Felony charges against two Wayne County social workers charged in connection with the death of a 3-year-old Detroit boy were dismissed Thursday by a Detroit judge.
Judge Kenneth King, of Detroit’s 36th District Court, said there was “insufficient evidence” to bring the case to trial.
“I’m not in the business of doing what’s popular. I want to do what’s right,” King said in making his ruling.
Elaina Brown, 24, and Kelly M. Williams, 47, both Wayne County residents, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree child abuse, both felonies. Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and a conviction on second-degree child abuse could result in a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
The misdemeanor charge of neglect of duty remains and a Jan. 12 pretrial hearing was scheduled to hear arguments on the remaining charge. Their lawyers hope to have those charges dropped as well.
The case centered around the question of whether Brown and Williams were derelict in their duties in following up and investigating a Children’s Protective Services complaint by a mental health agency in April that the boy’s mother, Deana Minor, was not taking medication prescribed to her for mental illness.
Prosecutors had alleged that Brown and Williams ignored ongoing reports that Deanna Minor was becoming more incapable of caring for her son due to mental illness and that the child, Aaron Minor, was becoming more at risk of being harmed due to his mother’s “deteriorating” mental health.
King said he doesn’t believe Brown’s actions contributed to the boy’s death, saying she did her job “to the T,” and everything that was required” in investigating Deanna Minor.
Citing the child’s autopsy report, King said “we don’t know how (the child) died."
Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy plans a possible appeal: “The office is reviewing the court’s decision for a possible appeal of the court’s decision regarding the felony counts,” according to a statement released Thursday following King’s ruling.
Brown and Williams did not comment but flashed beaming smiles and hugged their supporters, who packed the courtroom during the preliminary examination hearings held in mid-December and this week.
Attorney Darryl Eason and Timothy McDaniel, who represented Brown, said King did the right thing.
“It’s a stretch ... all of these charges,” McDaniel said Thursday following the dismissal. “The evidence trial shows they did their jobs.”
Deanna Kelly, who represented Williams, said the case has had “a chilling effect” on social workers in Michigan and across the state.
Deanna Minor has also been charged in her son’s death. She was ruled incompetent to stand trial. She was arrested Aug. 4 and charged with felony murder, second-degree murder, first- and second-degree child abuse and failure to report a dead body.
The women also failed to develop a safety plan and monitor the well-being of the child, according to the prosecutor’s office.
But King didn’t see it that way. He said Brown did her checklist and went to the mother’s house and investigated the CPS complaint thoroughly. King added that he didn’t know why Williams was charged at all. The judge said the two women could not have “foreseen” the boy’s death.
Brown has been with the department since 2015 and Williams since 1995
Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Carin Goldfarb said Wednesday in her arguments to have Brown and Williams bound over for trial that they were required to assess the child.
“(Brown and Williams) were not only responsible for monitoring the child but also removing the child,” said Goldfarb Wednesday in asking King to order the two women to trial. “They cannot put it on police or anyone else. They got the information and did nothing.”
On Wednesday, Tracy McCall, a program manager for the mental health agency which treated Deanna Minor, said she would not have called CPS about Minor not taking her medication “if I didn’t have concerns” about the mother’s “declining” mental health and her ability to care for her young son.
McCall admitted she did not observe that the child appeared to have been physically abused when she went to the house during her meetings with the mother in 2016. She made the initial report and then followed up with “concerns” about Deana Minor’s deteriorating mental health and ability to care for her young son.
McCall testified Wednesday that Brown told her during a phone call that “she could see something was not right (with the mother) but she had no grounds for removal” of the 3-year-old boy.
The women remain on paid leave, state officials said Thursday, with misdemeanor charges pending.
Bob Wheaton, DHHS spokesman, said the department appreciates the judge’s consideration of the facts in the case and the decision to dismiss the felony charges.
“MDHHS employees are committed to protecting vulnerable children from abuse and neglect. Children’s Protective Services staff have difficult jobs and care about children,” Wheaton said.