State fails to rescue Oleander
- Mara Stine
- Gresham Outlook - News
Procedures weren't followed in investigation 14 months before child died of abuse, torture
A child welfare worker violated state policy by failing to interview a nearly 4-year-old girl, who died a year later from her father's torture and abuse.
Instead, Social Service Worker Maria Alaniz closed the report of possible neglect and lack of medical treatment as unfounded.
And 14 months later, Gresham police investigated the death of Oleander Labier, by then 5, in what they called the worst case of child abuse and neglect they'd seen.
The girl's father, Christopher 'Andy' Rosillo, 24, pleaded guilty earlier this year to murder by abuse. He is serving a life sentence in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years.
His Sandy High School classmate and longtime girlfriend, Guadalupe 'Lupé' Quintero, 24, also abused the girl - who was not her biological daughter - and did nothing to prevent her fiance from starving, torturing and abusing her. Quintero pleaded guilty to manslaughter and criminal mistreatment and is serving a 20-year prison sentence.
According to nearly 1,300 pages of records released to The Outlook through a public records request, nearly every relative questioned by police after Labier died on April 13, 2009, either knew she was abused or suspected it.
One paramedic who responded to the 9-1-1 call regarding the girl described her as looking like someone out of a Nazi concentration camp. At 5 years old, she weighed 28 pounds. Cuts, scrapes and scratches covered her from head to toe.
The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as battered child syndrome and documented a broken thighbone and four broken ribs in various stages of healing.
There was no fat stored in her body, not even in her abdomen - a likely place for the body to store fat. The malnutrition was so severe, her body had to resort to using bone marrow for nourishment. She had little bone marrow left.
Fifteen months earlier, on Jan. 6, 2009, the state received an anonymous call reporting concerns about Labier's emaciated and ill appearance.
The caller was familiar with the girl's medical issues. Labier had a feeding tube inserted into her nose, later moved to her abdomen, because as a baby she was unable to swallow or eat on her own. Her parents had stopped using the tube when she was 3, saying she could swallow food and eat normally.
The caller reported symptoms of failure to thrive - both medically and socially.
'Her parents and her behavior was alarming. It set off all kinds of bells and whistles,' the caller later told police. 'So I said if someone doesn't help her she's gonna die, that was my impression. … She just looked so like beyond frail for her, for what I previously seen of her. She was just very sick.'
Labier also 'just didn't seem very happy … and withdrawn. A lot more reserved than a child her age would sometimes normally be in my opinion.'
The caseworker, along with co-worker Hoshimen Brown, visited the house in Eagle Creek where the family was living with Quintero's parents, Melanie Quintero and Efran Quintero-Garcia.
Victim not interviewed or examined
Not only did the caseworker not interview Labier or examine her for signs of malnutrition or abuse, the caseworker didn't interview the other adults in the home who were not Labier's parents or immediate caregivers, as is required under department policy. These people included Quintero's parents, a sister and brother-in-law, all of whom lived in the house.
Instead, the caseworker interviewed Labier's father and stepmother - the last people who are to be interviewed in such circumstances, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services' policy on investigating child abuse and neglect reports.
The first person to be interviewed is the victim, states the policy, followed by the victim's siblings or other children in the home, then by any parents not suspected of abuse, or caregivers, including other adults in the home. Next are any non-custodial legal parents and finally, the alleged perpetrator.
It's impossible to know what Melanie Quintero would have told the caseworker had the caseworker interviewed her. But after Labier's murder, Melanie Quintero and her husband told police they witnessed Rosillo torture and abuse the girl under their own roof. This took place when the family lived with the Quintero's in Eagle Creek on two occasions, dating back to when Labier was 2.
They never reported the mind-boggling torture - or even bothered to intervene - because in their words, 'He owned the kid.'
Even after the girl's death, the couple minimized the abuse.
'Spankings, don't say beatings,' Melanie Quintero told a police detective during questioning, in which she recalled seeing a mark on the back of the girl's leg from Rosillo's belt buckle.
'He had her wear pants to school so no one would see it,' she said.
The caseworker never interviewed Rosillo's parents, Frank and Marrian Turner of Sandy. Department policy requires caseworkers to interview 'collateral sources,' including but not limited to those with regular contact with the child, doctors and people with an established relationship with the alleged perpetrator who can judge his or her behavior.
At the time of the investigation, Frank had already photographed Labier's injuries - marks on her back from a belt beating. At one point, he and his wife were so concerned for the child's health and safety, they took Labier in for about three months. But when Rosillo wanted her back home, the Turners felt they had no choice but to hand her over because they didn't have custody of the child.
Frank Turner said he reported his concerns to a child abuse hotline, but the state has no record of the call.
Teachers, doctors contacted
According to the heavily redacted caseworker's report, Alaniz did interview a Sandy Head Start family advocate and a teacher, who saw Labier twice a week. Home visits by the advocate and teacher revealed no concerns.
The caseworker noted there was plenty of food in the home and that the child's father had a thin build.
'The child appeared well and healthy and interacted easily with family members,' reads the assessment summary. 'School personnel had no concerns to report. Doctor records indicate she is still quite small, and they would like to see weight gain. Doctor records state they will not remove the G-tube at this time.'
The caseworker decided to close the case as unfounded.
Five more calls or voicemails were received - all of which the state redacted in the investigation documents - including one from a doctor who said the girl still 'has significant issues with failure to thrive,' said Deputy District Attorney Nathan Vasquez, who prosecuted the case.
'The anonymous caller reported failure to thrive issues,' Vasquez said, adding that a doctor echoed those concerns. 'How do you start and end at failure to thrive … and say it's unfounded?'
Vasquez also said Labier had missed doctors appointments, including her last one, and that the girl was being bounced from doctor to doctor - all of which are red flags for abuse and mistreatment.
The last call noted is from Guadalupe Quintero. On Feb. 10, 2009, she notified the caseworker that they'd moved to an apartment at 418 S.E. 169th Ave. in Gresham. That's when Labier also stopped going to Head Start.
But the caseworker never visited the apartment. And she didn't follow up with doctors to see if the girl was gaining weight, which at least one doctor indicated he or she would like to see.
Why not, especially considering the case's end date was March 7 - two months after the call came in?
'The incident was closed once the caseworker determined that the report was unfounded,' said Gene Evans, department spokesman.
There is no mention in the caseworker's report of Labier's difficulty eating, with the exception of doctors not wanting to remove her feeding tube. Although she no longer used it, she still sometimes spit up food or vomited because of her stomach and esophageal problems.
There is no mention of her father's history of drug arrests. No mention of his excessive drinking while in the Quintero home.
The caseworker did note, in closing, that this was the first time the agency had been called regarding the nearly 4-year-old girl.
'Child is safe,' the report reads. 'The child has been seeing a doctor on a regular basis and that professional did not appear concerned about the child's development needs. A medical professional is the best person to determine if the child needs the tube removed or additional services due to her medical condition.'
The report also includes this chilling statement: 'This issue is not likely to arise again.'
Evans, the department spokesman, agreed that the investigation could have been more thorough, but defended the caseworker.
'Could we have done more? Yes,' he said. 'But the worker did do an in-person assessment, contacted the school and the doctor.'
The caseworker also reviewed medical records, he added.
'There was no evidence of physical injury and the child was in the care of a doctor,' he said. 'Could it have been a better, more thorough assessment? Yes, we agree. But it's not fair or accurate to say the worker dismissed concerns. This is the benefit of hindsight: It's 20/20. CPS workers cannot predict the future.'
Evans also noted, 'Neither this child's teachers or doctors made reports to DHS about any suspected abuse or neglect. They are mandatory reporters, and they should have reported concerns if they had any.'
As of press time, Evans was unable to provide information on whether the caseworker faced any corrective measures or disciplinary action, but did say she was not fired.
However, the case - when coupled with another high-profile fatal abuse case in Lane County involving a parent starving, torturing and killing her daughter - sparked retraining because of systemic issues surrounding caseworker's comprehensive assessments, Evans said.
The holes in Labier's investigation mirrored those in the 2009 death of Jeanette Maples of Eugene. Like Labier, Maples endured years of torture, starvation and abuse at the hands of her mother and stepfather, who killed her in December 2009.
Maples' mother is on death row after pleading guilty to aggravated murder, with her stepfather facing at least 25 years in prison for murder by abuse.
As a result of both cases, Evans said child welfare workers investigating reports of abuse must interview everyone who has contact with the child in question. Assessments are to remain open until there is a clear-cut answer to the question of whether the child is safe or not safe
Because caseworkers assumed that Maples, at 15, was old enough to protect herself - either by telling someone about the abuse or leaving - caseworkers have been retrained to not rely on age as a safety net.
In cases such as Labier's, in which a child is isolated and/or has medical needs, multiple follow-up visits to the home are required, in part to see that any doctor's orders are being followed.
And renewed emphasis has been placed on supervisors to make sure caseworkers are doing their jobs and doing them correctly, even if it takes more time.
'The most important thing we have learned from all these cases is that caseworkers need to follow the policy that is in place,' Evans said. 'Investigations of abuse need to be done thoroughly. Cases like these ones are tragedies. We want to make sure they don't happen again.'
Vasquez couldn't agree more, but said it takes more than caseworker diligence to save the lives of children.
'The bottom line is relatives need to report more,' Vasquez said. If Labier's family had reported their alarm and first-hand accounts of abuse, those reports may have sparked more scrutiny by the caseworker investigating the anonymous call.
'Report early and report often,' Vasquez said.
To report child abuse
• Gresham's child welfare office: 503-674-3610
• Multnomah County's child abuse hotline: 1-800-509-5439.
• Callers do not have to speak English or leave a name.
• For life-threatening emergencies: 9-1-1
• Names of callers who do reveal their identities are protected under state and federal law.