Dad charged in death of 2-year-old Fla. boy

Published On: Jul 23 2013 04:48:17 PM EDT
MIAMI -

A 2-year-old Miami-area boy is dead and his father is charged with throwing him against a bedroom wall and killing him just one month after investigators had removed the baby from his mother's care.

Angel Villegas, 29, who is charged with second-degree murder, threw Jayden Villegas-Morales across a bed because he was annoyed after the child became sick, according to Miami-Dade police. Jayden hit his head on the wall and suffered serious brain injuries consistent with being shaken to death, police said. The toddler was hospitalized last week and died Sunday.

Child welfare officials have investigated several abuse allegations against his parents in the past. They had recently removed Jayden and his two siblings from his mother's care after one of his siblings suffered a broken leg and investigators determined the children were not safe in her home. It's unclear if Villegas has retained an attorney.

Jayden is the latest of several children who had contact with the Department of Children and Families and later died. DCF Secretary David Wilkins abruptly resigned last week and his chief of staff resigned a week earlier.

"This is a complicated family situation and we are only beginning to examine what could have been done differently to change the tragic outcome of this case ... the tough work we are doing now to understand the circumstances that led to this tragedy will save more children's lives in the future," the agency said in a written statement.

Jayden's parents have a lengthy history with the department including several domestic violence incidents, according to DCF records. Two calls to the state's the state's child abuse hotline in 2011 alleged problems that ranged from dirty diapers and cockroaches throughout the couple's Miami area home to marijuana smoking in front of the children and Villegas hitting the children's mother, Lourdes Morales, 24. In both cases, an investigator visited the home and determined the children were not in danger.

Villegas, a former foster child himself, admitted to having anger issues and said he wanted counseling, but it's unclear whether he got it, according to DCF records.

The investigator in that case, Jean Lacroix, was arrested a year later on charges that he was having sex with one of the foster children he was in charge of. Lacroix pleaded guilty to child abuse. The Miami Herald reports Lacroix's supervisor was also fired in May for secretly working a second job as a substitute teacher - allegedly, on some days, while on the clock for DCF.

Meanwhile, Jayden was living with six other children, his pregnant mother, Villegas and Villegas' pregnant girlfriend in a home that appeared chaotic and unkempt. Villegas' girlfriend had also been the subject of several domestic violence investigations, according to documents released by DCF.

At some point, Jayden and his siblings moved out of the home with their mother but were removed from her care last month and sent to live with Villegas.

"These tragedies should not happen. We are working with our partners to understand exactly what happened and what changes need to be made immediately," private DCF contractors Our Kids and Children's Home Society of Florida said in a joint statement.

DCF has been criticized recently after the deaths of four other children who had been involved with the agency.

In May, DCF said it fired a child protective investigator for forging documents about substance treatment for a mother months before she left her 11-month old baby in a sweltering car.

Last month, 2-year-old Ezra Raphael died after police found him unconscious in his Miami home. His mother's boyfriend was charged with first-degree murder and child abuse. DCF officials said the child's mother had left the boy with a caregiver in Gainesville in 2012 because she couldn't care for him. In February, DCF asked the unnamed caregiver to call the hotline if the mother tried to get her child back. DCF said the caregiver never called, but Ezra went back to his mother, who was charged with neglect after the boy's death.

Esther Jacobo, DCF's new interim secretary, said her first task would be to investigate the cases and make changes.

The case of foster child Rilya Wilson drew particular criticism against the agency. The girl is missing and presumed dead after a caseworker lied about visiting her for more than a year, while filing false reports and telling judges the girl was fine.

The agency has since formed multiple blue ribbon panels to investigate other egregious child deaths. The panels have consistently reached the same conclusions: Glaring red flags were ignored, child welfare officials weren't communicating with attorneys, judges, teachers and others involved in the children's lives and basic critical thinking skills were often lacking during investigations.

Wilkins was in the process of overhauling the role of child protective investigators when he resigned last week. He had hired about 100 new investigators, including the investigator recently fired for allegedly forging documents. He'd also reduced caseloads, improved turnover rates and was trying to change the way cases are investigated, but critics, including the agency's private contractors, said the transformation was ill conceived.

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