wrong, What To Fix

CBS4
I-Team: Charges Could Be Brought In Boy’s Hanging
Task Force Begins Work On What Went Wrong, What To Fix
MIRAMAR (CBS4)
Gary Nelson Reporting

CBS4 News has learned that criminal charges could be brought in the hanging death of a seven-year-old foster child who died in his Miramar foster home April 16th. Investigators are looking at multiple issues, including the behavior of a 19-year-old babysitter who was watching the boy when he died.

Sources close to the investigation told CBS4 News reporter Gary Nelson that investigators have “questions” about the circumstances surrounding the death of Gabriel Myers, the foster child found dead just weeks after he was placed in the Miramar home.

“Who wouldn’t have questions after seeing your interview?” said one investigator. The official was referring to a CBS4 News interview with Miguel Gould, the son of the foster father, who was watching Gabriel the day he died.

In the interview with CBS4’s Nelson April 27th, Gould said he watched through a window as the boy fashioned a noose around his neck and hanged himself from a bathroom shower head. The sitter said the boy spoke, even as he hung suspended by his neck, his feet off the bathroom floor.

“I told him don’t do anything stupid, don’t do anything crazy,” the sitter said. “He told me he was going to kill himself.” The sitter told CBS4 he looked around the house for a screwdriver that he used to gain entry to the bathroom, but only after considerable time had passed. When he got into the bathroom the sitter said he saw the boy “with his head against the wall, dead.”

“He was out of control. I couldn’t control him. My parents couldn’t control him,” the sitter said of the foster child.

Investigators have reviewed the babysitter’s interview with CBS4 News as part of their death investigation.

A source close to the investigation told CBS4 News that detectives and the medical examiner have not determined the “cause and manner of death” in the case. “We have not concluded whether it was or wasn’t” a suicide, the source said. The case will eventually be forwarded to the State Attorney, who will determine what, if any, charges should be brought.

As the criminal investigation continues, a state child welfare task force appointed to investigate Gabriel’s death began its work Thursday in a large conference room jammed with bureaucrats and children’s advocates in Fort Lauderdale.

“This agency has got to get it right,” said Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon. “I want to make sure that the system is right, and that Gabriel’s death had some meaning.”

At the task force meeting, the child welfare agency overseeing the foster home blamed the foster parents for leaving the boy with a babysitter who had not been screened as a caregiver.

“It was unbeknownst to us that he was in the home,” said Ellen Okrent, Vice President of Kids In Crisis, a contractor hired by the state. Under state law, foster parents must report who is living in the home to allow screening of those who might be watching the foster kids. The foster father at the home where Gabriel died has declined to speak with CBS4 News.

The DCF task force is expected to take several months to complete its work, but these are some of the preliminary findings by staff members:

– None of the professionals involved in Gabriel’s care recommended that he be institutionalized, despite “several occasions where he threatened… to kill himself.”

– Gabriel was being given powerful, psychotropic drugs known to increase the risk of suicide in children. The drugs were given to the boy without approval from a judge, despite state law that requires a judge’s order before such drugs are administered.

– State contractors in Gabriel’s case exercised “insufficient supervisory oversight.”

– There was “insufficient communication between professionals involved in Gabriel’s case.”

– Gabriel’s foster parents “did not comport with the requirements” of their agreement with the state.

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