Erie County Child Protective Services had been investigating a complaint concerning the welfare of 8-year-old Jacob T. Noe but failed to remove the boy from his home before his mother allegedly killed him last week.
Three people familiar with the case told The Buffalo News on Thursday that a caseworker had been assigned to investigate whether Jacob’s living conditions in the family’s North Buffalo apartment were acceptable because of concern over his mother’s mental health, but the case languished after the caseworker was suspended in an unrelated matter.
The county Department of Social Services is looking into when the caseworker’s supervisor became aware that the worker had not completed the investigation into Jacob’s mother, Jessica L. Murphy.
The supervisor sought to further the investigation, but action was not taken in time to save the boy, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because state social services’ privacy laws prohibit them from publicly discussing child protection matters.
“The caseworker should have pulled that kid from his home because of the mother’s mental illness,” one of the sources said. “The kid shouldn’t be dead, but it is hard to blame the mother who has mental health problems.”
Another of the sources said, “Work required in the case had not been done.”
A fourth source confirmed that a complaint had been filed with CPS regarding Murphy’s ability to properly care for her son. Murphy, according to a relative, suffers from bipolar disorder.
When police responded shortly after 1:45 a.m. May 14 to the family’s Lovering Avenue apartment, Murphy, according to police documents filed in Buffalo City Court, told officers: “Everyone has to die. He had to die. I am saving him from going to hell.”
Murphy, 29, has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly stabbing Jacob in the chest in their second-floor apartment. Her brother and mother live in another apartment at the house on Lovering, north of Hertel Avenue. Jacob was a second-grader at Tapestry Charter School in North Buffalo.
Erie County officials declined to comment specifically on the case, but Mark D. Cornell, director of policy and communications for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, issued this statement late Thursday:
“Erie County generally does not discuss personnel matters. Additionally, we are statutorily prohibited from discussing child protective cases, including confirming or denying their existence.
“Erie County is committed to developing and maintaining a workforce that is prepared to provide quality services across all program areas.
“County employees are held to high standards, and those that do not perform to those standards are progressively disciplined, including and up to termination.”
The state Office of Children & Family Services, which oversees CPS units across the state, declined to comment but confirmed it is conducting a review into the circumstances surrounding Jacob’s death for a fatality report.
“I’m heartbroken, very heartbroken,” said David C. Noe Sr., the paternal grandfather, in reacting to the prior investigation by CPS and lack of action. “None of this would have occurred.”
Jacob joins a list of other deaths involving children where CPS had been called in to investigate prior to the fatal attacks.
Eain Clayton Brooks, 5, died in September 2013, after allegedly being beaten by his mother’s boyfriend, and 10-year-old Abdifatah “Abdi” Mohamud, who had called for help himself, died in April 2012, when his stepfather beat him more than 70 times with a baker’s hardwood rolling pin.
In Eain’s case, two CPS caseworkers were fired for mishandling child-abuse complaints against Matthew W. Kuzdzal, the 26-year-old man accused of beating to death his girlfriend’s son at their West Side home.
Two CPS supervisors who oversaw the caseworkers were briefly suspended without pay, and two individuals in CPS leadership positions were reassigned to other posts. And the upper administrative levels of Erie County Social Services were restructured.
Relatives of Eain said they repeatedly called and complained to CPS workers that Eain was in danger.
Abdi called 911 twice in one day to complain it was “a matter of life and death,” regarding how his stepfather, Ali-Mohamed Mohamud, was abusing him. The stepfather has been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Kuzdzal’s case is pending in State Supreme Court.
Following Eain’s death, the state Office of Children & Family Services conducted an exhaustive review of CPS, and Poloncarz and Social Services Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer instituted changes for greater accountability, including hiring more caseworkers.
Earlier this year, the state office offered an assessment that Erie County was making progress in its handling of CPS cases. Instead of doing only the minimum amount of required work in order to quickly close cases – a recurring theme the state office cited in its initial review – CPS workers were performing additional interviews and better documenting investigations.
The case against Murphy in her son’s death is expected to be presented to an Erie County grand jury for review.