Family Sues Police and Child Protective Services in Death of Jhessye Shockley

March 10th, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Sigh.  Another day, another lawsuit against the police and Child Protective Services for failing to prevent the death of a child they knew to be in danger.  Read about it here (CBS, 3/7/13).

Five-year-old Jhessye Shockley has been missing since October, 2011.  Arizona police and prosecutors believe her mother, Jerice Hunter, killed the little girl and tossed her body in a dumpster.  Police spent months sifting through some 9,500 tons of garbage trying to find the child’s body, but to no avail.  Despite the absence of a body, Jerice Hunter remains in Maricopa County jail awaiting trial on a charge of first-degree murder.  That strongly suggests evidence of murder from a source other than a dead body.

Hunter has several other children, at least one of whom is now an adult.  But she has three daughters who have been in foster care since Jhessye was reported missing.  That’s what’s called closing the barn door after all the horses have escaped.  Prior to Jhessye’s disappearance, family members repeatedly contacted the Glendale Police Department reporting abuse by Hunter.  They also reported the abuse to Child Protective Services, but to no avail.  So, once a child was missing and certainly dead, both agencies swung into action.

Police arrested Hunter and CPS placed the children in foster care despite the fact that their grandmother, Shirley Johnson, had legal guardianship of all of them.  Just why the kids haven’t been in Johnson’s care all this time remains a mystery, but Maricopa County is attempting to void her guardianship of the children.

In another development, Shirley Johnson, Jhessye’s grandmother who cared for and had legal custody of Jhessye’s three older sisters while Hunter was in prison, was in juvenile court for a severance hearing Wednesday afternoon, KPHO reports.

According to the station, the state of Arizona is trying to strip Johnson of her legal guardianship of the three girls, who have been in foster care since Jhessye went missing.

Johnson is reportedly fighting the state’s efforts, hoping to get the children out of foster care, maintain her guardianship and take the girls to California where Johnson lives.

You’ll notice the phrase “while Hunter was in prison.”  That doesn’t refer to her current incarceration for murder.  No, it refers to her previous imprisonment in 2006 in California for – you guessed it – child abuse.  She was arrested on multiple counts of brutalizing and torturing her children back then, pled guilty and was sentenced to four years behind bars.

Hunter’s children were aged three, seven, nine and 14 at the time of her arrest.  They readily told relatives, the police and prosecutors about Hunter’s violence toward them.  According to the appellate court in her 2006 case, Hunter seemed to specialize in extensive and brutal whippings with electrical cords that caused permanent welts and open wounds on the children.  But electrical cords weren’t Hunter’s only weapons.  The 14-year-old boy reported to police that she frequently slugged him in the jaw and beat him with sticks.  Because he was old enough to try to take care of his younger sisters, Hunter threatened that, should he go to authorities, the children would be separated into foster homes, so he kept silent.

The seven and nine-year-olds told police that they had been beaten by Hunter and their stepfather, George Shockley, “for a lot of years.”  The older girl said the two “whipped her younger sister five to six times a day on the average of two to three times a week,” according to the appellate court.  That’s not discipline, it’s sadism.

The court added that “[a]ll of the children confirmed that this type of abuse had been occurring for several years.”

The court went on, “Upon learning of the abuse, the children’s two aunts and grandmother confronted defendant only to be told ‘Those are my motherfucking kids and I’ll do whatever I want.’”

After pleading no contest to the charges against her, Hunter was evaluated for probation.  Having looked into her background, the probation department recommended that she be imprisoned for the maximum permissible time, 10 years.

The trial court opted for a four-year sentence while expressing the opinion that Hunter “never, ever should have had children.”  The appellate court called Hunter’s abuse of her children “tragic,” a term eerily predictive of what was to come.

This is the mother about whom relatives were once again complaining to authorities five years later, this time in Arizona.  Despite the fact that her record of child abuse was easily available to the Glendale Police and CPS, neither apparently lifted a finger to protect Hunter’s children, i.e. do the jobs the taxpayers of the state pay them to do.

“They had a chance to save her life and they chose to sweep it under the rug,” Jhessye’s cousin Lisa Vance said, KPHO reports. “However it happened, they didn’t save her and she should have been saved.”

“I know for a fact that me and my immediate family, we did everything possible,” Vance reportedly said. “We did everything by the book to try to not only get Jhessye out of the home, but we were trying to get all of the children out of the home.”

Keep in mind, these were people who knew Jerice Hunter well.  They knew her propensity for injuring children and they had dealt with California police and child welfare agencies only a few years before.  They knew about her previous incarceration for child abuse.  They likely had a good idea of how the system works.  But this time the system didn’t work.  According to their attorney, the gears of the child protective system barely moved at all.

The family’s attorney, Dwane Cates, says that police never looked into his clients’ reports of suspected abuse. Police instead turned the case over to Child Protective Services, which took little action, KPHO reports.

“The Glendale Police Department did no investigation,” Cates said. “They didn’t even go talk with Jerice Hunter. They didn’t do anything.”

Those very police and CPS employees could have read the findings of the California courts and police without ever leaving their desks.  They could have gotten a very good idea of what kind of mother the children’s relatives were reporting on and what kind of danger those kids were in.  In fact, if what happened in California is any indication, the children could have told them what was going on.  My guess is that’s where they’ve gotten their evidence of murder.  My guess is one or more of the children witnessed it.  But the police and CPS waited until a five-year-old was dead before lifting a finger.

Now they’re being sued for Gross Negligence and my guess is that once again the taxpayers of the state will pay out a hefty sum.

One last point.  The anti-father crowd has essentially one claim to make to support their opposition to fathers’ rights to their children and children’s rights to their fathers.  They pretend that fathers are dangerous to children, so they shouldn’t get custody.  “Abusers get custody!” is their battle cry.

They never manage to cite a case in which that’s happened, but, given that there are about a million divorces finalized every year in this country, odds are that there are some.

But isn’t it interesting that there really are a great number of cases in which child abusers get custody?  It’s just that, in the vast majority of those cases, it’s the mother who commits the abuse and who gets custody.  Jerice Hunter and her kids are a prime example.  She abused them for years in California and never lost parental rights.  Having served time in prison for her abuse, she apparently regained custody of them in Arizona, at least long enough to murder little Jhessye.

Of course Jerice Hunter is far from alone.  According to the U.S. Administration for Children and Families, mothers acting alone commit 40% of all abuse and neglect of children.  The AFC reports about 900,000 cases of child abuse and/or neglect in this country each year.  That’s 360,000 cases of abuse and neglect each year found to have been committed by mothers acting alone against children.  And needless to say, most of those are mothers with custody of their kids, i.e. their parental rights haven’t been diminished or terminated by any court.

So where are the cries of “Abusers get custody!” in the Jerice Hunter case?  Where are those cries in the 360,000 cases of maternal abuse and neglect of children each and every year?  They’re utterly silent because those people don’t care about the welfare of children nearly as much as they care about cutting fathers out of their lives.  They disgrace themselves every time there’s a case like Jhessye Shockley’s.  They should hang their heads in shame.

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