18-month-old nephew of suspect’s girlfriend was found in landfill
DALLAS, TX – The man who confessed to police in July that he left a Dallas toddler in a dumpster now faces a murder charge in the boy’s death.
A grand jury indicted Sedrick Johnson in September on a capital murder charge in the death of Cedrick Jackson, the 18-month-old nephew of Johnson’s girlfriend.
Johnson has been in the Dallas County Jail since he was arrested in July. His bail is set at $1,003,000.
Cedrick’s disappearance July 10 triggered an Amber Alert before authorities found the boy’s remains the next day at a landfill on the boundary between Garland and Rowlett.
Johnson, the boyfriend of Cedrick’s aunt, confessed to police that he had put the toddler in a dumpster in northeast Dallas. Cedrick had been in his aunt’s care at that time, police had said previously.
Johnson told police that Cedrick had been swaddled in a blanket on the floor before he died, according to an arrest-warrant affidavit. He told police Cedrick had once “made a mess” with ketchup packets, so he began swaddling the 18-month-old tightly to prohibit his movement.
He told police he unwrapped Cedrick from the blanket after he heard him making noise around 12:30 a.m. The child began vomiting and became unresponsive, Johnson told police.
Johnson told police he gave Cedrick CPR for more than 30 minutes and that the child wasn’t moving but still had a heartbeat, according to the affidavit. After that, he drove to a dumpster and put Cedrick inside, he told police.
The capital murder indictment for Johnson says he intentionally caused the toddler’s death by “an unknown manner and means.” Johnson also was indicted on the injury to a child charge in September.
Johnson’s girlfriend, Chrystal Jackson, faces a charge of endangering a child in Cedrick’s death and disappearance.
In an arrest-warrant affidavit, police said Jackson lied to police for 19 hours about the amount of time she knew Cedrick was missing.
“Were it not for the actions and omissions by Suspect Jackson, law enforcement has every reason to believe the complainant could have been located, potentially alive, within hours of his removal from Suspect Jackson’s residence,” police wrote in the affidavit.
Jackson had called 911 early the morning of July 10, telling a dispatcher that her nephew had been abducted. She said only she, another child and Cedrick were home when a man entered the residence and took Cedrick, according to the warrant.
Police said Jackson repeatedly changed her story about when Cedrick went missing, according to the affidavit.
Police said she also sent “valuable witnesses” away from the location from which Cedrick went missing, referring to five other children who had been in the house at the time.
In forensic interviews, children in the home said they heard Cedrick crying in the early morning, and then “he stopped suddenly and disappeared,” police wrote in an affidavit.
Cedrick’s mother could not be reached for comment Monday. A few days after Johnson’s indictment, she wrote on Facebook that the boy’s aunt deserved the same charge as Johnson.
“You’re telling me this woman lied to y’all for over 19 hours when y’all could have possibly found my baby alive and the highest charge you can give her is child endangerment and her boyfriend gets capital murder,” DiShundra Thomas wrote.
Thomas said she wanted “proper and deserving justice” for her son.
Jackson, the aunt, has not been indicted on the child endangerment charge.
He Didn’t Abuse His Daughter. The State Took Her Anyway.
What does it mean to be a parent? One man hopes his case will change how a decades-old New York law treats unwed fathers.
For the first five years of his daughter Amanda’s life, Ping N., a restaurant manager in Manhattan, lived with his little girl and her mother. He tucked her into bed at night and enjoyed spoiling her with her favorite snacks, like fish balls, egg tarts and ramen noodles.
But when child welfare officials found that Amanda’s mother had inflicted excessive corporal punishment on her in 2013, they removed the girl from the home. Even though court records show that Ping had never committed abuse and was not present when it took place, a judge later decided that he would lose his daughter, too. Ping could not have custody or any say in her life anymore.
Lawyers for Ping, an immigrant from China whose surname is being withheld to protect the identity of his children, are now appealing that decision in what they hope will be a test case that changes how the decades-old law treats unwed fathers.
In New York and 11 other states, if a mother is accused of abuse or neglect but the father is not, and he is not married to her, he must prove that he is a parent in his own right — otherwise he will not have a say in whether the child is put up for adoption. In most of those states, including New York, proof means paying child support — not to the mother but to the government agency that has taken the child.
“This is just blatant discrimination based on stale gender stereotypes — that the only way to be a father is to have a wedding ceremony or else to be a kind of rote financial provider,” said Martin Guggenheim, a law professor at New York University who studies family law and children’s rights.
Defenders of the New York law, which dates to 1980, say it helps children who have been languishing in foster care to get a permanent home sooner by preventing unmarried fathers who do not support their children from using the courts to delay or stop an adoption.
If those fathers had full rights, “we would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he abandoned the child … which can take years,” said Ira L. Eras, a New York lawyer who has mostly represented foster care agencies for three decades.
A Family Court judge in Manhattan ended Ping’s parental rights last year, paving the way for Amanda’s adoption by another family. The judge cited Ping’s status as an unwed father at the time of his daughter’s birth and his failure to pay child support to Catholic Guardian Services, the foster care agency that the city’s child welfare arm, the Administration for Children’s Services, had hired to take custody of the girl.
Ping’s appeal, which was submitted in February and will be argued this fall by lawyers with the Family Defense Clinic at New York University School of Law, contended that he was financially supporting his daughter by giving her clothes, toys, food, gift cards and money, as well as by paying for outings and meals they had together. Ping said he was never told that he also owed child support to the government and had never received a bill.
His lawyers added that there was no apparent way for fathers to pay child support to New York foster care agencies, a claim echoed by other lawyers in similar cases.
A spokeswoman for the Administration for Children’s Services, Chanel Caraway, and the executive director of Catholic Guardian Services, Craig Longley, both said they could not comment on a specific case. Ms. Caraway also declined to comment on whether the agency had ever tried to get fathers to pay child support in these situations.
The state does not track how often the law is given as the reason for ending a father’s parental rights. But a review of Family Court decisions and interviews with foster care lawyers suggests it is routinely cited in those cases.
Last week, David Dunbar, a 43-year-old overnight grocery store manager from the South Bronx, narrowly missed becoming one of them.
After the mother of Mr. Dunbar’s daughter developed severe mental illness in 2014, the children’s services agency deemed her to be an unfit parent and placed the girl, Destiny, then 10, in foster care. In order for her to be adopted, the agency had to show that Mr. Dunbar was also not a fit parent.
Although court records show that Mr. Dunbar consistently visited Destiny, took parenting classes and passed drug tests, the foster care agency, St. Dominic’s Family Services, argued that his rights should be ended in part because he failed to communicate regularly with officials about his plans for his daughter.
As the years went on, the agency began citing the state’s decades-old law as an alternate reason for ending Mr. Dunbar’s rights, court records show. But at a hearing in Manhattan on Sept. 18, the agency dropped its petition, largely because Destiny, now 16, had repeatedly stated to the court that she wanted to be with her father.
“I loved my daughter’s mother,” Mr. Dunbar said. “I wish I could’ve married her. I wish we could have lived a wonderful life together. But we didn’t. That doesn’t mean I’m not a dad.”
Diane Aquino, the chief operating officer of St. Dominic’s Family Services, said that she could not comment on an individual case but that the agency would not try to end a father’s rights if he were “actively planning for his child.”
“Five years in foster care indicates a father who is only intermittently planning,” Dr. Aquino said.
A half-century ago, unwed fathers had even fewer rights. But a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1972 redefined fatherhood, to an extent.
In that case, the justices found that a state could not deny an unwed father his parental rights without demonstrating that he was unfit. Over the next decade, legislators in New York and at least nine other states decided that the fitness of these unmarried fathers would be judged by whether they paid child support and maintained some relationship with the child.
When those laws were passed, many policymakers had a particular scenario in mind: a single mother who wanted to give up her child for adoption. Their goal was to prevent an absentee father from thwarting the mother’s decision without having paid child support.
But they did not take into account adoptions that occurred after a government agency had taken a child from a mother because of abuse or neglect. In order to satisfy the law, the unwed father would technically have to send payments to the government.
In New York, lawyers for fathers said that making payments to foster care agencies was not even possible. The agencies do not try to collect the money, they said, and fathers do not know where or to whom to send it.
“I’ve tried to imagine ways of doing it — having my clients get child support orders against themselves, which they can then pay, or offer to pay the agency in cash every time they can, just so it’s in the record that they tried,” said Yusuf El Ashmawy, a lawyer who represents Mr. Dunbar and other fathers. “It’s mind-bending.”
Since its passage nearly four decades ago, New York’s law has not been updated, even as the culture and the courts have embraced more expansive views of what makes a family . The state’s highest court struck down an earlier provision requiring unwed fathers to be living with their child’s mother in order to have a say in an adoption, but it has not directly ruled on other aspects of the statute.
Ping’s lawyers hope his argument will sway the court.
His daughter Amanda, now 11, was adopted by a white family with whom she has bonded. She lost her ability to communicate with Ping in Mandarin; he does not speak English. Ping eventually married Amanda’s mother, and they had a son, Owen, now 6. Ping’s wife has since died, and he is raising his son on his own.
How a stressed out Kentucky social
worker accused the wrong father
of Child Abuse
THESE MISTREATED, OVERWORKED, UNDERPAID WORKERS…. I’m almost in tears…. NOT!!!! This Dear couple, the Humphries, was most pobably being setup so these poor mistreated kidnappers could have their Children by now.
Who knows how many Children’s lives have been lost or ruined, and how many Families have been broken up or innocent lives lost because of these people’s above-the law crimes.
On a Sunday morning in late August, while Karin Humphries was still in her nightgown, a sheriff’s deputy knocked at her door.
Karin, 31, was home with two of her four children, including her second youngest — a three-year-old daughter. Her husband, Brandon, 31, had just left to get a haircut.
Stunned at the unexpected visit, Karin worried something had happened to her two oldest boys, and her stomach dropped.
But the Hardin County sheriff’s deputy was there for a different reason. Carrying a summons, he asked to speak to Brandon, who had been ordered to appear before a Fayette County judge the following week for alleged abuse and neglect of their three-year-old.
“YOU COULD LOSE YOUR CHILDREN. YOU SHOULD HAVE A LAWYER,” was printed in bold on the page.
Horrified, never having seen her husband abuse their daughter or noticing any signs of neglect, Karin told the deputy he’d made a mistake. He countered by referencing the detailed statement their Fayette County social worker, Brittany Philpot, had attached to the petition.
“But we don’t have a social worker, and I don’t even know where Fayette County is,” Karin remembers telling him. Other than a visit from a child protective services worker several years ago over an issue with Karin’s ex-husband, Karin said they’ve never had any involvement with the state Department for Community Based Services, which handles child welfare matters.
A frantic Brandon, who arrived at their Rineyville home within minutes of Karin calling to say he’d been summoned, began thumbing through the paperwork with the deputy. His and Karin’s birth dates and Social Security numbers were correct, but he noticed his daughter’s information was correct on some pages but not others. And the legal name of the three-year-old’s listed biological mother was the name of a woman who lived in Lexington that neither he nor Karin knew. The Lexington woman and Brandon were listed as legal guardians.
“Within 10 seconds of reading it, I knew this wasn’t about us, that there had been a mistake,” Brandon said in his living room two weeks later.
Included in the summons were intimate details about the Lexington woman, a 21-year-old mother with two children, including a three-year-old daughter who shares an almost identical name to Brandon and Karin’s daughter. The woman later spoke to the Herald-Leader. Her identity is being withheld, along with her daughter’s name, because they are possible victims of abuse.
The paperwork given to the Humphrieses included the Lexington mother’s address, both her and her daughter’s Social Security numbers, which daycare the children attend, and details of their case, including results of drug tests the mother has taken, recent medical history, currently prescribed medications, instances of potential domestic violence, and details explaining why Philpot, 28, believes the three-year-old is “at risk of harm” in her mother’s home.
“We’re panicking, thinking, you’ve got the wrong kid, and is there a child in need somewhere and you don’t know where she is?” Karin recalled.
Around this time, more than 90 miles away, law enforcement knocked on the Lexington mother’s door with a copy of the same paperwork in tow, where the child the summons was issued to protect lives. Her copy, like theirs, included the address, birth dates and Social Security numbers of Karin and Brandon Humphries and their daughter.
For the Humphrieses, there was little they could do on a Sunday afternoon. They made several calls anyway, including to Philpot, whose number was on the summons. She didn’t pick up, so Brandon left a message.
Not knowing how quickly the issue would get resolved and being unfamiliar with the process, the couple was afraid their daughter might be mistakenly taken by child protective services, so they hastily found a lawyer for $250 an hour to appear for them in court the following Wednesday.
That night, Karin and Brandon couldn’t sleep.
“It was terrifying, literally, for two days,” Karin said, “to be sitting, watching your driveway, thinking at any moment someone might show up and take my three-year-old.”
Paranoid when their older children went to school Monday morning, Karin and Brandon asked their teachers to please call them first if anyone showed up asking questions about their kids.
Later that day, Karin phoned the Lexington mother for the first time, and found out the packets they both received were virtually identical.
When Karin shared with the Lexington mother they’d been given the specifics of her and her children’s case, “I was humiliated,” the mother said.
“I still am humiliated. I just don’t think anyone has the right to know those personal details about me and my children,” she said, adding that in the three weeks since, the state still hasn’t told her of the mix up. Earlier this week, a state employee called to say her case had been given to a different social worker without explaining why, she said.
At the Humphrieses’ that evening, state officials had begun returning phone messages, including Philpot, who wrongly assured the couple no one else had received their personal information, they said.
Two days later, the Humphrieses’ attorney returned from the hearing saying officials said all paperwork with their information had been collected and digital copies destroyed. He then handed over what he’d been given in court, which included bits and pieces of summons from other cases, they said. One of those papers included personal information about the Lexington mother’s son, who has a different father than her daughter. This led the Humphrieses to wonder, again, whether their personal information had been shared with someone else, perhaps this boy’s father, who lives in Eastern Kentucky.
Philpot and her bosses would later apologize in an interview with the Herald-Leader for her error as an “honest mistake,” but acknowledged it’s a symptom of a broader issue facing Kentucky’s child welfare system: caseworkers continue to struggle with untenable caseload volumes, increasing the likelihood for mistakes and unintended consequences.
In Kentucky right now, the average social worker manages at least double the number of recommended cases — each of which involves the welfare of a child. When Philpot pulled a wrong file that led to the mix up, she was managing nearly five times that amount.
Her slip up led to the spread of personal information, invoking fear and stoking two families’ distrust in the state’s largest branch of government. And for the Humphrieses, eventually to an ameliorating offer of $5,000 from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to cover at least five years’ worth of credit monitoring and repayment of the Humphrieses’ attorney fees, they said. Cabinet officials would not confirm the specifics of the proposed settlement.
The offer, though, was extended on the condition that the couple agree not to sue the state, return the mixed documentation and that Karin take down a Facebook post she made about the incident, even though it didn’t include names.
They said no.
“The ability to tell our story is worth more,” Brandon said.
‘She made a mistake’
Philpot is a veteran in her profession, despite her young age. With more than six years as a state social worker under her belt, her tenure more than doubles that of many of her colleagues in Fayette County, one of the most case-heavy regions in the state, where most who leave the job do so after fewer than two years. That’s in part why she’s chief on her investigatory team, holding the highest position under her supervisor.
Her work history is also sparkling, one of her supervisors, Alicia Miller, said.
“I never have worried about a case that Brittany has investigated, or any of the information she brings back from an investigation,” Miller said.
Philpot took the job immediately after college, earnest and passionate about protecting children. In the nearly seven years since, she’s seen colleagues buried under hefty caseloads, inadequate pay and high stress spurred by long work hours flee to other professions. But it hasn’t shaken her resolve, even as she’s seen her own caseload grow to an unmanageable size. In one recent pay period, Philpot logged 48 hours of overtime, she said.
“I can attest to the caseloads in Fayette County — almost every worker I have has a high caseload and it’s due to staff turnover,” Miller said.
A year-long study completed by a state legislative committee in 2017 found Kentucky to have some of the highest caseloads in the nation, and the annual turnover rate in the profession was 24 percent. In a report issued this summer, the state average was still about 31 cases per worker — twice as high as the federal recommended standard of 15 to 17.
Raises were given to social workers across the state three years ago for the first time since 2008 as a way to stave off high turnover rates, boost morale, and create an avenue by which employees could work their way up to higher-paying positions. Starting salaries are now around $34,000. Philpot earns $43,090, according to state records.
In 2018, Gov. Matt Bevin’s biennial budget included $22.2 million tofund more pay increases for about 10 percent of social workers, and another $28 million to hire new social workers and replace outdated technology.
But progress is slow going.
Currently, the average caseload size in Fayette County is 33, according to state data. And the number of social workers hired in the area in 2019 compared with how many have quit is virtually break even: between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15, 19 social workers were hired and 16 left. In the 10 central Kentucky counties that make up the Southern Bluegrass region, including Fayette, 27 social workers have been hired this year, while 30 have quit.
Today, Philpot manages 60 cases — almost five times the federally recommended amount. Each case represents a family of varying size, meaning she manages well over 100 children, all of whom are in vulnerable and potentially dangerous positions. It’s a workload she admitted “is not doable.”
When she mistakenly swapped the Humphrieses’ three-year-old with the Lexington mothers’, she was managing 56 cases, according to her personnel records.
Philpot erred when she pulled the wrong name from Kentucky’s birth index, a statewide registry with personal information for every person born in Kentucky. That day, she also pulled information for about 10 other children, in order to issue similar juvenile dependency, abuse and neglect petitions to their parents.
Complicating matters, the Lexington three-year-old’s name was spelled incorrectly in the system, “so when I searched her in the birth index, the other child is the one that came up,” and, always tight for time, she didn’t double check her Social Security number and birth date, Philpot said in an interview Monday alongside Miller, Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Eric Clark, Cabinet for Health and Family Services Chief of Staff Tresa Straw, and DCBS Chief of Staff Lesa Dennis. They all defended Philpot’s work performance and said no reprimand was necessary.
“I made an honest mistake. I was very overwhelmed,” Philpot said. “I would never intentionally put stress on a family like this.”
Clark said he and others chose to speak publicly about the incident to admit a mistake was made, and to rebuff the Humphrieses’ notion that accountability means “publicly shaming” Philpot for a simple error.
Workforce retention is a constant struggle for the department, the officials agreed, and it’s likely to be exacerbated now that the Humphrieses are using “this as a platform to ruin a good worker’s career and publicly humiliate her,” Clark said.
“Let’s talk about mistakes. Let’s talk about outcomes due to high caseloads,” he said. “There are much more egregious things that can happen due to high caseloads outside of mailing something to the wrong address.”
Miller said it’s hard for people outside the industry to understand the toll it takes.
“For someone who doesn’t understand what the agency does and just wants to have an outlet for their own benefit when we’re here trying to protect kids, trying to make sure families have what they need, it puts a bad taste in your mouth. That there are people out there who have no clue what we do but want to drag us through the mud when we have really good workers who are trying to do their jobs.”
‘Not going to correct what happened’
In the weeks since the incident, Karin and the Lexington mother have been communicating regularly. She’s due in court for her daughter’s case in early October, and Karin, who said she feels obligated “not to turn our back on her and her kids,” plans to go.
Though Clark wouldn’t provide specifics, he said the state has tried “everything we can” to remediate the issue with the Humphrieses, but to no avail, because what they want is “more precious taxpayer dollars to pay them out for this mistake.”
The Humphrieses, though, said they’re not interested in money, especially if it comes with strings attached, and they don’t understand why they’re being portrayed as exploitative.
What they want is accountability and assurance that this won’t happen again.
“How big of a mistake are they allowed to make before something changes?” Brandon said. “They still can’t tell us who all has our information. We understand that mistakes get made, but we didn’t ask to be brought into this.”
But instead of getting bogged down scrutinizing isolated mistakes, Clark said, the department must focus on retaining more of its employees.
A big part of that means standing behind overworked staff by transparently owning minor mistakes and publicly defending them — what he called “a new way of operating.”
“We have got to stop workers from leaving our agency in two years or less,” he said, and figuring out, “how can we create an environment where workers feel supported in spite of high caseloads?”
As for what should happen as a result of Philpot’s mix up, Clark was unequivocal: “There does not need to be a change in how we operate in the Department for Community Based Services,” he said.
Accountability is necessary, he said, but this isn’t what it looks like.
“A new policy, a new procedure, disciplinary action is not going to prevent this from happening again, and it’s not going to correct what happened,” he said.
“It’s important for us to demonstrate to Brittany and our entire workforce that we care about them, because we need them. We’re not going to let bad outcomes define who we are.”
The Good, the Bad and the Puzzling in
Child Maltreatment Counts
Each year, the Oklahoma agency that tracks and investigates abuse and neglect of children issues a detailed statistical report.
Buried in all of the numbers is what appears to be a hopeful trend.
During the past six years, the number of child abuse cases – the most severe form of child maltreatment – has plummeted by more than 50 percent, to 1,407 last year.
At the same time, another measure of how Oklahoma treats its children has risen to alarming levels. During the same period, the number of substantiated cases of child neglect has tripled, to 13,394. That drove an overall 18% increase in the number of cases of abuse, neglect or both since fiscal year 2012, a data analysis by Oklahoma Watch found.
But why would neglect soar and abuse plummet?
Human Services Department officials say they don’t know why, except mainly to suggest that when it comes to child neglect, citizens and professionals who deal with children have become better educated about recognizing the problem, which is defined more broadly than abuse, and are more inclined to report suspected cases.
No one at DHS or among child advocacy groups seems to be celebrating. Some advocates question whether the statistics are accurate and, as they did at a recent legislative hearing, continue to push for more funding to prevent and respond to both abuse and neglect.
“Why overall it (abuse) keeps going down, I don’t know,” said Debi Knecht, DHS deputy director of child welfare programs. “I would like to think society just evolves and stops abusing kids, but I don’t know why that is just in one particular area.”
Among the thousands of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect each year, a large majority involve only neglect. In fiscal 2018, neglect cases made up 86% of the total 15,591 cases, compared with 9% for abuse and 7% for both abuse and neglect.
The most common types of abuse are a threat of harm, such as a child who is in danger of abuse because of their proximity to physical violence; beating or hitting by hand, and beating or hitting with an instrument.
The most common types of neglect are threat of harm, which is when a child faces a direct threat from their environment, such as a home where drug use is present; exposure to domestic violence, and failure to protect a child.
Knecht credits most of the increase in cases of child neglect to statewide efforts to teach law enforcement, teachers and others who work with kids how to recognize and report the problem. Education drives up the number of reports that come into the agency, which leads to more substantiated reports, she said.
Knecht said the opioid epidemic and popularity of methamphetamine have also contributed to growing reports of neglect that involve substance abuse.
Knecht said the increase in neglect cases also could mean the agency is taking action earlier and thus preventing physical abuse. Another contributing factor could be a cultural shift that has caused fewer parents to spank their children, she said.
But Knecht acknowledged it is difficult on the surface to reconcile the divergent trends. An increase in reporting would more likely point to an increase in substantiated abuse, not a decrease, as it did with neglect cases, she said.
Child advocates question the accuracy of the data, saying the number of child abuse cases they see has remained steady or even increased over the past several years.
Dr. Ryan Brown, a child-abuse pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, said he has seen more cases of child abuse in recent years, not fewer.
“No matter what the DHS numbers say, those physical abuse numbers are not going down,” Brown said.
National reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also show an increase in children suffering from abuse and neglect combined.
Mary Abbott Children’s House conducts forensic interviews of children ages 3 to 18 for criminal investigations in Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties and surrounding areas. Interviewer Christi Cornett said the organization interviews around 480 children per year, and that number has remained steady since at least 2013.
Joe Dorman, CEO of the the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and Nellie Kelly, executive director of the Child Protection Coalition, said the reported drop in child abuse cases contradicts what they see every day.
“I want to believe we’re getting better, but I find it hard to believe,” Dorman said.
Reporting Abuse and Neglect: All Oklahomans 18 or older are required to report child abuse or neglect. Reports can be made 24 hours a day, any day, to the state Department of Human Services at 1-800-522-3511.