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Judge says Human Services 'directly responsible' for child's death during Donald Jean Scarlett's sentencing

6:15 PM, Apr 11, 2013   |    comments
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ADAMS COUNTY - An Adams County Judge says the county's Human Services are to blame for the death of 22-month-old Michael Harris, who died February of 2011 from injuries inflicted by his mother's boyfriend.

Judge Chris Melonakis said, "[Adams County Human Services] are directly responsible for the death of the child. Frankly somebody should be taking them in front of the grand jury."

Judge Melonakis added,  "Michael Harris never had a chance in life. As a system, we had an obligation to give him a chance in life. It's appalling the level of neglect from the state. It transcends the level of human decency."

Michael Harris was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend. According to court papers, she stood by and did nothing.

Harris' mom Roseanna Key has been sentenced to 16 years in prison on a count of negligent child abuse causing death.

Thursday, her boyfriend Donald Jean Scarlett, the man convicted of killing Harris was sentenced to 42 years in prison and a number of years of mandatory parole.

BLOG: Judge's tirade against child welfare caseworkers hits point

Punishment range is 16 to 48 years in prison. 

The report by the Colorado Department of Human Services, says Harris died of multiple injuries, including a skull fracture, bruising in his left ear and behind the ear, bruising on his forehead a large knot on his forehead, bruising and scrapes on the neck, and bruising on his chest and hand.

Scarlett was arrested in 2011.

Scarlett's mother Lori Remirez told the judge at sentencing Thursday, "Donald is a loving and caring man, he's raised so many children and [he's a] wonderful son. I just don't understand any of this."

Scarlett's attorney Harvey Steinberg called the case difficult.

Placing part of the blame on Adams County Human Services.
"If social services would've done their job, we wouldn't have been in this situation," Steinberg said. "Mr. Scarlet didn't want to be in this situation. He was basically used and manipulated and didn't realize what he was getting himself into. He should've extricated himself from the relationship that was lethal."

Report from the Colorado Department of Human Services indicate that all children, including Harris, have been removed from the home repeatedly.

Harris' case was featured in 9WantsToKnow series "Failed to Death" in 2012.

Age: 21 mos.
Born: April 14, 2009
Died: Feb 2, 2011
Location: Brighton

Suspect in death: Donald Scarlett, mother's boyfriend

But between the blows, as she listened to her boyfriend allegedly beat 22-month-old Michael Harris until she heard "the breath go out" of the toddler and his cries fall silent, Key never opened the door. She did not check on her son all night and left him alone with her boyfriend, Donald Scarlett, the next morning when she went to work.

The next time she saw her son, doctors warned that the little boy likely would not survive the injuries to his kidney, the lacerations to both his spleen and pancreas or the fracture to his skull.

They were right.

Michael died from his injuries on Feb. 2, 2011.

Michael had been waiting for someone to step in and help most of his life.

The day Michael was born, he and his mother tested positive for marijuana, according to a state and county review of Michael's death.

Key admitted that she had made a mistake and the case was closed. One month after Michael's first birthday, on May 27, 2010, Adams County caseworkers were called back to Key's home, which was found to be so cluttered it was difficult to walk through. Multiple choking hazards and drug paraphernalia were in the reach of Key's three young children.

Key admitted to smoking marijuana and said that her parents and roommate - who often cared for the children - also smoked marijuana and methamphetamine, according to the review. The children were removed from the home. Michael's oldest brother went to live with his father while the two younger children were placed in foster care.
Four months later, Key's two youngest sons were returned to her, after she completed therapy, parenting classes and substance abuse classes. But before her children were returned, Key also began a relationship with Scarlett, who would watch the boys while she was at work.

After Michael's death, Key told investigators that she and Scarlett would fight about Michael's crying. Once, Scarlett accused Key of "babying" Michael.

The morning Scarlett called 911 to report that Michael wasn't breathing, doctors found bruises behind and in his ear, on his forehead and on his chest. Scarlett said the marks were made when Michael wedged himself between two pieces of furniture.
Scarlett pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and child abuse resulting in death on Sept. 7. His trial is scheduled to begin next year.

Adams County caseworkers did not close one assessment in Michael's case for five months, one of two policy violations they made before he died.

Adams County released the following statement regarding the judge's comments:

"The death of a child is always a horrific and tragic occurrence. We are deeply saddened by Michael's death. We respectfully disagree with Judge Melanokis' statement and believe his comments are unfortunate. Child welfare cases like this one involve many professionals who must make decisions based upon the information available to them. Decisions regarding placement of children are made by a team, including the Juvenile Court. Due to issues of confidentiality, we are unable to provide further details about the case."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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