Claude Alexis savagely whipped a 2-year-old boy to death with a belt because the toddler spilled bathwater “all over” the floor.
That’s the story 32-year-old Alexis told North Miami Beach Police detectives Monday when he reportedly confessed to killing Ezra Raphael, his girlfriend’s son. Alexis had been left alone with the boy late on the night of June 21, the couple told police, so that 22-year-old Cierrah Raphael, a prostitute, could turn tricks.
On Wednesday, a Miami-Dade judge ordered Alexis to remain at the Miami-Dade County Jail without bond until he is tried on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Raphael remained in jail as well, unable to post a $7,500 bond while she faces child neglect charges.
In court Wednesday morning, Alexis — wearing a padded jumpsuit for inmates on suicide watch — insisted he never meant to harm the toddler.
“I loved that boy,” he told the judge.
Ezra, who was described by a family friend as well-mannered and precocious, became the fourth Florida child to die in the past six weeks following some contact with the state’s troubled child protection system.
Critics of the Department of Children & Families suggest the recent “cluster” of child deaths suggests the agency is in deep trouble, despite the recent claims of Secretary David Wilkins that a host of changes made following a 2011 child death scandal have made Florida children safer.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, who chairs the county’s foster care oversight board, called the Community-Based Care Alliance, said she could not recall any time in recent history in which so many young children had been killed after the state had been given meaningful opportunities to save them. Two of the four recent deaths involved small children from Miami-Dade.
“We have a very severe systemic problem,” Cohen said. “The system is not working, and it’s scary.”
“Every single one of these deaths could have been avoided,” said Cohen who was a veteran child welfare judge before transferring to Miami’s drug court, where she often still deals with parents whose addictions undermine their parenting. “You can’t explain away this many child deaths in this short a period of time where the state’s child protective investigation system is implicated. It’s urgent and it’s serious and it’s unconscionable.”
Richard Gelles, who teaches child welfare and is the dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, said he recently reviewed the “scorecard” that Wilkins has been using to evaluate and rank the efforts of child abuse investigators. The instrument, he said, measures only processes, such as whether an investigation is completed within 60 days, but not outcomes.
“It came as a pretty big surprise to me that the scorecard is not connected in any meaningful way with how every child welfare agency should be measured: the safety, security and well-being of children,” Gelles said.
“Sometimes, you have a cluster of deaths that are just bad luck,” Gelles added. Good child welfare systems, he said, use such moments as opportunities to take a long look at what they’re doing. DCF “owes it to themselves, and they owe it to the state, to at least make a determination as to whether they have faulty workers, faulty supervisors or a faulty system.”