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In Loving Memory of Braxton Taylor Murdered in Foster Care Aged 10 months old

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Lukes Dad's picture
on Mon, 08/13/2012 - 14:44
Fight Child Protection Department Corruption: 

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything—Albert Einstein

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our family and the FitzPatrick family accept the fact that Kathleen Ganiere murdered our child, but Virginia Beach Department of Human Services (VBDHS), through indifference, apathy, and lack of action aided in the perpetuation of an environment that was unstable and hazardous for Braxton Taylor while in the supposed care of Kathleen Ganiere. This enabled Ganiere to deceive officials and continue her calculated reign of terror to completion and ultimately infanticide. When VBDHS transferred Braxton to the home of Kathleen Ganiere and Brian Kezer a sequence of tragic events were set into motion.

To begin with, VBDHS gave Braxton to people who were unfit to care for him. Kathleen Ganiere obviously had psychiatric problems. Equally as obvious was the fact that Brian Kezar was not invested in Braxton’s care, as evidenced by Kezer’s lack of initiative to attend training conducted by VBDHS. This training is expected of ne foster parents, but VBDHS allowed him to opt out.

The warning signs were there early, as early as November 18, 2009, only 9 days after his transfer.

Although the abuse allegedly started in January, the weight loss had to have started much earlier. At his 6 month well baby checkup, his weight was in the 77th percentile and at death he was in the 5th percentile. It would take longer than a few weeks to lose that much weight. Tamara Scurry, who was supposed to be familiar with Braxton, should have noticed the weight loss. Scurry should have also noticed that he looked sad, desperate and despondent, as though his spirit had been broken. That, without any other signs should have alerted any caring and competent social worker that something was terribly wrong. This social worker’s passive rapport and willingness to accept Ganiere’s manipulative and implausible excuses disabled this social worker from being able to serve as an effective advocate for Braxton, thereby rendering her incapable of making informed decisions regarding Braxton’s care. In other words, Ganiere was deceptive on many occasions and VBDHS was receptive to her lies. The tragic chain of events was still in motion with Braxton moving toward a tortuous death. Here was a defenseless baby whose only defense was supposedly VBDHS, yet they were incapable of protecting him.

The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) report claims there were no clear cut individuals who were to blame for his death. I strongly disagree. There were at least 2 opportunities to save him and stop the chain of events. Even my daughter, a drug addict, had the common sense to recognize the abuse. She reported bruises on his head. This was her first and only visit with Braxton, yet she noticed something was wrong. She had not seen him since his birth. The social worker, who had routinely seen him through his all too brief life, did not even recognize the apparent decline in his condition. The CWLA report did not mention this nor did it mention the second opportunity the social worker had to change the course of events. The report did not tell about the last picture taken of Braxton by this social worker, when she made her final home visit on February 4, 2010, only 3 days prior to Braxton’s death. The social worker told investigators at the time of death that she had concerns on that visit regarding Braxton’s appearance. Kathleen Ganiere explained it away by claiming that Braxton slept with his eyes opened. The DA questioned Sarah FitzPatrick regarding this. When unable to describe the appearance of his eyes, the DA showed Sarah the picture. The description of this image by Sarah portrays a child in the process of dying. In actuality, he was to the point of coma, his eyes fixed, dilated and wide open. He was extremely dehydrated, with severely cracked lips. Ganiere once again responded with an implausible claim that his lips cracking were the result of teething. Once again the gullible social worker believed Ganiere’s story. Would such an unobservant social worker even realize if he wasn’t breathing? At that point, Braxton was close enough to death to die at any moment. I have to believe that any properly trained DHS employee should have realized the severity of his condition and that he needed to go to the ER. Don’t you think you would have recognized the signs of such urgent need for treatment? The social worker could have asked Ganiere to seek medical treatment for Braxton or she could have called EMS herself. Imagine how scared and hopeless Braxton must have felt. His last hope walked out the door without taking any action. I have not seen this picture myself, because the files were sealed. Maybe you can arrange to see this picture and decide for yourself if a knowledgeable, competent social worker should have known and decide if she had the intelligence and good judgment to perform her job effectively. We certainly do not think so.

Someone also needs to look at Brian Kezer again. He told Detective Jones and testified in court that he came home late on February 5th and only briefly saw Braxton. Yet, he told VBDHS staff that he stayed with Braxton 2 ½ hours, bathing him yet claiming not to have seen any bruising. I saw the bruises two days later, when Braxton was on life support. The bruises extended from the inguinal area, up to his left side, about waist high and halfway across his abdomen. The bruises extended down his left leg, almost to his knee. They were yellow in coloration, because he was injured earlier in the week. Brian Kezer reported in his own words that Braxton was “not the same child” he had left a week earlier. Kezer said Braxton was unable to sit up and “was not aware of his surroundings.” Kezer said that during that time he spent with Braxton that evening, that Braxton “shook like a vibrator” off and on during the 2 ½ hours. What concerned parent would not take a child to the ER, if they were behaving this way? Should he not at least be charged with neglect? Brian Kezer could have stopped the chain of events had he chosen to, but he was detached, untrained and obviously had no objectivity when it came to his disturbed wife. He was untrained and detached because VBDHS allowed it.

We were heartbroken that we couldn’t take Braxton, but Cheryl William assured me that he would be safe and well taken care of. We thought as long as he would not with his birth parents he would be safe, not realizing that the ones we needed to worry about were the ones who were supposed to care for Braxton—the foster parents and VBDHS. The FitzPatricks hoped Braxton could find a forever family. Sarah tried to reach out to Kathleen Ganiere to be mentor. As documented by e-mails, Sarah repeatedly requested to communicate with the new foster mother to give her advice about feeding a child with reflux. VBDHS would not allow it. Sarah would have recognized the difference in Braxton if allowed contact. Our families put our trust in VBDHS. They failed us and most importantly, they failed Braxton, a precious, defenseless child. He should be thriving, playing on the beach and enjoying life. He is not because of the incompetence of VBDHS and the viciousness of a depraved woman. Your DHS obviously had problems prior to Braxton coming under their care and obviously continues to have serious problems today, as evidenced by the reports.

Before Braxton died, he waited for someone to do the right thing. He was entitled to at least the bare minimum of acceptable care. After leaving the Fitzpatrick family, he did not receive that—not from Kathleen Ganiere, not from Brian Kezer and not from VBDHS. He was dependent upon the caregivers and he was dependent upon VBDHS to oversee the standard of his care. He deserved his constitutional right to life and the ability to live that life without fear of abuse. Yet it was the caregivers, Tamara Scurry, her supervisor Cheryl Williams and Director Robert Morin who we needed to worry about.

When Kathleen Ganiere was arrested we had hopes for justice, but she plead guilty and is now only serving a 10 year sentence for killing a baby. I am sure VBDHS officials breathed a sigh of relief. They thought without a trial, their incompetence would not be exposed. If not for the persistence of Braxton’s families and the media coverage, it would continue to be hidden today. We thought when almost everything was made public, someone would the right thing. We are still waiting. Braxton is still waiting. The citizens of Virginia Beach are still waiting for someone to do the right thing. We live in Eden, NC and know the Virginia Beach residents are crying out for justice. It is time to act. The people involved need to be held accountable and terminated (not reassigned). I am concerned for other vulnerable populations Scurry oversees now. What will it take for you to realize these people under your watch are liabilities? Will it take another innocent’s death? This agency is “in crisis” and our families have experienced the harshness of this crises for 2 ½ years.

Betty Easter

Braxton’s Grandmother

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Lukes Dad's picture

For weeks, the foster mother responsible for 10-month-old Braxton Taylor tortured him – cutting his lip, nearly ripping his tongue from his mouth and crushing his testicles before shaking him to death, according to court documents.

But none of that information would matter in the wrongful-death lawsuit brought for his birth parents, attorney Robert Haddad said Friday.

That's why he withdrew that suit and this week substituted a different kind of lawsuit, known as a survival action, on behalf of Braxton. It will allow jurors to hear extensive evidence about the abuse Braxton suffered and ask them to award damages accordingly, Haddad said.

A wrongful-death suit asks jurors to compensate a deceased person's beneficiaries – typically family members – for the person's loss, taking into consideration their loss of companionship, lost income from the deceased and funeral expenses. How the person died isn't weighed, Haddad said.

Braxton's parents did not have custody of the infant, in part because his mother had struggled with drug use, according to court records.

The new lawsuit takes them out of the equation, instead asking jurors to compensate Braxton for his suffering and death, Haddad said. It seeks $4.6 million from the city, Human Services Director Bob Morin and two other Human Services employees.

"The city attorney I'm sure would have put Mom and Dad on trial and would have tried to paint them in as bad a light as possible," Haddad said. "In a claim for Braxton, that's not relevant."

If the suit succeeds, the money would go to Braxton's estate, administered by attorney B. Cullen Gibson. She and the court would decide what to do with the money. Some likely would go to Braxton's parents, Haddad said. Some also could go to charity.

The suit claims the Department of Human Services, which oversees the city's foster care program, failed to investigate, train and supervise Braxton's foster parents and ignored evidence that foster mother Kathleen Ganiere was abusing him.

She is serving a 10-year prison sentence for voluntary manslaughter in the infant's Feb. 6, 2010 death.

Morin has said his department "could have done more" to save Braxton. Braxton's mother reported that he was being abused, and a Human Services employee checked on him a few days before his death, noting suspicious bruises and that his development had regressed, according to the suit.

In response to a critical state review, the department has outlined a plan for overhauling its Child Welfare Division, including adding staff and changing the training curriculum for prospective foster parents.

A city attorney provided with a copy of the suit did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.

Haddad said he hopes the lawsuit will inspire changes that may save children like Braxton in the future.

"What we're trying to accomplish is to get as much information as we can," he said, "and hold everyone's feet to the fire so this doesn't happen again."

Kathy Adams,

hamptonroads.com

Lukes Dad's picture

VIRGINIA BEACH--The City of Virginia Beach has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle a lawsuit in the death Braxton Taylor, who died while in foster care in 2010.

Braxton was 10 months old when he died from shaken baby syndrome, a day after being rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Braxton's foster mother, Kathleen Ganiere, was initially charged with murder, and later pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November 2011.

The settlement was reached Friday, Feb. 15, after several hours of mediation. The City Council was briefed on the settlement, and it will be presented to a Circuit Court judge for final approval. No court date has been set.

If approved by the court, about $170,000 of the settlement proceeds will be put into a trust fund for Braxton Taylor’s brothers and sisters. His biological father, Ralph Taylor Jr., will receive $75,000, and his biological mother, Kristen Wall, will receive $50,000 of the proceeds. The remainder will go to legal fees and expenses.

“We were all deeply saddened by Braxton Taylor’s death,” City Attorney Mark Stiles said. “The abuse he suffered was heartbreaking. It remains unthinkable to us that a foster mother would commit a homicidal act against an innocent child.”

The city says it has made major changes to its child welfare programs after Braxton's death, including improved screening and training for prospective foster parents, weekly face-to-face visits by child welfare workers with young foster children, increased staff training for injury recognition, and increased involvement by Child Protective Services in suspicious cases.

“We have learned from this tragedy,” said Deputy City Manager Cindy Curtis, “and we have made permanent changes as a result. I am confident that these changes will better serve at-risk children and their families.”

wvec.com