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Exclusive: Father Of Deceased Boy Plans Lawsuit Against DCF, ChildNet

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CORAL SPRINGS (CBSMiami) – One year ago, 4-year-old AJ Hope was found dead in a Coral Springs apartment. The boy had been reunited with his mother by child welfare workers despite his mother’s ongoing mental health problems.

AJ’s father, Antwan tells CBS4 News in an exclusive interview that he is frustrated that he hasn’t received answers from the Department of Children and Families and plans to file a lawsuit on Tuesday against the agency on the one-year anniversary of his son’s death.

Watch Carey Codd’s report, click here.

“I am a father that loved his child with everything I have, everything I have,” Hope told CBS4’s Carey Codd. “This cannot go on no more.”

Hope has carried the burden and pain of losing his son AJ with him for a year without adequate explanation, he says, of what transpired inside a Coral Springs apartment last June 10. That is when investigators say AJ had an unsupervised visit with his mother, Destene Simmons, despite her history with the Department of Children and Families and her well documented mental health problems. Something went wrong and led to Simmons making a bizarre 911 call.

911:  911, what is your emergency?
Simmons:  Yeah, can you send someone to this address?
911:  What’s going on?
Simmons:  I just need someone to come to come out.
911:  Well what’s going on?  What’s the problem?

A year later, Antwon Hope and his family says those questions remain unanswered. No one has been arrested and Hope says DCF is not providing him any information.

Hope says he cannot point the finger directly at Simmons because he doesn’t have all the details about what happened but he says whoever killed his little boy needs to be held accountable.

“I do really want justice for that and it is surprising that justice has not yet came for it,” Hope said.

After AJ’s death, DCF’s decision to allow AJ to have an unsupervised visit with Simmons — even with her apparent improved behavior, according to child welfare workers — enraged the judge overseeing the case.

Antwan Hope’s attorney, Tim Vannatta, says AJ’s case is a clear failure for DCF.

“We feel that there was a failing on behalf of DCF and ChildNet and the workers involved by allowing this child back into the unsupervised care of his mother when clearly there was a long history of this problem,” Vannatta said.

After AJ died, CBS 4 reported that Simmons had involuntarily hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation three times, including after she was accused of trying to smother AJ with a pillow.

Antwan Hope says he played a major role in his son’s life and keeps his child’s memory alive through his ministry and gospel music career. Still, what he wants the most is to know how his boy died, what child welfare workers knew about it and he hopes that AJ’s death might help change a broken system.

“Tomorrow I have to go visit him at a grave,” Hope said. “I have no answers. I don’t have the answer to how did this happen or to where did it go wrong?”

CBS4 News tried to speak with Destene Simmons tonight…but we could not track her down.

We spoke with the Department of Children and Families as well as the Coral Springs Police Department. Both agencies told us they have active and ongoing investigations into AJ’s death.

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