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Estate of slain 5-year-old Cleveland girl sues Cuyahoga County child services agency

September 25, 2018

Estate of slain 5-year-old Cleveland girl sues Cuyahoga County child services agency

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The estate of 5-year-old Ta’Naejah McCloud on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services that claims the agency failed to properly investigate the girl’s reported abuse before she was beaten to death inside her home in 2017.

The girl’s mother, Tequila Crump, and Crump’s live-in girlfriend, Ursula Owens, were convicted and sentenced to prison for their roles in the girl’s death. The lawsuit says the death would have been prevented had social workers done their jobs and removed the girl from the home that had no bed for the girl to sleep in and was riddled with cockroaches.

Ta’Naejah’s death was among several child abuse cases in 2017 that sparked public outcries over the department’s handling of such cases. This summer, the county announced a series of reforms put in place after a panel-review of the case of 4-year-old Aniya Day-Garrett, whose death came after multiple DCFS investigations into claims of abuse.

Jay Deratany, a Chicago-based lawyer who has brought several lawsuits against child service agencies across the country, is lead attorney on the case. The downtown Cleveland law firm Obral, Silk & Associates will serve as local counsel. 

“There’s no way that little girl should have been in that home,” Deratanay told cleveland.com in a Tuesday-morning phone interview.

Prosecutors at the June trial of Crump and Owens used records, photographs and testimony to illustrate the bleak nature of the girl’s short life in Cleveland.

Owens’s teenage son, Rayvon Owens, testified that the girl didn’t have a bed or a pillow and slept on the floor of her bedroom in a house that was infested with cockroaches.

DCFS records showed the agency began getting calls in September 2016, shortly after Crump moved the girl to Cleveland from Virginia. They received a report that Ta’Naejah had been slapped in the face. A social worker, Kristina Quint, testified that she interviewed the girl as she sat on Crump’s lap and found no markings, so she closed the case.

Ta’Naejah was rushed to the hospital a month later with badly burned hands, and Quint was dispatched to investigate. Quint interviewed Ta’Naejah again as the girl sat in Owens’ lap, and Crump and Owens both told the same story about how she  burned herself in the bathtub after she played with the knobs and turned the water temperature too high.

Quint later went to the home but said she found no evidence that the girl was abused and the case was closed. When questioned by a prosecutor during trial, Quint said she never went to the faucet to test how hot the water actually got. She also never called the landlord of the house.

Another social worker was assigned to the family in early 2017 when they received reports of domestic violence in the home. That social worker, Ada Jackson, said she found no evidence to substantiate those claims but found that Ta’Naejah was extremely underweight. She gave the family Pediasure and a diet plan to get the girl’s weight back up.

Jackson went to the home on March 7, 2017 and found the girl had gained five pounds.

Ta’Naejah died 10 days later, after authorities said Owens attacked the girl for urinating on herself, then the two let her lay for 10 hours before taking her to the hospital, where she died of a brain bleed brought on by head trauma.

Police who responded to the home took photographs that showed the home was infested with cockroaches, had paint peeling off the walls, appeared to have had bed bugs at one point and was in disarray.

No social worker found the home to be inhabitable before the girl’s death, records show.

Deratanay represented the estate of a Chicago-area boy who died in 2011 when a non-profit agency contracted with that county’s child and family services agencies relinquished custody back to the boy’s biological mother after he had been hospitalized. A jury awarded the boy’s estate $45 million.

Deratanay said that Ta’Naejah’s case is similar to other cases around the country, where an agency fails to follow its own rules. 

“They’ve simply forgone their responsibilities,” Deratanay said. “They’ve violated their own rules.”

To comment on this story, please visit Tuesday’s crime and courts comments page.

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