Short of removing Emma from her parents’ custody, the department had a range of options, including filing a court petition to force the Palm Beach County couple to accept help from the state, such as drug treatment and better-parenting education — though records suggest such services had failed in the past.
DCF spokesman Joe Follick said “the threshold is very high for the state to remove a child from his or her mother — especially when there are no clear signs of imminent danger or abuse. It is very easy for others to indulge in hindsight second-guessing. The reality of making decisions on separating an infant from his or her mother is a much more complex process that every employee at the department takes very seriously.”
DCF refused to release any records pertaining to the investigation into both Emma’s death and the hotline call that preceded it by more than a month, saying the records are confidential unless it is determined that her death resulted from abuse or neglect.
“Every death affects us deeply,” Follick said. “We have reviewed the history of this family and the investigation of this case. It would be entirely premature and reckless to speculate on the cause of death while local authorities investigate.”
Still, a sketchy account of Emma’s short life emerges from the handful of documents The Herald did obtain under the state’s public records law: a review of the family’s DCF history in which nine of 13 pages were redacted and three others were partly redacted, a five-page review of the open investigation, a one-paragraph incident report and several agency emails.
There is no question that Lamoureaux had a long and bitter record with the state’s child welfare agency, though the details remain a mystery. A family history that is almost completely redacted shows that Emma’s parents had at least 11 prior contacts with DCF. She has been arrested nine times since 1999, on charges including larceny, exploitation of the elderly, cocaine possession, driving under the influence and prostitution.
Emma’s father, 48-year-old Dwayne Morrison, has a far more violent criminal résumé. He’s been arrested 35 times since 1992, including charges of carrying a concealed weapon, weapons possession by a convicted felon, kidnapping, robbery, battery, aggravated battery on a pregnant woman, larceny, shoplifting, burglary, fraud, contempt of court, escape, and several charges of either cocaine or meth trafficking.
Records show the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office had made “numerous” calls to the house Lamoureaux shared with Morrison, who was the subject of two domestic battery calls when Lamoureaux was pregnant with Emma. On two occasions, Morrison was arrested after domestic violence calls. Both times, Lamoureaux did not cooperate and charges were later dropped.
On Dec. 13, DCF’s abuse and neglect hotline received another report — that Morrison had slapped Lamoureaux in the face while she was holding newborn Emma. Morrison was charged with battery, but, as had happened in the past, the charges later were dropped and Morrison was released from jail.
“Missing” from an early assessment of risk to Emma, a short report said, was any “mention of the mother’s history of substance abuse.”