Miami-Dade County

DCF was warned before boy was mauled to death by father's dogs

Three years before Javon Dade Jr. was mauled to death by his father’s dogs, state child protection workers were warned about “the smell and danger” of the six “untrained dogs” living in an apartment with Javon’s family. Two of the dogs were pit bull terriers, which are banned in Miami-Dade County, a caller said.

“The dogs have not really been trained,” an unidentified caller told the Department of Children & Families’ child abuse hotline. “There is concern for the safe care of the children in the home.”

Javon’s father, also named Javon Dade, told investigators the animals did not belong to him. “Dad’s response has been, ‘I know, I know,’ and that he is trying to get the dogs out of the home,” a report said. But the dogs remained.

Last Wednesday, Miami-Dade police made a gruesome discovery: 4-year-old Javon’s badly mauled body lying in overgrown grass in the backyard of the family’s Goulds home. Javon had last been seen at 5 a.m., about four hours before his father noticed he was missing, and six hours before his body was found, a DCF report said.

Javon became the most recent child to die of abuse or neglect after state child protection workers had come in contact with their families. In a recent series, Innocents Lost, the Miami Herald documented the cases of 477 children — most of them younger than 5 — who died following some DCF activity, and the deaths have continued to mount.

DCF Interim Secretary Mike Carroll, who became the top administrator following the state’s annual lawmaking session in May, said Monday he believes the agency’s performance has improved since Javon’s last contact with the agency three years ago. In particular, he said, investigators failed to view the totality of Javon’s family history, and closed the case without adequately understanding the risks the boy faced. Such mistakes should be declining, he said.

Three years ago, Carroll said, investigators apparently did not know that pit bull terriers are banned in Miami-Dade — and were unaware of the county ordinance even now. Animal control officers should have been alerted to the presence of the dogs three years ago, Carroll said.

“That call should have been made,” Carroll said. “When we were reviewing this case, we did not know that. If that’s a law, yes, absolutely we should have made a call.”

The case, Carroll said, is similar to others he has reviewed in recent months in which investigators focus only on the most recent allegations. “We’ve got to get to where our investigations are more focused on the motion picture,” not just the single frame. “How can we change the trajectory of that family’s story with our intervention.”

Javon’s 30-year-old father has been arrested 18 times since 2000 — almost all of them for cocaine or marijuana possession or battery. Most recently, Dade was arrested three times in 2011 and 2012, for cocaine and marijuana possession.

A call to the hotline in 2011 included allegations that Javon Sr.’s dogs were fighting with each other, and that both he and his girlfriend had been bitten breaking up the fights. In all, six dogs lived in the home, the report said. The dogs reportedly relieved themselves on the floor where the couple’s children played.

A second call, seven weeks later on April 20, 2011, said the father was “selling cocaine from the front door of the house,” and arguing with people outside. “The [caller] could tell the father had a gun on him when arguing in the street.”

DCF’s last contact with Javon’s family occurred on the evening of June 19, 2011. Investigators were closing the second of the two investigations. With regard to the children, the caller or callers in the two cases claimed Javon and his siblings had bruises and cuts on their arms, were living in a home “filled with dog feces,” and always looked dirty. His father, a caller said, had beaten Javon’s mother.

Those hotline calls received in March and April of 2011 were actually among four that the agency has received regarding Javon or his siblings. While the agency provided the Herald about 40 pages of documents relating to the 2011 investigations, administrators would not provide any records of the two earlier cases.

Carroll told the newspaper that the two earlier hotline calls involved allegations that Javon’s mother, 29-year-old Doreen Reyes, had been involved in relationships with men who were violent toward her, which has long been considered a red flag for children’s safety. In both cases, Carroll added, Reyes appeared to make good choices, separating from the violent boyfriends, going to court in one case to ensure he stayed away.

Both Reyes and Dade denied the allegations in the 2011 reports. Reyes said she and Dade took good care of the children, and had enrolled the kids in daycare — an arrangement that pleased abuse investigators because that meant the children were been seen by independent eyes.

Only three dogs lived with the family, Reyes said, “a puppy, a bulldog, but not pit bulldogs.” Reyes said “they love the dogs, but her children were first.”

“Mom denied that [she] has seen her ex-paramour selling or using drugs,” a report said. The family would not have had “financial problems” if he had been a drug dealer, Reyes added.

Dade suggested someone in his neighborhood was harassing him because he was an African American man living with a white woman, and because he owned his own home. “Dade states [they] have provided his children with home, clothing, food, medicine, and the most important, love. States [he] did not abuse the children in any manner.”

It appears DCF closed its investigations around the time of that June 19, 2011, visit. An investigator offered free services to the toddler’s parents, but the details are not specified. Reyes and Dade declined the help, and DCF took no further action, records show.

“No sufficiency due to allegations not drug related and father doing well with the children,” an investigator wrote that April, despite the claim of drug sales from the house and the father’s arrest record. The “no sufficiency” referred to whether the agency had authority to ask a judge to order Dade and Reyes to accept help from the state.

Records show, and Carroll confirmed, that investigators believed Javon would be safe in the future because his father — thought to be the greater threat, according to investigators — was moving out, and taking his dogs with him.

“Dad is not living with Mom; Mom is at the maternal grandmother house, and the children are in the daycare from 8:30 to 5:30,” a report said on May 4, 2011. Except the children were not in daycare: A month later, an investigator wrote in mangled syntax: “This is the third time the [investigator] went to the daycare and do not found the children this week.”

Reyes complained the night of DCF’s last visit that someone kept filing “false” reports about her and her family. And though a checklist designed to gauge risk to the children had determined Javon appeared to be at “high” or “moderate” risk, an investigator assured Reyes the agency would investigate the hotline caller for “fraud” if another call was phoned in.

A county ordinance passed in 1989 prohibits the ownership of three specific types of dogs: American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers and Staffordshire bull terriers, said Kathy Labrada, the chief of shelter operations and enforcement for Miami-Dade Animal Services. American bulldogs, which are sometimes confused with pit bulls, are allowed. The ordinance was passed following several well-documented dog bite incidents.

After his son’s death, Javon Dade was fined a total of $1,040 by the county for violating its ordinance on dangerous dogs, she said.