CLARKSVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) took Lacreesha Hill’s children away on January 29, 2021. They said the reason was exposure to drugs and lack of supervision.
Da’Cari, then one year old, probably picked up a Percocet pill from the floor in the bathroom. Hill had been taking meds after having her tubes tied; she spilled the container and picked them up but apparently missed one. There were no illicit drugs found in the home and she tested negative for opioids.
Da’Cari’s Dad, Dominique Green, who does not live with them, was watching the kids while Lacreesha was working from home that day. Dad cleaned up a bit, then gave Da’Cari a shower and put him down for a nap. But his breathing became labored and he became unresponsive.
Hill called 911; when the ambulance arrived, Da’Cari was barely conscious with pinpoint pupils, a tell tale sign, so the EMT gave him a shot of Narcan. He started to come around.
He was taken to Tennova hospital in Clarksville, and then transferred to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Vanderbilt ran more tests; there was nothing else wrong with him.
His vitals on 1/30/21: “constitutional: well-developed, well-nourished, and in no distress…Pupils are equal, round, and reactive to light, breath sounds normal, no respiratory distress. He exhibits normal muscle tone, coordination normal, skin is warm and dry, no rash noted.”
Toxicology: “Patient’s UDS was presumptive positive for opiates. All other testing was negative. He was weaned from narcan at 3 AM and watched closely for change in mental status. SW (social worker) was consulted in setting of ingestion. They felt patient was stable to go home.”
Vanderbilt doctors concluded, rightly, that Da’Cari’s overdose was accidental. And the social workers thought he should go home. They felt no need to add more traumas for the family and decided to release the little boy. Both parents were home at the time Da’Cari picked up what looked like a piece of candy and ate it; the children were not neglected or abused; Mom was working. Dad didn’t notice. Things like that happen with young children.
Da’Cari recovered quickly and he should have gone home but DCS stepped in and took him, DaCayla, and La’Marah, 10, into custody. That turned out to be a death sentence for 6-month old DaCayla. A series of blunders, ineptitude, and deliberate delays by DCS over the next four months led to her death and never would never have happened if DCS had not wrongfully removed the kids in the first place.
“If DaCayla was alive she’d be one but she’s gone,” Hill said.
Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk has opened a homicide investigation but DCS will probably never be charged as accessory to murder, although they are certainly guilty. DCS took responsibility for DaCayla’s safety and failed miserably to provide it.
DCS forced itself into Hill’s home to “rescue” two toddlers and a ten-year old who didn’t need their help at all. They suffered months of trauma; the youngest child died. Hill is looking for a good lawyer.
The Case Against DCS
DCS never should have intervened in the first place. The parents did nothing wrong. In fact, faced with a medical emergency, they did everything right.
The department is quick to remove children and parents have to jump through lots of hoops to regain them. So while taking a child can, and did, take less than a day in this case, it can, and did take months for Hill to navigate the serpentine, opaque, and obstructionist procedures DCS placed in her way to get them back. One never made it home.
DCS caseworker Brooke Brooks took the children into custody at Tennova hospital in Clarksville on January 29, 2021. It’s DCS policy to try and place children with family members. Both maternal and paternal grandmothers live close to Hill. Hill’s Mom lives in Oak Grove, next to Fort Campbell but on the Kentucky side.
Green’s mom lives in Clarksville. Both were willing to take the children. Hill wanted them to go to her mother. Brooks, or more likely her boss, Heather Jeffries, nixed both those ideas. (See https://tntribune.com/dcs-internal-affairs-covered-up-dozens-of-complaints/)
DCS doesn’t often place children out of state. Tennessee doesn’t get the federal bounty if a Kentucky grandmother ends up adopting. Kentucky gets it. It can be $10,000 but is usually less.
Brooks placed three children with Hill’s sister, Teanna Arnold, 35, who lives in Antioch, more than an hour away to the South but in Tennessee. Arnold owns a nice big house and works fulltime as a nurse at Centennial Hospital in Nashville. She has two sons, young teens.
“I was going up there every day seeing the kids back and forth everyday when I got off work,” Hill said.
Tanga Lile, Dacayla and Da’Cari’s grandmother, told the Tribune she and Dominque Green often couldn’t visit the kids because Arnold’s work schedule cut into the 10 am-8 pm window DCS had allowed for visitation.
Arnold asked Brooks for a childcare voucher but she didn’t provide one so Hill sent her sister three money transfers to pay for it totaling $897 between March 16 and May 5. Hill told the Tribune that her sister left the toddlers at home with no adult in the house while she went to work. Arnold told her she had a neighbor, who checked in on them occasionally.
It bears repeating that Hill works from home and Dad was a regular babysitter. They had in place what DCS failed to provide once they took the children. It bears further repeating: DCS never should have taken the children in the first place. Once they did, the kids should have been closer to their Mom.
Once Brooks placed them at an inconvenient distance, she should have made sure the toddlers had childcare. DCS caseworkers never visited Arnold’s home after they were placed there.
“They took my children away and placed them with my sister. They gave me a parenting plan saying that it was supposed to get dismissed in April if I completed everything, which I did,” Hill told the Tribune.
That included a drug test, an Alcohol & Drug Education Program, and a mental assessment. Hill jumped through all those hoops while working fulltime and driving more than two hours every day to see her kids after she got off work.
“I did everything,” she repeated. Hill came to court with records showing she had done what DCS told her to do. “We complied with them. The case was supposed to be dismissed April 29th,” Hill said.
When Hill showed up in court to get “re-instated” as a Mom, Brooks wasn’t there. DCS Team Coordinator Karmen Davis was there instead.
Davis said they were not going through with the reunification because someone had reported the children were being abused and they had to investigate. When DCS thought Hill neglected the children they had them out of the home in a New York minute. Apparently, when they suspect abuse of foster children, they take their sweet time. DCS’s failure to return the children when promised proved to be a deadly delay for DaCayla.
“They really should have dismissed it. They didn’t follow their own protocol,” Hill said. Of all the lame excuses DCS could have made to delay the case, implying Hill had something to do with abusing the children is simply not credible. They hadn’t been living with their Mom since January 29, 2021.
Davis assigned a new caseworker, Akendra Patterson, who told Hill she couldn’t find Brook’s file on Hill’s case, so the custody hearing would have to be rescheduled anyway. Hill had to go through all the DCS “education” rigmarole again. Patterson assured Hill everything would be dismissed the next court date. It was just a matter of a few more weeks. But DaCayla didn’t have that much time.
“If they got a call for child abuse and had checked in on the kids, then my child would be alive right now,” Hill said.
Imagine what this forced exile was like for the children. Their Mom visits almost everyday but it just reinforces their separation anxiety because she’s not there 99% of the time. Imagine DaCayla crying inconsolably when her Mom leaves her. Imagine Aunt Teanna at her wits end trying to comfort her.
Peggy Gordon is the grandmother of Hill’s second oldest child. Gordon lives in Memphis. She took Malaysia, 6, to visit her cousins who were staying with their Aunt Teanna in Antioch. Gordon was there twice. But neither time was Aunt Teanna at home.
“It was evening time when I got there but Teanna wasn’t there. Gordon called her. “I told her I said ‘why are these kids at home by themselves?’”
Gordon said the two babies looked hungry. “They were not kept up. Their pampers were nasty,” she said. Gordon told Arnold’s boys to change their diapers and feed them. They gave them bottles. A week later Gordon came back to pick up Malaysia.
“Whenever I went there they were by themselves,” she said.
After several weeks with little or no childcare, imagine that one day Aunt Teanna arrives home from work and snaps. Shakes the baby to shut her up. It only takes a few seconds to do fatal damage.
Or imagine it was one of Arnold’s boys, children themselves, who didn’t change DaCayla’s poopy diaper and taped her mouth shut and put her in the washing machine because there was no adult in the house to stop them and they were tired of hearing her crying all the time.
We don’t know exactly what happened to DaCayla or when, but she arrived at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in a coma on May 19. She had a bruise on her forehead and blood in her eyes. The autopsy said DaCayla had suffered blunt force trauma.
She was on a breathing machine for five weeks and never came to. “The hospital wanted to make me take her off the plug,” Hill recalled. She wanted to do it at 4:44 pm because that was the time she was born. “She fought for a good minute but she passed at 5:13 pm,” Hill said.
DCS acted quickly and removed the remaining two children from Arnold’s house and placed them in a foster home on May 19. And for once, DCS showed some common sense and compassion. Caseworker Jamine Pena helped with the funeral and arranged for Da’Cari and 10-year old La’Marah to be placed with Tanga Lyle, Dominque’s Mom, in the second week of June. They stayed with her for seven months.
A Broken System
“I can’t even remember how many times I went to court. It was court date after court date and its’ still court date after court date,” Hill said. Juvenile Court Judge Tim Barnes finally dismissed the case and released the children into Hill’s custody on November 23.
DCS controls all that litigation. They change caseworkers frequently. Hill had four. Parents are not informed and cases get strung out because the original caseworker doesn’t show up in court to petition the judge to dismiss them. DCS forces parents to go through ‘educational” workshops. In Hill’s case they made her go through them twice.
DCS delays and ineptness are actually designed inefficiency to keep children in the system. Federal law requires states to file a motion to terminate parental rights if a child has been in foster care for 15 out of the previous 22 months unless there are compelling reasons not to file. The department’s foster care system requires fresh recruits and the federal rule helps DCS get them. Each one has a dollar sign on their back.
The Department of Children’s Services doesn’t play nice with children—or their parents—pretty ironic considering the department spent $900 million last year to provide “children’s services” to the state’s neediest children. Two were given a death sentence: DaCayla Green of Clarksville died in June and Vincent Carter of Chattanooga died in September 2021. Eight others met the same fate.
DCS spends much of its time and most of that money running a carceral system that preys on poor families by removing young children from their homes to feed a vast network of foster homes scattered across the state. It is an expensive system.
DCS’s budget goes up every year because they keep sweeping more children into custody. (See https://tntribune.com/dcs-by-the-numbers/)
Alabama gets better outcomes with a much smaller budget. DCS should look to neighboring states and measure success by spending its nearly $1 billion/yr. reducing the number of children in foster care instead of increasing it.
DCS started the Hill case in January 2021. They did not release the children to their Mom until November 2021. But DCS has not stopped hounding the Dad, Dominique Green.
DCS is prosecuting him in Montgomery County Circuit Court for aggravated child abuse and endangerment for a child under 8. He was served on November 9. It’s about Da’Cari’s accidental Percocet overdose back in January 2021.
It’s a malicious prosecution. DCS had to give the kids back to Hill but somebody has to pay and Green is a convenient scapegoat. It should be DCS in the dock instead to account for their role in DaCayla Green’s cruel and unnecessary death on June 16, 2021. Nobody’s holding them to account.