Little Antoine Flemons never had a chance. Prince George’s County Maryland Prosecutors described how his father, Antoine Petty, “dangled the infant by the arm and repeatedly struck him before handing the baby to his mother to feed. When the baby continued to cry, Petty dealt another round of blows, quieting the child forever.”
Antoine’s parents left his body in the car for over 24 hours before burying him, according to police. The Judge sentenced Petty to 40 years in prison for his son’s murder. Antoine’s mother pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and will be sentenced in December.
Information shared by the prosecutors revealed that Petty, the father of nine, had a long history with Child Protective Services dating back until at least 2007. He was reported for carving a three-inch cross into a five-year-old daughter’s arm, pushing a five-year-old down stairs, giving a ten-year-old a black eye, forcing a daughter to watch him having sex with a girlfriend, and failing to adequately nourish an eleven-month-old. One of his children was found at age 11 months to have rib fractures which were found by a doctor to be ‘not accidental.”
How could this father be allowed to mistreat child after child and this mother to fail to protect them for close to ten years when so many acts of maltreatment were reported to CPS? It would be more appropriate to ask how such a parent can be stopped. When an abusive parent has a new child, there is no mechanism in most states to trigger protection for that child.
Interestingly, Maryland is one of the few states that does have such a mechanism– a “birth match” program. Under birth match, birth records are matched against a list of parents who had their parental rights terminated within the last five years due to abuse or neglect. Parents thus identified receive a visit from a social worker to assess the child’s safety. If the parents refuse the visit, a case can be opened if there is reason to expect abuse or neglect.
But Maryland’s birth match law did not protect little Antoine. It is unlikely that his parents had their rights terminated in the past. Perhaps Antoine would have been protected by a broader law, such as Minnesota’s, which triggers an investigation or family assessment under a broader set of circumstances. These include when a parent has subjected a child to “egregious harm,” has failed to protect a child from such harm, has committed child neglect endangering physical or mental health, and has committed first second or third degree assault among others.
We don’t know if a broader birth match law would have protected little Antoine because no information has been released about the results of the prior investigations against Antoine’s parents.
As I discussed in an earlier post, all deaths of children in families known to CPS should be investigated immediately and the results made available to the public. Only with such an investigation can we know how and why the system failed little Antoine.
There has been a shocking lack of calls for such an investigation from Maryland legislators and child advocates. Only the Washington Post broke the silence, asking, Could this 2-months old’s death have been prevented? Nobody who cares about children in Maryland should rest until they know the answer, and until measures have been put in place to prevent similar tragedies in the future.