When Florida child welfare administrators vetted Michael Beer’s 2013 application to be a foster parent, they missed something: Two decades earlier, the same agency had “verified” an allegation that Beer failed to aid a 2-year-old girl in his care who suffered egregious child abuse: a cracked skull, broken arm, multiple bruises and welts and bruised ears.
They gave him the license.
A year later, when Beer and his wife asked to renew their license, the Department of Children & Families discovered the 1993 abuse investigation. The case is mentioned in a background check that began in March, but the report on the background check is neither dated nor signed in a public document provided to the Herald. And the document says the now-21-year-old incident was “not an automatic disqualifier.” They renewed his license.
Beer’s run as a foster parent ended tragically last week when police in Port St. Lucie charged him with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. His alleged victim: a 2-year-old boy who had been sent by DCF in July to live in Beer’s home, along with two of the boy’s siblings. Police reports say Trysten Eli Frank Adams died of blunt force trauma, sustaining “severe lacerations” to his liver, along with bruising to his kidney, gall bladder, pancreas and rib cage.
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After Trysten died, DCF waited a day to remove his two siblings, agency records obtained by the Herald Wednesday show. On Sept. 29, a day after Trysten’s death, a Port St. Lucie detective “asked why the surviving children are still in the care of the Beers,” a notation says. An investigator said the agency had scheduled a “staffing” for the next day, “but that upper management at the department made the decision not to remove the children from the Beers at this time.”
Records show that Trysten’s two siblings were pulled from the Beers’ home later that day. Beer was arrested the next day.
In addition to his foster care duties, Beer worked as a substitute teacher for the local school district, instructing students from kindergarten through the eighth grade. His wife, Michelle Beer, also teaches school, at Jupiter Elementary School.
During questioning by police following Trysten’s death, Beer said police in Palm Beach County who investigated the 1993 case “never said it was abuse” and the case has “never stopped [him] from getting jobs or becoming a foster parent.”
Trysten and his siblings came into foster care after their mother, Elisa Benedito, had failed over several months to beat her drug problem. Benedito, records show, had a long history of abusing opiate drugs, or painkillers, without a prescription, and had tested positive for marijuana.
On Christmas Eve 2013, Benedito’s two children were placed with their maternal grandmother. Two weeks later, she was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, possessing drug equipment and destroying evidence.
Trysten’s father, Hoyt Elie Adams, was struggling with a drug problem of his own. In May, DCF records show, Adams, while high on “Molly” — an Ecstacy-like drug popular at nightclubs and music festivals — dove through three different windows at three different residences. He then jumped into a bed where Benedito’s younger brother was sleeping, and “catapulted” himself through another window. Police had to stun him with a Taser to complete an arrest, and he “continued to assault medical personnel” at a hospital. The children ended up in foster care.
That same month, one of Trysten’s siblings was hospitalized with breathing problems. The child’s then-foster parents allowed Adams and Benedito to visit the child. “While at the hospital, the foster parents reported that Mr. Adams threatened Ms. Benedito with something to the effect of “wait until I get you to Louisiana. I will tie you to a tree and no one will hear you.”
Michael and Michelle Beer submitted their first foster care application on April 29, 2013. “Michael and Michelle Beer want to become foster parents,” a report said. “They have always been eager to help others and would like to follow through on that desire by caring for foster children.”
“Michael stated he is motivated to become a foster parent because he wants to give back to children in need and would like to offer stability and a functional home.” As to discipline, Beer said he was “committed to a positive parenting method,” and that corporal punishment had never been used in the family. One of Beer’s references in the school system said he would “place his own children with Michael.”
The foster care file says DCF ran Beer’s name through the agency’s abuse and neglect records on March 5, 2013. The result: “No record.”
“It is recommended that Michael and Michelle be approved to foster up to two children, either male or female, between the ages of birth and five,” foster care licensing counselor John Kalogris wrote. Their first foster children arrived on July 24, 2013, a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. Records say a total of 10 foster children had come through the home by the time Trysten died, on Sept. 28.
DCF records obtained by the Herald show that, at least as early as March of this year, the agency had begun to process the Beers’ request that their foster care license be renewed for another year. The background study contained in the renewal application is odd: Though many of the notations are dated in March, it is unclear if the process was ever completed, as the final three pages of the report are neither signed nor dated.
The report notes that the Beers’ home had been foreclosed on by their homeowners’ association in March 2013; the judgment was satisfied the following September and they kept their home.
Some of the information contained in the licensing packet is dated after Trysten’s death. The “last background check,” for example, bears a date of Oct. 1, at 6:43 a.m. — three days after Trysten’s death.
The report on the background check says that, on March 25, 2014, DCF staff “found” the October 1993 abuse investigation, in which the agency determined that he had failed to protect a child who had been the victim of abuse. “Mr. Beer did not disclose this investigation to licensing, nor was it discovered during the initial licensing process,” the report said. “Mr. Beer stated he did not report the investigation as it occurred over twenty years ago, and he did not recall it until it was brought to his attention.”
Beer told licensing administrators that his only involvement in the abuse case was his discovery of a “bump on the head” of his then-girlfriend’s daughter, and he suggested his girlfriend take the girl to the doctor.
The toddler’s injuries were more than a bump. The Port St. Lucie Police Department’s report on Beer’s murder arrest said the toddler — who was in Beer’s “care and custody” at the time — suffered a skull fracture, a hematoma under her eye, a broken leg, bruising to the tops of her ears — which police say was indicative of twisting — and “several bruises and welts.” The girl was removed from the couple.
Trysten arrived at the Beer home on July, 29. Both the boy’s birth parents and Michael Beer described Trysten as introverted and quiet. His maternal grandmother told DCF he was a “lost soul.”
In interviews with police, Beer’s daughter said her father sometimes treated the foster child harshly. When detectives asked the girl to explain why Trysten sometimes whined, the girl stated because Michael would put him down “too rough” for his naps and diaper changes.
And when police asked the girl to demonstrate with a teddy bear how Beer handled the toddler, she grabbed the stuffed animal by one arm and swung it to the floor, police wrote.
The day Trysten died, both Beer and his wife insisted he was the only caregiver at the home, and an autopsy showed the boy’s fatal injuries would “take minutes to less than an hour” to cause death. The blunt force, a medical examiner said, was consistent with the force of “a punch or a kick.”
During the investigation of Trysten's death, Beer, who is from New Jersey, talked about the 1993 abuse case. He said his girlfriend left her husband in Pennsylvania and moved with him to an apartment in Boynton Beach. Beer said the girlfriend's daughter “would have bruises from time-to-time” and that at one point DCF “took” the child only to bring her back.