Disabled foster child's death ruled a homicide

The July death of a 10-year-old disabled foster child has been ruled a homicide — six years after the Baltimore city boy's mother was accused of shaking him into a coma-like state, Baltimore police announced Monday.

Damaud Martin died July 2 at an Anne Arundel County group home that state regulators were in the process of closing down for multiple problems. State health officials are investigating whether Damaud received adequate care while living at the home, which was run by a company called LifeLine, but have cautioned against drawing any premature conclusions.

A LifeLine nurse who was caring for Damaud when he died on the morning of July 2 told The Baltimore Sun that she was caring for three disabled children who relied on feeding and breathing tubes even though their care plans called for one-on-one supervision. A Baltimore Sun investigation of LifeLine showed that the state awarded contracts worth millions of dollars to LifeLine despite numerous poblems at its Anne Arundel operations — problems with medical care, a founder imprisoned for arson, unpaid taxes and police reports of abuse and neglect unknown to regulators.

Regulators had told the Laurel company in June that its license was going to be revoked after they found that "staffing patterns addressing the health and safety needs of each child had not been maintained" among other problems, records show. LifeLine's CEO responded by notifying regulators that the company was closing due to inadequate state reimbursements.

LifeLine officials could not be reached for comment. An attorney for Damaud's family said it appears unlikely that the Anne Arundel contractor or any of its employees would be implicated in homicide because Baltimore law enforcement officials are investigating.

The state medical examiner's office has not released Damaud's autopsy because of the continuing investigations by the Maryland health department and Baltimore police. The office ruled Damaud's death a homicide Sept. 17.

Homicide determinations are made when the medical examiner finds that "injuries that caused death were inflicted by another person," said Bruce Goldfarb, spokesman for the medical examiner's office.

A Police Department news release about the newly designated homicide details injuries Damaud suffered on Jan. 19, 2008. It also states that his mother, Tamekia Martin, 34, had been charged with first-degree abuse stemming from the 2008 injuries. She was convicted in 2009 of first-degree child abuse for causing her son's injuries.

But she has not been charged in connection with her son's death.

"We have not made any arrests, and our detectives are continuing to investigate the case," police spokesman Jeremy Silbert said.

She could not be reached for comment, but she told The Baltimore Sun in 2008 that she did not hurt her son, who had been removed from her custody in 2006 after an allegation of abuse but was returned to her care the next year. She said Damaud's injuries in 2008 resulted when the then-3-year-old fell off a bike and hit his head and later that day fell down a flight of stairs. She received a 15-year sentence, with most of the prison time suspended.

The Baltimore Department of Social Services became the boy's legal guardian, and he was placed under LifeLine's care on Dec. 4, 2013, according to an Anne Arundel County police report.

Connie West, who supervised Damaud's education plans, said the boy underwent surgery before arriving at LifeLine that resulted in complications that left him unresponsive. Damaud breathed through a tracheostomy tube connected to a ventilator and was under a "do not resuscitate" order authorized by social services officials, said West, who was appointed by Anne Arundel County's school system to work with the boy.

Paramedics arrived at LifeLine's apartments in the Russett Green community in the Laurel area about 4:30 a.m. July 2 and found Damaud in cardiac arrest and a nurse performing CPR. An hour later, a Howard County doctor advising the CPR by phone declared Damaud dead.

Martin's grandmother, Rosita, said that she does not believe her daughter caused the boy's injuries. She said he has suffered other injuries in the eight years he has spent in the foster care system while she has tried to gain custody of him. In October 2006, state authorities had placed Damaud and his sister, Sandoria, now 14, with their grandmother, a licensed foster parent at the time. They stayed with her until November 2007, when a juvenile court judge ruled that they should go back to their mother because she had taken a parenting class, leased a rowhouse and had part-time work.

Damaud was injured Jan. 19, 2008.

Rosita Martin said she has been fighting to keep custody of the children since 2006.

"We begged for his life for eight years," Rosita Martin said. "Our cries went unheard for eight years."

Rosita Martin hired a Pennsylvania attorney, Michael Pisanchyn, who filed notice with the state in August of their intent to sue — a required legal step before a lawsuit can be filed against the state and LifeLine.

Pisanchyn pointed out in his letter to the state that LifeLine lost its state license to care for disabled adults in 2011 after the deaths of three residents whose care was deemed "inadequate.


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