My favorite movie of all time is …And Justice For All.
First of all, if you haven’t seen it, don’t click on this clip until you have because this is the movie’s final scene. But I recommend it because (a) it’s one of Al Pacino’s best performances, and (b) it’s about the frustration that people who try to clean up the justice system sometimes experience.
I’ve been thinking about justice and what it means a lot lately. What I’d like to see it mean is that someone has been made to atone for a wrong they’ve committed against society at large. Justice in my eyes is seeing those victimized by someone’s horrible act get the peace of mind that comes with said atonement and the punishment meted out as a result.
But in some cases, justice is impossible. Even if you lock folks up and throw away the key or execute them, the amount of atonement and punishment that would have to be done for it to come anywhere close to justice hasn’t been invented yet.
Once I tell you the story of the 2006 death of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly, you’ll see what I mean.
Now because not everyone who reads The Mad (political) Scientist is from the 215 (or 610 or even the 609) I don’t dabble into local news much here. But there are just some things in this life that command you to acknowledge them and the Grand Jury report on Danieal’s death, to which I’ve put a link to at the bottom of this post, is one of those things.
When a 14-year-old disabled child is starved by her mother, ignored by her father, left to die in her own waste, and let down by a system that was supposed to look out for her, looking away is not an option for me. It shouldn’t have been for many of the folks who chose to do so either.
If I achieve nothing else by telling you this story, I hope to answer a question that I get from friends of mine who wonder why I give them such high praise when I see them, especially the ones who are doing it alone, put their kids in front of everything and anything else.
In case you all want to know why I hold you in such high esteem in that regard it’s because you don’t need a license to be a parent. It’s because kids are vulnerable and sometimes folks don’t get that. It’s because the parents that are doing it right are so rare that they stand out anymore.
And most importantly, I do it because I’ve seen, heard and read entirely too many fucking stories like Danieal Kelly’s over 16 years as an education reporter. I do it because I’ll never get the autopsy photo of a 42-lb, 14-year-old girl with bedsores that screamed at you and barettes in her matted and uncombed hair out of my mind.
I praise you because you love your kids to the point of ferocity. This kid could have used some of that.
What happened to her was unnecessary and I’m hoping that she’ll get the justice in death that she never got in life. If you’re not entirely pissed the fuck off after reading this, you need to find a kid to love. You’ll get it after that.
Because I’m the media liaison for the School of Social Administration at Temple University when I’m not doing this, I took it upon myself to read the grand jury report on Danieal’s death in case someone from the media called to talk to one of our professors of Social Work. It was a 200+ page report that read like some gawd awful hybrid of “Oliver Twist” and “Friday the 13th.”
Danieal was born with cerebral palsy, a disease that causes the muscles to tighten up and in some cases spasm uncontrollably. Some with CP are developmentally disabled, others have issues related to walking. But with the right education and medical intervention, people can live very normal and ultraproductive lives with this disease.
I know this because I see it every time I go to upstate New York to see my friend Carmen, who has CP. In addition to being the best police reporter I’ve ever worked with, she’s an award-winning writer who’s working on her masters degree and manages her uncle’s real estate holdings. I’ll literally be hopping off of the plane from the Democratic National Convention later this month and heading to upstate New York for her wedding.
But for someone with a disability to have the kind of life Carmen’s had, you have to have supports.
Danieal didn’t, at least not consistently.
According to the report, her grandmother had asked her father, Daniel, to take her and her brother Daniel Jr. away from their mother, Andrea, because she couldn’t take care of them adequately.
Daniel did as he was asked, but because he was still accessing his “playa card”, he did the minimum. When a woman came into his life who looked at the kids as her responsibility, she made sure that they were fed, clothed, and given what they needed to do well. Danieal, according to the pictures in the report, was a clean, happy kid who was going to school and even riding horses while out in Arizona.
When her stepmother left, all of that went with her.
Once Daniel and the kids returned to Philly, he decided to give custody of the kids to his ex-wife’s mother and took off, never to be seen again. Since the grandmother was ill and couldn’t care for the children alone, Andrea came back into the picture.
Philly’s Department of Health and Human Services came began receiving calls about Danieal in 2003. Each time, the case was closed twice because DHS found the allegations of neglect unsubstantiated. Finally in 2005, they gave the responsibility of making sure that Danieal got what she needed to a private company.
Between the social worker who had Danieal’s file at the bottom of a box filled with fast food wrappers and other papers, the private company who was supposed to check on her and didn’t, and the DHS supervisor that was supposed to make sure that the private company was doing its job but didn’t, nothing was done. Danieal wasn’t put in school. She didn’t get the medical treatment she needed. Nothing.
And she also wasn’t getting much food or water. Andrea wasn’t fond of changing diapers, so she kept Danieal’s food and water intake to a minimum. In fact, this kid stayed in bed in a hot room in a roach-infested apartment most days, in some cases with a coat on.
By the time that I got to the section of the grand jury report that detailed this child’s last days, I was looking for someone to hit. You tend to want to hit people who deny a child water when she cries for it. You want to hit people who won’t allow a brother to call an amublance for his dying sister in hopes of saving her life.
You want to hit someone who won’t summon their friend, a health aide, to the house until she’s sure the child is dead. You want to hit someone who would let maggots congregate in that child’s bedsores as a result of not contacting someone and letting them know she was gone.
The feeling of anger tends to overwhelm. I don’t go around condemning anyone for their circumstances, but some shit is basic common sense. But as a friend of mine often tells me, common sense isn’t always common.
Although going vigilante on these folks would have made me personally feel better, Philadelphia is lucky in that we have our own Dark Knight right here in the DA’s office. Her name is Lynne Abraham and while I generally don’t agree with her on much, when she charged nine people with Danieal Kelly’s death I wanted to shake her hand.
Here’s who is looking at some serious legal wrath:
Mom: Andrea Kelly. She got indicted for murder and related offenses.
Dad: Daniel Kelly. He got indicted for child endangerment, although a charge of making dads look like shit should be included.
Caseworker: Julius Murray. He was the caseworker assigned from MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, the private agency that DHS had contracted with to take care of Danieal. He got charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, forgery, tampering with public records, conspiracy, and related offenses because he and…..
Case supervisor and MultiEthnic founder Mickal Kamuvaka had what the Grand Jury Report calls a “forgery party” to cover their asses on this one. He’s up on involuntary manslaughter, forgery, conspiracy, perjury, and other charges.
And last but not least…
DHS Case worker Dana Poindexter, he of the unique filing system. He got charged with child endangerment, reckless endangerment, and perjury. (There seemed to be a lot of that going around.)
DHS Case worker Laura Sommerer. She’s charged with child endangerment and reckless endangerment for not making sure that MultiEthnic Behavioral Health was doing its job in this case.
Three of Andrea Kelly’s friends, Andrea Miles, Marie Moses, and Diamond Brantley were indicted on perjury charges for telling the Grand Jury that Danieal was fine and eating well before she died.
To say that they were lying their asses off was an understatement.
Seven other DHS officials, including some folks with more than 30 years in the social work biz, have also been suspended for not doing their job as supervisors and Mayor Michael Nutter said in a public forum, and I’m paraphrasing, if it had been his kid, he’d have kicked their asses himself.
While I appreciate the fact that he’s angry enough to commit assault on Danieal’s behalf, Mayor Nutter would do a little better by her memory by ensuring that no other child under the city’s care knows the pain of dying this way.
Everyone says “Never Again” when really atrocious shit happens. It would be nice if it was backed up for once.
If you want to check out the grand jury report, here’s the link: http://media.philly.com/documents/Grand_Jury_DHS_new.pdf