Police, State Probe Maryland Foster Care Death

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BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Police Department homicide unit has taken over an investigation of the death of a 10-year-old boy at a home for medically fragile children because of the possibility that abuse he suffered six years ago played a role in his death.

Damaud Martin died July 2 after suffering cardiac arrest at a home run by LifeLine Inc. in Laurel, Maryland, where state inspectors had found significant problems with staffing, documents show. The state has removed the other 10 children living there, said the Maryland health secretary, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein.

The Anne Arundel County police began investigating Damaud’s death, but brought in Baltimore police after determining that there had been a “prior trauma abuse incident in Baltimore city.”

That incident occurred in January of 2008, when Damaud was hospitalized with severe brain trauma. Damaud’s mother, Tamekia Martin, was convicted of child abuse in May of 2009 after accepting an Alford plea, according to Damaud’s grandmother, Rosita Martin. That’s when a defendant maintains her innocence, but acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict her.

Rosita Martin said after Damaud was hospitalized, his 7-year-old sister, Sandoria, was placed in foster care.

The children were first taken into state custody in 2006, then placed in Rosita Martin’s home. The Department of Social Services returned the children to Tamekia Martin in November 2007, two months before Damaud’s hospitalization.

Baltimore Police spokesman Jeremy Silbert said Friday that the direction of the investigation into Damaud’s death will depend on the findings of the state medical examiner’s autopsy.

“If they do rule the death was the result of the incident that happened in Baltimore city, this will become a homicide,” Silbert said.

Rosita Martin said Friday that her daughter never abused her children.

“This is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever experienced. These were two sweet, innocent children and they robbed us,” Rosita Martin said of the Department of Social Services. “They robbed us of our happiness with them.”

She said the Department of Social Services notified the family Friday that Damaud had died. Brian Schleter, a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources, said the agency had been trying to contact Tamekia Martin since Damaud’s death, but could not immediately reach her.

Rosita Martin on Friday said she is devastated by her grandson’s death. She had become a licensed foster care provider after the children were first taken into state custody in 2006, and said she had been fighting ever since to keep the children in her care. She said she was never told where Damaud was living, and still does not know where her granddaughter lives. Rosita Martin said she has not seen her granddaughter since 2009.

“They stole them from us and wanted us to believe that they had a right to do this,” Rosita Martin said, tears streaming down her face. “I’ve been fighting diligently all day every day. Those children didn’t deserve any of this. He was such a sweet little one, a sweet little boy. And nobody got a chance to see his beauty.”

According to the Anne Arundel County Police report, Tamekia Martin’s parental rights had been terminated at the time of Damaud’s death. The Baltimore City Department of Social Services is listed as the boy’s legal guardian. Damaud had been in LifeLine’s care since Dec. 4, 2013.

Sharfstein said Damaud’s group home was inspected regularly by the state, and reviews this year indicated more significant problems than in the past. A survey by the state in February found that four of eight employees did not have documents to support the successful completion of training for the special needs of the children at the facility. A complaint was filed in May alleging neglect at the facility because of a youth’s bed sore. In June, the state noted inadequate staffing at the facility.

“In 2014, they began to have more significant violations, and those included problems with the care that they were providing and that led us to No. 1, intensify our oversight, No. 2, start a process of closing them and transitioning the youth,” Sharfstein said.

The facility indicated it would give up its license in September, and the remaining children were moved over the July 4 weekend.

LifeLine did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The Baltimore Sun first reported the boy’s death and previous problems with the facility.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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