School reported abuse hours before child beaten, killed


Hours before 7-year-old Roderick "RJ" Arrington was beaten into a coma last week, officials at his school called the child welfare hotline to report suspicions of abuse at the boy's home.

But social workers never responded to Roundy Elementary on Nov. 28, and RJ went home. That was his last day of school.

That night, Las Vegas police said, the boy was severely beaten. He was hospitalized the next day and died Nov. 30, his brain swollen and his body riddled with open wounds and bruises from being whipped and pummeled.

Now top officials at the Clark County School District and the county Department of Family Services are looking closely at the incident to determine whether either agency could have done more to stop the abuse and save RJ's life.

The district is reviewing the case and interviewing involved Roundy staff members to determine whether the situation was properly handled, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has learned.

RJ apparently was uncomfortable while sitting in class and told officials he had been "spanked" by his parents. According to a police report, RJ was beaten with a paddle and whipped with a belt for lying about reading a Bible chapter the previous day.

But it's unclear exactly what RJ told his teacher or Roundy Principal John Haynal about the severity of his injuries, which might not have been visible. Haynal did not respond to calls seeking comment.

School officials are required to report possible abuse or neglect to authorities, and Las Vegas police concluded that administrators satisfied legal requirements when they called the child abuse hotline.

School district spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said protocol is to alert child welfare agents in these cases.

"Metro confirmed that protocol was followed," Fulkerson said, adding that police told the district not to talk about the case because "the stakes are too high."

"The Arrington investigation is still ongoing; therefore, I cannot discuss the case," said Las Vegas police Lt. James Weiskopf in an email.

Weiskopf's detectives were called after RJ was already dying in a hospital. But should administrators have immediately called police to investigate the matter, rather than letting the boy go home?

A memo from CCSD Superintendent Dwight Jones several months ago encouraged principals to be resourceful when dealing with possible abuse, especially when child welfare officials aren't responsive.

"It is usually more expedient to report such cases to school police, as school police officers are more accessible to take these reports," Jones wrote in the April 20 memo. "The District takes very seriously the obligations imposed by these Nevada statues and Clark County School District regulations."

But the district doesn't track how often schools submit tips to child protective services, and it's unclear how often those workers fail to respond.

Family Services, which handled nearly 30,000 suspected abuse calls in the first 10 months of this year, acknowledged in a statement that it received a call on Nov. 28 and is "conducting a complete review and investigation into this matter."

"That investigation will include a review of all policies and procedures related to the hotline and CPS and will consider whether those policies and procedures were appropriately followed in Roderick's case," the statement read. "No child should ever have to suffer the way Roderick did and the loss of any child's life is tragic."

A police report showed the boy suffered massive brain swelling and bruising over much of his body, including arms, abdomen, back, legs, thighs and buttocks, where he had open wounds.

Dina Palmer, 27, and Markiece Palmer, 34, have been charged with murder and multiple counts of child abuse, neglect or endangerment with substantial bodily harm.

Markiece Palmer told police that on Nov. 28, the same day RJ's school reported the abuse, he struck his stepson on the buttocks with a belt for not completing homework.

He said RJ then balled up his fists and "ran up on him," at which time he grabbed the child by the arms and shook him hard, the police report said.

Palmer said RJ then ran downstairs, slipped, hit his forehead on a table and fell backwards striking his head on the floor. After the boy took a bath, the stepfather put cocoa butter on his wounds, the report said.

RJ was found unresponsive in his bed the next morning. His mother called the family pastor before she called an ambulance, the report said.

The internal investigation at the school is expected to be completed in the next few days.

There may have already been changes in procedure at Roundy. On Thursday, a week after RJ was hospitalized, another student came to the school with visible bruises and blamed a parent.

In addition to calling child welfare authorities, administrators notified school police. Lt. Ken Young said the case was investigated and referred to Las Vegas police for follow-up. He also confirmed that Family Services was involved.

Details of the incident probably will remain closely guarded. Unlike RJ's case, most child abuse calls don't end in a death or an arrest.

"There's nothing I can say," Young said.

Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Trevon Milliard contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

 

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