By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 01/25/2011 04:38:08 PM PST
Updated: 01/26/2011 05:00:21 AM PST
Blame spreads around, it seems, for the brutal death of 15-year-old Jazzmin Davis, of Antioch, in 2008 and the torture authorities say she and her twin brother suffered for years at the hands of their aunt and foster mom, Shemeeka Davis.
San Francisco officials have agreed in principle to pay $4 million to Jazzmin's brother to settle a lawsuit against the city's child welfare agency and social worker Ann Marie Smith, accused of turning a blind eye to abuse at the house on Killdeer Drive in Antioch.
The Antioch Unified School District also is poised to pay as part of the same lawsuit, although Superintendent Don Gill said a judge has yet to finalize a settlement and declined to reveal an amount. Lawyers for Jazzmin's brother accuse school employees of ignoring clear signs of abuse and failing to report her habitual truancy -- the result of her captivity in a bedroom where authorities say Shemeeka Davis burned, battered and starved the twins to skin and bones, scars and bruises.
In May, the court-appointed advocate for the foster twins, Tali Soltz, agreed to settle with Jazzmin's brother for $100,000, court records show.
Meanwhile, a March 14 trial date approaches for Davis, 40, who faces five felony charges and a possible life sentence, accused of abusing and torturing the twins and killing Jazzmin.
The developments come 21/2 years after police climbed the stairs to the barren bedroom and found Jazzmin's naked corpse covered in open wounds, sores and scars. Among the evidence: a bloody and broken closet rod, a belt with a padlock attached to the end, a clothes iron that police said Davis would level hot on her skin. Davis also would strafe carpet tack strips across the twins' bodies as punishment, police said.
Jazzmin, at 5-feet-7, weighed 78 pounds. Bay Area News Group is not naming her brother, who police said looked the same -- only alive. He turns 18 next month and faces myriad mental and physical problems, according to court documents.
Darren Kessler, an attorney for the brother, declined to discuss the case pending final approval of the San Francisco settlement. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors was scheduled to introduce the settlement deal late Tuesday for review.
Child welfare documents obtained by Bay Area News Group through a court petition shortly after Jazzmin's death revealed that Smith, a veteran social worker, violated state regulations that require regular reports from doctors, therapists and others. She also failed to verify Jazzmin's school attendance, among other lapses, all the while steering Davis toward legal guardianship of the twins.
A San Francisco judge awarded the aunt legal guardianship on Aug. 27, 2008, ending the county's oversight six days before Jazzmin's death.
The head of the San Francisco Human Services Agency, Trent Rhorer, at first said the case file showed "that we've done everything that was within our power to protect these kids and others from abuse and neglect." He later acknowledged that the case logs raised doubts about the medical documentation, but that Smith had little cause to question Davis' honesty about the children's care.
Davis took in the twins from San Francisco as infants in 1993.
"A placement that's as stable as this, for as long as this -- there was no reason to believe Shemeeka would be hiding anything, or Jazzmin hiding anything," Rhorer said in November 2008. "There were no cues."
The case files, however, showed evidence over the years that Davis struggled with the twins and failed to meet requirements for their medical care. The lawsuit goes further, accusing Smith of "malicious and oppressive" conduct.
The twins told her during a home visit that they received "whoopings," the lawsuit claims, "and instead of inquiring about the nature of the 'whoopings,' Smith responded by admonishing the kids to behave." It also claims Smith ignored "warnings and stern instructions" from a public health nurse to get long overdue physical exams for the twins. Further, it accuses Smith of failing to inspect the room where Jazzmin and her brother lived.
"Had she done so, she would have seen a room that was bare, without clothing for the kids, and floors soaked with urine and feces, especially the closet where they were imprisoned." Police said the twins had been locked in the bedroom and closet for months before Jazzmin's death.
At school, the lawsuit claims, a vice principal "observed scars and scratches on Jazzmin's body, and that she had a black eye," but failed to ask questions or report it. The lawsuit claims the district and others knew of the abuse three years before Jazzmin died, and that school officials dropped the ball on reporting her truancy.
School records showed she last attended Antioch High School for about six weeks at the start of the 2007 year. School officials dropped her from the rolls for lack of attendance. Her brother planned to attend the high school in August 2008, but Davis refused to allow it because of his behavior, according to an investigative report after Jazzmin's death.
Jazzmin's brother said Davis whipped her with an extension cord just before her death for urinating on the carpet and doorframe of Davis' room. He blamed himself for the beatings that left his body scarred. He said he'd been abused with extension cords, belts and an iron for years.
"I didn't think it was anything bad. I thought it was punishment for doing wrong," he said. "I deserved it."
A pediatrician examined him a day after Jazzmin's death. His sickle cell anemia had gone untreated for three years. But the boy had other worries.
"(He) is most concerned that (Davis) does not know that he loves her."