|NMU||WASHINGTON, D.C.||Secret Courts||Feb 14, 2000|
Gag order keeps child abuse case secret
- The judge who returned a child to her natural mother issued a gag order in the case after the child died in her mother’s custody.
A District of Columbia judge has placed a gag order on the participants in a controversial case involving the judge’s decision to take 23-month-old Brianna Blackmond out of foster care and return her to her mother. Brianna died from a blow to her head within days of being returned to her natural mother.
The receiver for D.C. Child and Family Services has said that her agency is reviewing the case, and D.C. police and a grand jury are investigating Brianna’s death as a homicide, according to The Washington Post.
The wide-ranging gag order was imposed by D.C. Superior Court Judge Evelyn E. C. Queen following Brianna’s Jan. 6 death. Queen had ordered Brianna returned to her natural mother with the consent of lawyers for Brianna and her mother, but without the agreement of D.C. government attorneys, according to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who was quoted in the Feb. 9 Post. Queen had returned the child after postponing a scheduled hearing on the matter during which Queen would have received a report from a Child and Family Services social worker urging her not to return Brianna, according to the Post.
During a trial a year earlier, Brianna’s mother was found neglectful of her and the child’s seven siblings, according to the Post. At the time that she suffered the blow, Brianna’s mother was living as an illegal tenant in subsidized public housing with another woman whose children once had been taken from her because of abuse allegations, according to the Post.
In addition to the gag order, city officials have been hampered in discussing the case by confidentiality laws that apply to all juvenile foster care cases.
Williams criticized the secrecy surrounding the case in the Feb. 9 Post article. “There’s a gag order on this case, and I respect the gag order,” Williams said. “But we need to talk about the outrage and disgust in this case. I’m gagging about what happened to this child. I’m just telling you, as a mayor who came out of a foster home, people need to stand up and say what happened and fix this damn thing. . . . We just need to open this up and let the chips fall where they may. We’re walking around blindfolded. We can smell something, we can feel something, but we need to see it. We don’t need to have another Brianna before we do something.
“There is a lack of attention to detail that is spectacular,” Williams added. “I don’t want to point at any one person or persons. Clearly, someone was asleep at the switch here . . . . Everyone in this government, not just the executive [branch] . . . and frankly, the judicial branch, has to step up.”
The Post reported that Williams was commenting on the case after his lawyers had refused to discuss it out of fear that they would be held in contempt by Queen.
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press