St. Charles County (Mo) foster parent charged with child abuse


ST. CHARLES COUNTY • A former St. Charles County foster parent under scrutiny after an infant nearly died in her care in 2009 now faces criminal charges.

Terri Lynn Cronin was charged Tuesday with two counts of child abuse and two counts of second-degree assault related to her care of Shakur Casanova Knight from March through May 2009 in her home in an unincorporated area of St. Charles County. The charges carry penalties from five to 15 years in prison.

The charges follow a Post-Dispatch investigation published this month that highlighted Shakur's injuries and how case managers at a private agency failed to follow state laws and protocols to keep the infant safe in foster care.

State, medical and police records show the agency, Urban Behavioral HealthCare Institute, failed to report to the state Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline that the 5-week-old boy suffered a broken arm on April 12, 2009, while in Cronin's care — six weeks before he nearly died from another incident in the home.

The newspaper found the agency failed to follow up with hospital physicians who first treated the broken arm, or report the injury to two other foster care agencies responsible for his safety.

All of those entities could have reported the injury to the state hotline.

Medical records show the broken arm was diagnosed as a spiral fracture — typically a red flag for child abuse in young infants.

The newspaper further found the infant remained in the foster home even though a great-aunt had asked to be the child's foster parent after the first injury. Records show the agency dragged its feet on that placement despite a state law that favors placing foster children with appropriate and willing relatives as quickly as possible.

On May 27, 2009, Shakur was airlifted near death to St. Louis Children's Hospital with multiple fractures and severe head injuries requiring emergency surgery.

State, medical and police records show Cronin said she slipped in both instances at the top of her home's carpeted stairs causing the injuries. With the first injury in April, Cronin said she abruptly pulled the baby into her body when she slipped onto her behind and slid down the stairs. In the second, she said the infant popped out of her arms and fell on his head on a tiled landing.

Although medical records show physicians concluded Shakur was a victim of child abuse, criminal charges were originally refused by the St. Charles County Prosecutor's Office. State records also show Cronin was able to have a finding of child abuse by the state Children's Division overturned through a closed citizen review panel.

But earlier this year, while reviewing the case after a reporter's inquiry, St. Charles County Prosecutor Jack Banas asked the St. Charles County Sheriff's Department to reopen a criminal investigation.

Banas said there were conflicting statements among Cronin's five children about what happened on May 27 in the home, and said it was clear someone had hurt the child. Banas could not be reached for comment on the new charges.

Court records pertaining to the charges filed Tuesday cited the spiral fracture in the arm as being "highly specific" for inflicted injury in infants. The fracture also was not compatible with the explanation given by Cronin of slipping down the steps with the baby in her arms, according to records. Those court files go on to list the extent of the injuries Shakur received on May 27, including a depressed left skull fracture, severe brain swelling, placement on a ventilator, multiple subdural hemorrhages, retinal hemorrhages in both eyes, seizures and a left collarbone fracture.

Terri Cronin could not be reached for comment, and though court records list her family as living in St. Charles County, real estate documents indicate their house was sold. State records show Terri Cronin and her husband Jeffery Cronin were licensed foster parents starting in 2006 until they voluntarily relinquished the license in September 2009.

Shakur, now 3, has been adopted and renamed Cristofer by Lennie Bell, the great-aunt who came forward to be his foster mother when he was in the Cronin's foster home.

Bell said Tuesday all foster and adoption agencies need to "be more careful on who they place babies with." She said she was pleased criminal charges had been filed.

"He deserved to have his day," she said of Shakur. "Somebody is responsible for what happened to him and needs to be accountable. Maybe he'll help some other babies so that they won't have to go through such abuse."