The mission of the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) as specified on their Website “is to work in partnership with local communities to protect the vulnerable, promote strong and economically self-sufficient families, and advance personal and family recovery and resiliency.”
The Courts that oversee cases brought by DCF in South Florida are known as Dependency Courts and will bend over backwards to keep young children together with their natural parents. In cases of parental abuse, although evidence will be weighed to remove a child in some cases, the overwhelming decision of the court is keeping a family united.
The Florida Dependency Court Information System (FDCIS) is a web-based case management system that provides the Court with resources to receive up-to-date information for what has been signaled to DCF to be potentially abused and neglected children. Its other function is to assure timeliness of court events. This system basically provides the court with what is deemed to be reliable data which is entered into the system to assist judges in making proper decisions. The system also utilizes data exchanges with various other agencies.
Ethan Cooley, who was just a year old when he died, seems to be a victim of this system at its worst.
Christina Hurt, Ethan’s biological mother was pregnant with Ethan when her other five children were removed from her custody in July 2014. At the time her then-3-year-old daughter was sent to school with a bow tied around her head somewhat masking a blood-dripping wound that was later diagnosed as a skull fracture presenting the gash on her scalp. When DCF investigated the matter, the young girl told them that her mother pushed her off a bed after she wet the linens. Her mother insisted that her daughter fell on her own, causing the damage which the mother seemed to believe was not a serious injury.
After an investigation was commenced it was noted that the children were “wild” and displayed challenging behavior for Ms. Hurt and she was unable to manage their well-being properly. But a judge ultimately ordered her children returned regardless of a recommendation from DCF that they remain under state care due to their mother’s inability to safely care for and meet the daily needs of her kids.
Two additional incidents of abuse and instability in the home were reported in in February and May of 2015. In one of the complaints issued, an incident was cited that Hurt struck her daughter with a belt to the head with the buckle making contact; inflicting several bruises to her face and eye. However, in both of those cases a judge again ruled the allegations as unfounded regardless of another recommendation from DCF that the children remain in state care.
Multiple participants in this case handled by the child protection system knew all the facts in the winter of 2016 when a decision was to be made on whether or not to allow Hurt to reclaim custody of her five children, as well as getting custody of her then-newborn son Ethan.
Based on a report released just last month (May 2018) Ethan’s death was blamed on multiple facets of a failing system including what was called an enthusiastic rookie therapist’s forceful insistence that the family be reunited at nearly any cost. The therapist’s findings and beliefs apparently overruled many other abuse investigators who doubted the reunification was warranted as well as the Miami-Dade judge who overlooked the anxieties of these professionals who foreseeably cautioned against return of the children to their mother.
But it’s not the system that will be tried for Ethan’s death although some policy changes may be made.
The report which was issued last week stated that “The children’s chaotic behavior continued to escalate to the point in which they were running in and out of the home, hitting one another, and jumping on the roof of a car that was parked in the backyard.” It also added that Ms. Hurt “did or said nothing” to stop the children’s behavior or protect them at all.
She claimed to police that it was her 10-year-old daughter that put Ethan into a bath of scalding hot water, apparently causing his condition. The bath caused severe burns as well as peeling skin over at least half the toddler’s body. Ethan had just turned one year old when the event that eventually claimed his life occurred.
Ethan’s injury led to his death when the injuries sustained from the bath began to worsen overnight.
After the child was burned by the bathwater, instead of seeking medical help Hurt went to friends and neighbors asking if any of them knew treatment that could be administered for the burns Ethan sustained. Many begged her to call 911 but she refused; based on the premise that she believed they’d take her son away.
The child suffered during the night becoming lethargic as he began to vomit extensively. By the following morning a neighbor noticed that the child had become completely unresponsive. At that point she finally called police emergency in spite of objections by his mother.
Ethan shortly expired after he was taken by police for medical treatment. Before her charge was upgraded to second-degree murder, Hurt was originally charged with aggravated child abuse and manslaughter. That charge was further upped to first-degree murder after it was understood by investigators that she refused to take Ethan to a hospital she passed by while driving some of her other children to school.
Now the state of Florida is seeking the death penalty for the Homestead woman.
In South Florida, prosecutors consistently seek the death penalty on all cases of murder in the first-degree. These types of cases are subsequently reviewed by a panel of senior prosecutors whose recommendation decide whether the death penalty applies or should be waived. The State’s Attorney in the case at the end of the day decides whether to continue to seek an execution sentence as punishment.
After Ethan’s death earlier this year, the completed DCF investigation concluded that the entire child-welfare system was responsible for the death and certainly failed Ethan. The novice therapist who contended that all the children be returned to their mother was highlighted in the report, along with the Miami-Dade judge who allowed the minor children’s reunification.
In a prepared statement, the DCF Secretary said that, as a result of Ethan’s death, the agency has asked the Florida Legislature to review and revise laws intended to protect children who are born after their parent(s) have already been under investigation or have been previously supervised by the state. He went on to say “This new law will help the department prevent tragedies like Ethan’s death from happening in the future,”
A short time after Ethan passed a request by the Miami Herald asking to access recordings of hearings in the case was requested. Court administrators refused to provide the recordings, referring to a new interpretation of rules of the court. A judge ordered the release of these recordings following a lawsuit filed by the paper but a court-appointed attorney for the family’s siblings appealed the suit, and at presents it remains pending before the Third District Court of Appeals.
In regard to state charges, Michael B. Cohen previously held the office of Assistant State Attorney for Broward County, Florida making his law firm the logical choice to fight all allegations filed by the State of Florida.
His résumé includes close to a combined forty years working as an Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting cases for the government and currently practicing as a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. For almost half of that period of his professional career his knowledge of the federal legal system makes him the correct selection of attorneys when it comes to facing any allegations brought forward by any prosecutorial branch of the federal government.
To view his complete profile and full list of qualifications, which can help you understand what should be your next step if you or someone you care about is accused of homicide or are facing any other criminal allegations, click here.