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Special Brooklyn grand jury criticizes NYC’s Children Services Administration

Former ACS caseworker Damon Adams. Eagle file photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Following the death of a 4-year-old Brooklyn girl, a special grand jury was impaneled to the actions, procedures and practices of the New York City Administration for Children Services (ACS) and returned a scathing review.

In September 2010, Marchella Pierce died from starvation and abuse in the Brooklyn apartment she shared with her mother, grandmother and two siblings. ACS was supervising the Pierce household because Marchella’s mother had given birth to another child while she was under the influence of an illegal drug.  

A former ACS caseworker, Damon Adams, and supervisor, Chereece Bell, were charged with negligent homicide. Shortly thereafter, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes convened the special grand jury, which, after hearing testimony from 40 witnesses and combing through 111 exhibits, found that ACS took “none of the obvious steps that would have saved [Marchella’s] life.”

ACS is the social service agency that is charged with protecting abused and mistreated children within New York City. It works closely with the Division of Child Protection (DCP). But according to the grand jury, the charge can only be effective with “highly trained, adequately equipped, and carefully supervised child protection staff” who are held to “high professional standards.”

In reviewing Marchella’s case, in particular, and the practices of ACS as whole, the grand jury actions found that due to the lack of action taken by ACS and the failure of ACS to implement recommendations submitted by other agencies, including the Department of Investigation, ACS “played a causative role” in the deaths of eight Brooklyn children, including Marchella, between August 2007 and September 2010.

Regarding Marchella’s death, ACS did not “take any steps to insure her safety or well-being,” the grand jury concluded. “The required home visits were not made. Representations by the adults in the [Pierce] household were credited without question,” the report noted.  

Court documents revealed that hospital staff reported that Marchella’s mother did not know how to care properly for Marchella. When she died, the documents said, Marchella weighed only 18 pounds and had a high dosage of sleeping pills in her system.  ACS staff “failed to register Marchella’s existence,” the report somberly stated.

In its 104-page report, ACS included a myriad of recommendations to strengthen ACS in an effort to stem the amount of seemingly unnecessary children deaths. The grand jury warned that ACS "cannot be left … alone to make the necessary changes.”

Bell’s Brooklyn defense attorney, Joshua Horowitz, believes that the grand jury report exonerates his client. He told the New York Law Journal that Bell is being “blamed for what the report shows is a rather common occurrence."

ACS spokesperson Michael Fagan issued a statement reassuring the public that ACS’ "commitment to the well-being of the City's children is unwavering,” adding that its staff “works tirelessly 24 hours a day to investigation allegations of abuse and neglect…”

The grand jury’s “sweeping generalizations and conclusions” — as the report is described by ACS — “wholly disregarded key steps ACS has taken,” ACS claimed.

Prosecutors officially presented the report to Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Patricia Di Mango and Bell’s and Adams’ defense attorneys last Friday. Di Mango noted that she was “hopeful” the report would facilitate "a resolution of this matter maybe without a trial."

Marchella’s mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 32 years to life in prison. Convicted of manslaughter, Marchella’s grandmother, Loretta Brett, was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison.

October 7, 2013 - 3:30pm


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