By Rafael Olmeda, Sun Sentinel
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tamiyah Audain weighed 115 pounds when she was placed in the care of her mother’s cousin in Lauderhill in December 2012.
She left on September 25, 2013, in the back of a hearse. At 12 years old, she weighed just 56 pounds before her body surrendered to months of neglect that officials described as “torture.”
Through all her suffering, the autistic girl never spoke a single word.
It isn’t just her legal guardian who is being held responsible, as is so often the case in such tragedies. Rather, it is the rare instance in which experts, including a psychologist and case worker contracted by the state, are charged with contributing to her death.
Tamiyah’s cousin and three professionals — entrusted to make sure Tamiyah was receiving proper care — are facing criminal charges for allowing the girl to “linger, languish, and die,” according to a Broward (Fla.) Grand Jury indictment.
Latoya Patterson, the cousin, was ordered held without bond Wednesday by Broward County Judge John “Jay” Hurley, who declared the evidence against her so overwhelming that he didn’t feel he had the authority to let her out of jail.
Patterson, 33, was indicted Friday on charges of felony murder and aggravated child abuse. Others accused in the case were: former ChildNet case worker Jabeth Moye, charged with child neglect causing great bodily harm; psychologist Helen Richardson, charged with failing to report suspected child abuse; and Juliana Gerena, Richardson’s supervisor, also charged with failing to report the ongoing crime in the summer of 2013.
Patterson has at least one child of her own and was at the courthouse earlier Wednesday afternoon for a dependency hearing. Shackled and dressed in a dark blue jail jumpsuit, she stood before Hurley in person rather than by video, a rarity for defendants making their first appearance in court.
Prosecutor Kathleen Bogenschutz convinced Hurley that the evidence against Patterson was strong enough to justify holding her without bond.
Tamiyah’s mother, Constance Bryant, died in 2012 of complications from tuberous sclerosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on the brain, eyes, heart, kidney, skin, and lungs, according to the Washington D.C.-based Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance. The same disorder afflicted Tamiyah, whose autism was so severe she could not speak, dress herself, or eat independently.
After Bryant’s death, Tamiyah was placed with her grandparents for a while before she came to live with Patterson. The identity and whereabouts of Tamiyah’s father were not discussed at Wednesday’s hearing.
Tamiyah attended the Wingate Oaks Center in Fort Lauderdale for the rest of that school year, Bogenschutz said, but when classes resumed in August 2013, Tamiyah stayed home, often locked in her room, allowed out only for meals.
Bogenschutz said Patterson was deliberately trying to keep the child away from the prying eyes of the state Department of Children and Families, and those who did see her failed to sound any alarms that she was in danger.
According to a Lauderhill police report, Patterson gave “believable explanations” for Tamiyah’s state, which included bed sores so deep that one of them exposed bone. She had not been seen by a doctor since May 28, 2013, when she weighed just under 95 pounds.
The Broward Medical Examiner’s Office listed the cause of death as undetermined, but a pediatric neurologist from the University of Miami who specializes in tuberous sclerosis determined the disorder was not the cause of the child’s death.
“It is likely that she died from malnutrition and sepsis, as she had many open wounds and ulcers,” the doctor concluded, according to the police report.
Tamiyah’s death was preventable, Bogenschutz said, and Patterson was responsible for it.
Moye, working for ChildNet under a DCF contract, made multiple visits to Patterson’s home in 2013 and reported that Tamiyah was safe. ChildNet contacted Gerena and Associates to conduct an autism-related screening for the child. Richardson, the psychologist, conducted the screening, while her supervisor Gerena signed off on it. Neither warned authorities the child was in danger.
Defense lawyer Todd Weicholz, representing Gerena, said the charge against his client is “absurd” because had she alerted anyone to the child’s condition, it would have been ChildNet, the very agency that hired Gerena in the first place.
Assistant Public Defender Nadine Girault-Levy said her client, Patterson, repeatedly sought help in caring for the special needs child. “She was overwhelmed and she asked for services,” Girault-Levy said. She also said Patterson locked Tamiyah in her bedroom because the child would wake up at night and walk around the house unsupervised.
If convicted, Patterson faces life in prison. Moye faces up to 15 years, while Richardson and Gerena face a maximum of five years each. Hurley released Moye without bond Wednesday, while Richardson and Gerena each posted a $5,000 bond.
Future court dates for the four defendants have not been scheduled.
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