ATLANTA - The family of a 10-year-old girl found dead in a garbage can had been the focus of state family and child investigators for the child’s entire life, according to documents obtained by Channel 2 Action News.
The case of Emani Moss includes six previous contacts or complaints with the Georgia Department of Family and Child Services dating back to 2003. The most recent complaint happened just two months before her death.
"I am committed to ensuring whatever action that needs to be taken is taken, whether that's corrective action or personnel changes. Personnel changes are always possible," Division Director Sharon Hill told Channel 2's Aaron Diamant.
Diamant is the only television reporter that Hill has spoken to about the case. She spoke in an interview that came after a week of phone calls and emails.
“I’m not sure that we have made the best use of the people, the tools that we do have,” Hill said. “Quite often we’ve developed strategies, but we don’t always fully execute on those strategies and continue to follow up.”
Hill was remarkably candid about the agency’s failures amid growing concern that many Georgia children with DFCS histories are falling through the cracks.
“Am I feeling the urgency? Yes. Each moment I’m feeling the urgency, because each beat of a child’s heart is urgency for us,” she said.
State reports show that 152 children with DFCS histories died in Georgia in 2012. At least 18 cases have been labeled as homicides.
Moss' isn’t the only recent case. Twelve-year-old Eric Forbes died in October, allegedly at the hands of his father.
“We will drill down and determine what happened and what was missed. We certainly will be taking the necessary actions, including personnel actions," said Hill.
Troubling signs before child’s death
Eman and Tiffany Moss face felony murder, first-degree child cruelty and concealing a death charges. They are expected to face a judge on Friday.
Documents obtained by Channel 2’s Tony Thomas show that two cases involving the Moss family were screened but lacked enough facts for the agency to act.
One case was closed when the child didn’t make any complaints during an interview, and two were found unsubstantiated.
In one of the cases Tiffany Moss was sentenced to five years' probation after pleading guilty to charges she beat the then 6-year-old Emani with a belt.
The DFCS report on Emani’s death stated that the child had been dead for three days and police found her body in a trash can.
The heavily redacted report said:
“Nine days ago (redacted) came home and (redacted) was in the bathtub and was shaking very badly.
“(Redacted) came home on Oct. 30 and found (redacted) deceased. (Redacted) told to get rid of the body. (Redacted) stated they went and bought a trash can and took the body to another location away from the home and tried to burn the body for 20 minutes but the body wouldn’t burn.”
The case record from Aug. 6, 2013, indicates the child “is distant and appears afraid to interact."
In the record, the DFCS reporter was suspicious and said the child is being neglected. The reporter last visited the home three months ago, and the child appeared thin. according to the record.
The case was screened out because DFCS had no current address and no current signs of maltreatment.
Reports of abuse stretch a decade
A DFCS report filed in May 2012 said Emani said she was hit on the back of the head with a belt because she was eating breakfast too slowly.
“(Redacted) hit her three times, once in the living room, once in the bathroom and once in the bedroom,” the report said.
The DFCS report was screened out as "no maltreatment alleged.” The injury was identified as insignificant and determined to be corporal punishment, according to the case documents.
In July 2012, Emani herself complained to a Gwinnett County officer. The officer wrote in a report about the runaway: "She did not like living at home anymore. The victim said she had been tied to a chair with two of her belts and placed under a cold shower by the suspect."
DFCS notes on the Moss family from spring of 2010 state that physical abuse was reported at school. Emani said she was spanked with a belt for not finishing schoolwork and said that is how she is normally disciplined when she does not finish schoolwork or get good grades.
Emani also told officials she was afraid to go home. The incident led to cruelty to children charges for Tiffani Moss. Both parents were required to take parenting classes, and Emani was placed back in the home on May 2010.
Case workers reported in late 2008 and early 2009 that they were concerned Emani may have been sexually abused. Just 5 years old at the time, Emani “has been acting strange by crying more than usual when she gets frustrated,” the report said.
Emani was asked if anyone was bothering her in an inappropriate manner. She told the DFCS worker, “If I tell anyone then I would not be able to see you anymore.”
The agency met with the child alone at school and discussed her home life, but no concerns were noted and the case was closed, according to the paperwork.
Two other reports in 2003 and 2005 indicate that caseworkers found inadequate food, clothing and shelter, as well as evidence of emotional neglect. Both were found unsubstantiated by DFCS.
The report lists several action steps for DFCS workers as part of the investigation, including listening to the 911 call and obtaining school records and medical records of all children in the family.
Hill promised DFCS will review open cases more thoroughly, improve computer systems to catch red flags and use data to look for trends in child deaths.
“That is something I will be held accountable for. That’s something I’m holding my staff accountable for,” Hill said.