CBS47 INVESTIGATES: Discrepancies found in CPS records after 8-year-old’s death

CBS47 Investigates

FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – CBS47 obtained a 104-page document from the Department of Social Services detailing the death of eight-year-old Jae Luv Smith.

He died in in April while in the care of his guardians. They were arrested and have been charged in his death.

Our investigation reveals there were dozens of calls into the child abuse hotline and two case investigations into the family before his death.

This is the first we’re learning about what happened to Jae Luv Smith and we want to warn you some of these details can be hard to hear. The department in charge of investigating child abuse is admitting discrepancies were found in this case as we take a hard look at their policies.

Through a Public Record Request, we received documents that confirm Jae Luv Smith died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen.

Ligature marks were found on Jae Luv’s wrists, ankles, and neck. His skin was damaged so badly that new tissue couldn’t form and a detective compared the feel of his skin to that of an elephant’s.  A BB was found lodged in his left thigh and there were signs of multiple healed fractures.

Details from inside the home only surfaced after Jae Luv died.

There were two other minors in the home interviewed by Department of Child Welfare Services.

One of them stated Jae Luv “likes to move when he’s being hit with the belt, so dad ties him up first.”

On the day Jae Luv died, a minor who lived in the home told investigators Jae Luv “got a whooping because he was asking for food” and that “it sounded like a board” then “demonstrated by hitting a chair loudly several times.”

“I hurt for him, his family, and our community,” Tricia Gonzalez, Child Welfare Services Director said. “And anytime something like this happens we go back and look at our involvement.”

We decided to do the same. We found 75 labels of previous ‘referral history.’ Some information was redacted so we don’t know who made the phone calls or when. Of those phone calls, two were investigated, one in 2016 and one in 2020.

“We make a determination whether that’s just documented in our system as a referral, or we do an investigation,” Gonzalez explained.

The first investigation in 2016 was the result of a call reporting possible physical abuse. The caller reported during a Facetime call they heard “a loud pop” “and minor was crying.” The reporting party also says the grandmother who lived with the family allegedly saw a minor “pushed to the ground.”

An assessment stated the abuse risk level was “high.”

“Generally, if it’s high, it’s going to be something we look at, is there a way to mitigate that risk, so just going deeper into it,” Gonzalez said.

But no follow-up is documented in the case history. There is no protocol or policy that requires follow-up when the risk level is high or very high. This means it’s up to the social worker’s discretion if they decide to go deeper.

There is also no record of contact with the grandmother who allegedly knew of abuse.

We asked if it’s required for a social worker to follow up with people who are mentioned who may know of abuse happening in the household.

“It’s not, they don’t have to, but it’s best practices to,” Gonzalez said.

Again, it’s up to the social worker.

In 2020, a year before Jae Luv’s death, another investigation is on record. This time it was reported by a mandated reporter. A mandated reporter could mean a doctor, a police officer, or a teacher.

The person reported the minor’s “right hand was swollen and couldn’t see his knuckles.”

“The minor told the school principal he was hit with a hanger.”

He was “absent on Tuesday but today he was limping and the top of his left foot is black and blue.”

A social worker interviewed Jae Luv’s guardians. According to the case worker’s report, the guardian said “he is very manipulative and has anger issues” discussing Jae Luv’s behavior.

The social worker concludes “the allegations of physical abuse is unfounded because the marks/bruises are caused by his behavior and not by his guardians.”

The abuse risk level dropped from high to moderate.

“It does seem there are some inconsistencies for sure,” Gonzalez said.

Inconsistencies that failed to raise a red flag.

In 2016, there were records of three prior investigations. But in 2020, that had been reduced to one prior investigation. We confirmed it is a social worker putting in this information.

Gonzalez says this likely changed the abuse risk level from high to moderate. We also discovered none of the children living in the home were ever interviewed alone. In both the 2016 and 2020 reports, the guardian asks to be present when the social worker is interviewing the children.

We asked Gonzalez if it’s typical protocol for a child to be interviewed in front of the alleged abuser.

“Best practices when it comes to interviewing kids in front of their alleged perpetrators, its not what we like to do but parents have their rights.”

The social worker has rights too. They are legally allowed to talk to a child on neutral ground at school or they can obtain a court order. But neither of those happened in Jae Luv’s case.

“For us to go get a court order for every situation would just- the courts would not appreciate it- because of the amount of times we would have to do that,” Gonzalez said.

It’s another decision that falls on the social worker. The only time the public is able to access the work of Child Welfare Services is after a child dies from the alleged abuse.

The guardians are identified as Patrick and Crystal Johnson. Patrick is charged with murder. Crystal is charged with child abuse with infliction of great bodily injury and corporal injury to a child.

We are not done with this story. We will be involving our local leaders to review the policies meant to protect our children.

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