Trial underway for man charged in foster baby death

WINNIPEG - Shortly before a northern Manitoba man was charged with killing his foster child, he told police the baby liked to tumble backwards and hit his head on the floor.
"He liked to fall back like this," Roderick Blacksmith told an RCMP officer in a videotaped interview that was played Monday on the opening day of his second-degree murder trial.
Blacksmith is then seen jerking his neck forward, demonstrating the way his 13-month-old foster son Cameron Ouskan would react to falling backward.
"But he wouldn't cry. He'd just roll over and crawl around."
As the video was played in court, Blacksmith dressed in a black suit, covered his face and wiped away tears. The 33-year-old spent much of the time looking down, holding his head in his hands, with his legs shaking.
Cameron was rushed to hospital from the family home in Gillam, Man., on the night of Nov. 12, 2008 and died several hours later. Medical experts will testify that the baby suffered head injuries, Crown attorney Mark Kantor said in his opening statement.
Blacksmith told police in two interviews that he came home from work around 4 p.m. that day and ran some errands. At supper time, he fed Cameron a jar of baby food and Cameron threw it up — something that was not unusual.
"He had a bad gag reflex," Blacksmith said during the police interview.
Blacksmith then told police he fed the baby a jar of dessert, bathed him and put him to bed while tending to his other children. He soon went back to check on Cameron.
"He was laying there ... and I gave a quick flick of the light.
"His eyes aren't opening. He isn't moving."
Blacksmith said he noticed vomit in Cameron's mouth and tried to scoop it out. He said he then performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, CPR and called the hospital.
Toward the end of the interview, he tells police he wished he knew what caused Cameron's death.
"I can't say. I don't know what happened."
The case against Blacksmith is expected to be based on circumstantial evidence. Many of the Crown witnesses are medical experts who will testify about what kind of injuries Cameron suffered and the time frame during which the injuries occurred, Kantor said.
The timing may be critical. Blacksmith worked all day and Cameron was usually left with a babysitter, including on the day of his death. Defence lawyer Saul Simmonds pointed out that the babysitter was initially arrested, but never charged.
Simmonds also had an RCMP officer admit under cross-examination that four other children in the home — all biological daughters of Blacksmith and his wife Brenda Blacksmith — were not looked at as potentially having injured the baby, and that Blacksmith was always co-operative with police.
"He went through this with you as many times as you wanted to pose the questions to him, correct?," Simmonds asked RCMP Const. Darrell Catellier, who conducted the videotaped interview.
"Correct," Catellier replied.
The trial is slated to run for five weeks and Blacksmith's wife is expected to testify Tuesday. She was attending school the evening that Cameron died, leaving her husband as the lone adult in the house.
The baby's death was one of several high-profile deaths of children involved in Manitoba's child welfare system.
The province's former children's advocate, Bonnie Kocsis, said in 2010 that child welfare was "in a state of chaos'' because of a growing number of children in care, high staff turnover and mistrust among foster parents.
A long-awaited inquiry report into Phoenix Sinclair's 2005 death, with a broad examination of the child welfare system, is expected to be released next month.
By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Local mayor denied foster care, claims retaliation by DSS

By Peter Daut


Retaliation and intimidation are words the mayor of Indian Trail is using to characterize a letter sent to him by the Union County Division of Social Services. He said the agency will not allow him to become a foster parent after he publicly questioned a high-profile abuse case.
"It's personal, it's vindictive and it's out of line," Michael Alvarez said.
Alvarez and his wife were in the early stages of trying to become foster parents, but in the letter, the agency wrote it will not license the mayor's home, "due to the public comments made," since "it would be difficult for us to work in partnership."
In November, Alvarez urged county commissioners to investigate all DSS cases handled by former supervisor Wanda Larson, after police said an 11-year-old boy in her care was found handcuffed to a porch with a dead chicken around his neck.
DSS declined to speak on camera, but in an email response to Eyewitness News about the letter, said in part, "This partnership must be a positive one… Foster home licensure is a privilege, not a right."
Alvarez believes the agency's decision was motivated by politics and hurt feelings.
"'Just don't question me.' That's all that says. 'Don't question me,'" Alvarez said.
Meanwhile, the father of two said he will continue to try to become a foster parent, even if that means working with another county.

"Many children need families," he said.
Alvarez said he plans to meet with state lawmakers soon about the letter.
You can read the Department of Social Services letter here.
Below is the complete Union County Department of Human Services response to Eyewitness News:
"Our policy is not to comment on any specific case. It was the decision of Mr. Alvarez to share the contents of the letter he received with you. Speaking in general terms, however, part of the State’s application form delineates 12 skills that are to  be demonstrated by the applicant family. One of the skills is to be able to be a partner with the licensing agency. This partnership must be a positive one in achieving permanence for the child. Foster home licensure is a privilege not a right.  We tell inquirers from the beginning that it is a mutual selection process, meaning that the family and the agency both agree to pursue licensing the family.  We are not required to pursue licensure with any family and there is no appeals process.  That changes once the family is licensed.

The Department of Human Services makes no decision based on intimidation or political retribution. People come to us all the time to expires their concerns about the services being provided, and we continue to work with them. Each licensing application case is determined by a six-member licensing panel composed of social workers and licensed clinical social workers. They are the experts in determining licensure for foster parents. I stand by their decisions, even the most difficult ones."

Taunton boy Jonas Stadden died in foster care of natural causes, post mortem tests reveal

NOTHING could have been done to save a four-year-old boy who died in foster care, a coroner has ruled today (January 21).
Post mortem tests have shown that Jonas Stadden died of natural causes.
His parents, Haydn Stadden and Sara Russell, of Taunton, had demanded answers after Jonas's death at Musgrove Park Hospital, on November 24.
Jonas, who had Down's Syndrome, had been taken into foster care outside Taunton seven months before that for reasons that cannot legally be reported.
West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose has issued a statement today saying: "A post mortem...revealed that Jonas died of bronchopneumonia and under part II - (illness or disease not directly attributing to the death - Down's Syndrome.
"This is of course a natural form of death, but investigations have subsequently been carried out to ascertain whether or not an earlier referral to a doctor would, in the circumstances of this case, have made any difference to the outcome - but I am advised that would not have done so."
The findings mean there will not be an inquest.
Mr Stadden said: "Jonas had pneumonia twice before and pulled through, so this is very upsetting.

Foster Child Death Update

Reported by: Caitlyn Jones

We have an update in the investigation into the death of a two-year-old foster child last week.  According to an incident report from the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office, the foster mother Clara Edwards said two-year-old Sahara Palmer fell down a staircase last Monday.    She told a deputy Sahara dropped a ball at the top of the stairs, then slid down trying to retrieve it and hit her head on the floor.    Edwards said the two-year-old cried, but then stopped.    A few hours later, Edwards said Sahara fell again and hit her head on a wooden wardrobe case and became unconscious.   She says she shook her but she wouldn't respond.  That's when Edwards said she and her husband took the child to the hospital where she died two days after being declared brain dead.    The Catoosa County Sheriff's office and G-B-I are still investigating the incident.