Medical Investigator on Omaree Varela in New Mexico: Nine Referrals to DCFY; Over 20 Injuries

March 27, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

The Medical Investigator has completed his autopsy on the body of nine-year-old Omaree Varela and the results — for everyone — are far worse than previously thought. Omaree was the little boy whose mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus admitted to kicking him “too hard.” He died of his injuries last December. She’s in jail currently charged with injury to a child resulting in death, but that may change to a homicide charge soon. Here’s an article (KOB 3/25/14).

I’ve written about the matter several times, concentrating on the facts that (a) the Children, Youth and Families Department knew that Omaree was at risk of abuse and (b) CYFD apparently enabled his mother, who was a known abuser, to keep him in her “care.” It’s always been clear that the former was true. The CYFD has admitted all along that it had had three referrals of Omaree and at least once had placed him with a foster family.

But now we know there weren’t just three referrals, there were nine. The CYFD claims it was prohibited from disclosing the other six because of confidentiality issues. But I wonder if that excuses the behavior of caseworkers or simply damns them all the more. After all, Omaree is dead and his mother and step-father are charged with criminal offenses in his death. So there aren’t any issues of confidentiality regarding any of them.

Who else is there to be protected from the prying eyes of the press and public? Well, one obvious answer is Omaree’s sibling. Indeed, who else could need his/her privacy protected regarding potential abuse? It’s very tempting to conclude that the CYFD had three complaints just about Omaree, but six others about him and his sibling, and the agency couldn’t disclose the others because the child is mercifully still living.

If all that’s true — and it seems likely that it is — Omaree was in far greater danger than the CYFD has ever admitted, and caseworkers knew it. They had a family in which the mother was known to be an abuser and the step-father at the very least did nothing to intervene to protect the children. They were out there at least nine times, and yet they still failed to take Omaree into foster care even temporarily.

So what was the evidence caseworkers had that Omaree was being physically abused by his mother? The autopsy report is sickeningly clear on the subject. It details a minimum of 22 separate injuries to all parts of his body. Those include multiple burns.  

I say that’s a “minimum” for two reasons. The first is an injury to his tongue. I’m not including that as one of the 22 because I’m assuming that the boy bit his tongue during the course of his battering by Varela-Casaus.

The second is a reference in the autopsy report to “multiple patchy small contusions” on the “serosal surfaces of the small and large bowel…” Because there’s insufficient evidence to conclude how many blows produced those contusions, I count that as a single trauma even though it’s almost certainly more.

Here’s the summary of findings by the Medical Investigator:

At autopsy, there were contusions (bruises) of the chest, arms, legs and tongue; abrasions (skin scrapes) of the face; a healing laceration (skin tear) of the scalp (left parietal scalp); and hemorrhage (bleeding) into the muscles between the ribs (intercostal hemorrhage), into the soft tissues of the back, into the diaphragm (muscle that separates the chest and abdominal organs), into an abdominal wall muscle (right internal oblique muscle), into the abdominal cavity (hemoperitoneum), into the soft tissues around the pancreas and left kidney; and on the outer surface (serosa) of the bowel. On the chest were discreet injuries consistent with thermal injuries (burns).

Into the bargain, Omaree had lost an astonishing 25% of his blood to internal hemorrhaging. More astonishing still is the fact that there was no single source of the loss of blood. So, for example, there wasn’t a ruptured hepatic artery or spleen. Those could produce substantial blood loss, but the Medical Investigator could find no one source of bleeding of the type that a single blow could produce. What type of abuse would it take to cause that much bleeding? If not a single blow to a major artery, it looks probable that there were countless blows that missed all the large blood vessels. In short, from here it looks like Omaree endured many beatings consisting of who knows how many blows.

Unsurprisingly, the Medical Investigator states unequivocally that Omaree’s injuries, and the fact that many were in the process of healing at the time of his death, are “consistent with a history of abuse.” That’s putting it mildly. The fact is that this little boy was beaten regularly and severely. He was his mother’s punching bag and his step-father apparently did nothing to stop it. That was Omaree’s life until his small body could endure it no longer and he died.

Here’s what Casaus-Varela admitted to police:

Additionally, the mother told police that she knocked him into a dresser and he fell to the floor. While on the floor she stomped on him twice and kicked him in the abdomen.

That’s a description by a person who’s not much concerned about her behavior. It’s what someone says who’s so used to battering a child that its significance is lost on her. They’re the words of a sadist.

The point of all this horror is that caseworkers had to have known what was going on. They had nine complaints about Varela-Casaus and her husband. There was a child with many, many obvious injuries that didn’t all occur at the same time. That means there was, as the MI stated, a pattern of abuse, and yet still they did nothing.

I’d be a bit more sympathetic to them if they’d recognized what was clear for all to see and tried to address it but failed. For example, if they’d sent Omaree’s mother to parenting classes and placed him in foster care while she completed them, I wouldn’t be so critical. But they didn’t. They didn’t lift a finger.

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