Relative Pushes for Custody of Boy Whose Brother Died
Published: November 15, 2005
The case was a matter of child abuse, one of many on the dockets in Family Court in Downtown Brooklyn yesterday. The mother attended with her lawyer; child welfare workers with their own.
No one spoke of the child in question, 16-month-old Dahquay Gillians; his fate had already been decided. Dahquay died in a bathtub on the night of Nov. 6 as his mother listened to CD’s in another room for nearly three-quarters of an hour, prosecutors say. Powerless to change that now, Latisha Bond came to the hearing with another boy in mind. Ms. Bond, a cousin of Dahquay’s mother, Tracina Vaughn, once had custody of Dahquay as well as his half-brother, Tramel Vaughn, 3, whom she had taken in after he was scalded with hot water, his burns left untreated for days.
In a civil proceeding, the city’s child welfare agency contends that Ms. Vaughn’s actions in leaving Dahquay in the bathtub with his brother constitute physical abuse.
Ms. Bond has said she objected when Tramel and Dahquay were returned in March to Ms. Vaughn, who the authorities have called a drug abuser with a troubled life. So low was Ms. Bond’s opinion of Ms. Vaughn’s parenting abilities that while she had custody, Ms. Bond sought to impede visits between mother and sons, said Sharman Stein, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children’s Services.
Those efforts had the opposite of their intended effect. In part because of Ms. Bond’s attempts to keep Ms. Vaughn from visiting her sons, the authorities moved the boys to an unrelated foster family, a step that led to returning them to Ms. Vaughn herself, Ms. Stein said.
Now, Tramel has been returned to that foster family while the courts address a tangle of legal matters resulting from his brother’s death, but Ms. Bond is not satisfied with that outcome. Ms. Bond brought her own lawyer to the sixth-floor courtroom where a judge began processing her cousin’s abuse case yesterday morning.
The judge, Jane Pearl of Brooklyn Family Court, began the hearing by ejecting reporters from the courtroom.
“What I’m going to permit is one person from the press to be present,” Judge Pearl said, according to the reporter who was allowed to remain. “That is my way to balance the sensitive nature of the proceedings.”
Ms. Vaughn, 25, was led into court wearing a gray prison jumpsuit, according to the pool reporter. Though the abuse case is a civil matter, Ms. Vaughn is in custody on criminal charges of reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child. There is also an internal investigation being conducted at the child welfare agency, which had been monitoring the family since May 2004, when Tramel was burned by a former companion of Ms. Vaughn’s.
In court, Ms. Vaughn appeared lucid yet unexpressive, according to the pool reporter. She was responsive when asked to swear an oath, and she looked and waved when a relative called out a greeting.
Ms. Bond’s lawyer, Michael Goldberg, asked for temporary custody of Tramel, said Ms. Stein, who was later briefed on the hearing. Judge Pearl denied the application because there was no custody petition before the court, Ms. Stein said.
In the courtroom, Ms. Vaughn expressed her regard for the cousin seeking custody of her surviving son. Without mentioning Ms. Bond by name, Elliot Green, a court-appointed lawyer for Ms. Vaughn, asked that all relatives except her grandmother be banished from the courtroom.
“My client is requesting that the grandmother be the only one present for support,” Mr. Green said.
Judge Pearl ruled that other family members, including Ms. Bond, could remain. Then she turned her attention to Tramel, who had been in the bathtub that night and had seen his younger brother die.
Judge Pearl asked representatives of the child welfare agency whether Tramel had been evaluated for the twin traumas of separation from his mother and witnessing his brother’s death. She was told that he had not.
“I’m ordering an immediate mental health assessment, please,” Judge Pearl said.
Ms. Bond’s and Ms. Vaughn’s concerns would be left for another day. The hearing lasted less than an hour.
“I’m making no order for visitation today,” Judge Pearl said. “Let’s look at the mental health first.”