After Baby Dies in Foster Care, Biological Family Wants Answers

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SACRAMENTO — A Sacramento family is demanding answers from CPS after their infant son, taken into protective custody following allegations of abuse, died in foster care.

“The next thing we know, my little boy is on life support, and then he’s dead,” Clifford Smith said.

They showed FOX40 a video of 3-month-old Jonathan, who was wide eyed and murmuring to his biological other on Friday during a visitation. It was the last time they say their son, a twin, alive.

“Why weren’t my kids properly taken care of? Why did this happen to my son? They won’t give us a straight answer,” Smith said.

“Why did this happen to him on Sunday morning and they didn’t call us until Monday?” Kristina Fleshman, the boy’s mother, said.

CPS told FOX40 they could not comment on why Jonathan was placed in protective custody because of confidentiality laws protecting the rights of juveniles. However, they did confirm that Jonathan died while in foster care.

However, court documents obtained by FOX40 state his biological parents, Fleshman and Smith, failed to supervise and protect Jonathan from abuse and neglect. His parents argue that he never should have been taken away in the first place, because the injuries the courts are concerned about are minor, and occurred accidentally, while they were feeding him.

They say Jonathan and his twin sister Viola were diagnosed with gastro reflux disease, or GERD. The condition is common and makes it difficult for babies to digest food. They say they took him to the hospital for GERD-related issues the first time, and while feeding him at the hospital, Jonathan reared his head back and bumped it on the gurney rail of the hospital bed. They say the second time, Fleshman was feeding Jonathan at home, when one of their older children slid past them, accidentally bumping his mother’s arm while the bottle was in Jonathan’s mouth, resulting in a cut under Jonathan’s tongue.

Smith said as soon as he saw blood in his son’s mouth, he rushed him to the hospital again.

“I didn’t even have shoes on. I ran him to the hospital because I thought it was the right thing to do,” Smith said.

A CPS hearing report includes testimony from a doctor that examined Jonathan’s injures. It stated in part, “the bruising on Jonathan’s head was ever so slightly blueish-red,” and that he “cannot buy the dad’s story.” It said Jonathan’s injuries “could have occurred due to forceful squeezing of the child by a hand,” and that “the pattern of bruising looked like the child was palmed.”

But later on in the documents, another testimony from the doctor stated he consulted with a colleague at the hospital and that “neither could definitively rationalize how the bruises occurred,” saying of Smith’s story about the bottle they “agreed the scenario […] could have caused a tear in the frendulum,” and also that while they were still concerned the children in the home could be at risk of abuse, “agreed it would be reasonable to reunify the children with their parents under supervision.”

Smith said it wasn’t until after their son was pronounced brain dead, that the court told them Jonathan was supposed to come back home with them.

“If not Wednesday, by Friday, of last week they were supposed to be returned to us,” Smith said.

But three days later, court documents state: “the foster parents stated Jonathan appeared blue after being put down to sleep after feeding and was listless.”

Jonathan was taken to Rideout Hospital Sunday morning unresponsive. His parents say he was revived and then airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center that afternoon. They say they were not notified that their son was in critical condition until Monday morning.

Court documents indicated that once social workers were notified of the gravity of Jonathan’s condition, they contacted his biological parents.

Fleshman says doctors told them Jonathan was brain dead and they had to make the decision to take him off life support.

“We want answers and we’re not getting them,” Smith said.

His parents fear that Jonathan’s foster parents may have laid him down the wrong way to sleep after a feeding and that the infants formula came up in his stomach due to GERD, choking him. They say the foster parents were made aware of the special care Jonathan needed, that he was supposed to stay upright for at least one hour after feeding, and that the foster parents wanted to consult a pediatrician about taking him off the medicine he was prescribed because they thought he was doing better while feeding lately.

As his parents await the results of an autopsy, Jonathan’s twin sister Viola, and their two older children who were taken into protective custody at the same time, remain in other foster homes.

“I just want them back home where they belong,” Fleshman said.

“Those are our jewels, our legacy, our future. Why would I abuse a child?” Smith said.

They say their children should not be with strangers. That their son was the safest in their hands.

“He’s in God’s hands now,” Smith said.

CPS stated they would release Jonathan’s case files if his death was deemed the result of negligence. Here is the full statement from CPS:

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of this child. While we understand the public’s concern in this tragedy, California law dictates the process that government agencies use to respond to the public’s interest in a child’s death and prescribes the information that can be disclosed. The laws governing confidentiality of juvenile case information are not there to protect or shield the child welfare agency from public view, but to protect the confidentiality interest of the children involved. For now, because this child was in foster care at the time of the child’s passing, we can disclose in accordance with Part A of WIC section 10850.4 and Government Code section 6252.6, the name of the child, date of birth and date of death.

Name: Jonathan Smith
Date of Birth: 04/26/17
Date of Death: 08/14/17

“The law prohibits us from releasing any other information pertaining to this child until a determination is made by a law enforcement agency, county coroner, or the child welfare agency that abuse or neglect was a major contributing factor in the child’s death.

“Upon such a determination, the law permits us to release specific types of documents in CPS possession in response to a Public Records Act request, such as history of referrals to CPS, healthcare records, and copies of police reports that are pertinent to the child’s death. The law also requires us to redact names, addresses, telephone numbers, ethnicity, religion, and any other identifying information of any person or institution (other than the county or the State Department of Social Services) that is mentioned in the documents. The release of any documents can occur only after the prosecutor reviews them to ensure that their release will not jeopardize a criminal investigation or proceeding.”

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