FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Shortly after Tamiyah Audain’s 12th birthday, the severely autistic girl who never spoke a word, died. After a lengthy investigation, police said her death appeared to be abuse or even torture. On Wednesday, four women — including Audain’s caregiver, a ChildNet employee and two psychologists — were charged in connection with her death.
Lauderhill Police Sergeant Atina Johnson, who relentlessly worked the case after Audain died in September 2013, said that in December 2013 Audain weighed 115 pounds. When the child died, Johnson said the girl weighed just 56 pounds. Investigators said Audain, who suffered from a debilitating disease called tuberous sclerosis, developed bed sores that went to the bone and wasn’t properly cared for. Audain was placed in the custody of her cousin, Latoya Patterson, by child welfare workers after Tamiyah’s mother died.
“Had she received medical care and medical attention, she obviously would not have died,” Johnson said. “If she was being fed properly, she would not have passed away.”
Johnson said what made matters worse, Tamiyah couldn’t speak to verbalize her anguish.
“She would have suffered,” Johnson said. “It would have been painful.”
Lauderhill Police said not only did Patterson isolate the child and neglect her, amounting to a type of “torture”, but JabethMoye — a Childnet employee overseeing Audain’s case — did not raise a red flag about the girl’s condition. Investigators said Moye did not follow-up on concerns that Tamiyah was being abused, was not attending school and was not seeing a doctor.
“None of her reports ever indicated that something was going awry in the household,” Johnson said. “Based on her reports, everyone was grandiose, which obviously was not the case.”
Police said two psychologists, Juliana Gerena and Helen Richardson, failed to report what they should have realized was suspected abuse.
“They indicated that Tamiyah’s condition was fair to poor,” Johnson explained. “That she had very poor hygiene and based on some of the information that was contained in the report, it almost appeared as if they should have known or would have known that abuse or neglect was playing a factor in her condition.”
Patterson is charged with murder, Moye is charged with child neglect and Gerena and Richardson are charged with failing to report the abuse. Patterson’s attorney said her client was caring for Tamiyah on a temporary basis and asked for help but did not get it.
“She said that she was overwhelmed and she asked for services over and over again and services were not provided to help her out with the situation,” said attorney Nadine Girault Levy.
Gerena and Richardson both walked out of jail Wednesday night on bond. Gerena refused to comment and Richardson would only say, “Not guilty,” when asked a question.
Gerena’s attorney, Todd Weicholz, said there was only one visit and a child protective worker was present.
“The ChildNet worker was there,” said Todd Weicholz. “The allegation that she is charged with a third degree felony and has spent over 24 hours in jail now for not reporting to ChildNet, who brought her there, that she’s possibly being abused, is absurd.”
Tamiyah’s grandfather, Willy Bryant, says he is trying to hold it together. He had his grand-daughter for a while, but says child welfare workers removed her from his home. He said that was a fatal mistake.
“It hurts. It really hurts,” said Bryant. “I do my best to keep from dropping tears. She probably would be here today if the state hadn’t swooped in and took them from the school and everything.”
Dr. Richard Gelles, of the University of Pennsylvania, is an expert in child welfare cases. He told CBS 4 News that charging medical professionals with failing to report abuse is extremely rare. He also said he doubts the arrests will result in meaningful change.
“The state of Florida seems to be immune to taking on serious reform,” he said.
As for Tamiyah Audain, Johnson said she deserved better and there were many people who missed warning signs that could have helped the child.
“You’re supposed to protect children,” Johnson said. “And with all of these professionals that were directly involved in her life, someone should have seen something was wrong here. No one reported anything.”