Suspect in I-90 Murder was given Custody of Baby Despite Conviction as Drug Dealer


http://blog. cleveland. com/metro/ 2010/05/post_ 288.html


By Harlan Spector, The Plain Dealer

May 13, 2010, 5:40AM

stephon davis.jpgView full sizeMarvin Fong / The Plain DealerStephon Davis, standing behind public defender Kathleen DeMetz, appears for his arraignment in Cleveland Municipal Court on April 14.CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cuyahoga County's child-welfare department helped convicted drug dealer Stephon Davis get custody of his infant son 12 days before an attack in which prosecutors say he robbed, beat and strangled a 28-year-old woman and dumped her body along Interstate 90.

Deborah Forkas, director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services, acknowledged the agency made mistakes after it handed Davis custody of the 10-month-old boy in March. A supervisor and an agency worker face discipline, she said.

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Though the department could not have anticipated the crime with which Davis is now charged, Forkas said, it failed to take into account his criminal background when it asked the juvenile court to approve custody.

Davis, 30, had been convicted in state and federal courts of drug trafficking.

And the child-welfare agency was unaware that he had been convicted in Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court at age 14 of slaying his aunt's boyfriend. The agency learned of the juvenile case after Davis was arrested in the April 5 killing of Angel Bradley-Crockett.

The agency also was unaware that about the same time Davis was getting custody of his son, other case workers were filing court papers in a case of a newborn believed to have been fathered by Davis, saying that he was a convicted drug trafficker and a drug addict, with a history of domestic violence.

The county in that case took custody of the baby in February because the mother abused crack and the baby was born with cocaine in his system. An agency worker wrote that her supervisor had heard that Davis was smoking drugs with the mother when her water broke.

"He told her to hit [the pipe] one more time and then dropped her off at the hospital," the case worker wrote.

Latesha Santos.jpgView full sizeCuyahoga County JailLatesha SantosIn the case of the 10-month-old, the agency was telling the court that Davis had enrolled in business school at Cleveland State University, he had completed parenting classes and he was raising a 6-year-old daughter. It said Davis should have custody of the baby.

"Dad feels empowered to care for his son," the agency wrote in February. "Dad has surrounded himself with family and community supports in becoming the legal guardian of this child. Dad has reported six months of sobriety."

An addiction counselor whom Davis was seeing as a condition of federal probation also told the agency that Davis was sober and able to parent, Forkas said.

Davis had served prison time for a 2004 federal cocaine-trafficking conviction. Forkas said the federal case alone should have disqualified Davis from receiving custody.

A person who has not been a custodial parent must be free of felony entanglements for 10 years before becoming eligible, she said. The oversight was the basis for worker discipline, she said. She declined to disclose the nature of the discipline.

The 10-month-old's mother is Latesha Santos, who is also charged with the murder and robbery of Bradley-Crockett. The county had taken custody of the baby after birth because Santos was drug addicted and in jail, according to court records. Davis filed for custody of the boy in November.

The case comes to light as the department faces heightened scrutiny over whether it's doing enough to protect children in high-risk situations. Some in the child-welfare and court systems question privately whether the agency is pushing harder to keep children with biological families or reunite them for economic reasons. The department has slashed millions from its budget and cut hundreds of workers the past two years.

County officials say the emphasis on reuniting families is not about money but is an accepted practice. The county in recent years has cut foster care placements by the thousands.

Forkas in April appointed an independent panel to review agency practices, after two mothers who had been involved with the department were charged with killing their children. In another case, two toddler boys were found starving in their mother's house in March, eight months after being reunited with the woman.

In the Davis cases, Forkas said the agency was unaware of two custody filings because there are two different mothers and Davis' name was entered into a state computer system with different spellings.

"There was no way for us to know that we had two cases open," said Forkas. She said the state database that went online in 2008 is difficult to work with.

Juvenile Court Judge Kristin Sweeney, who presided over both cases, said she could not comment because the cases remain open.

After Davis' arrest in the April slaying, the county returned to juvenile court and took emergency custody of the baby boy, who is now in foster care.

A lawyer for Davis and a court-appointed guardian for the baby did not return telephone calls.

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