Legislation unlikely to shed light on boys' case

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Legislation that could open up secretive proceedings in Georgia's juvenile courts is gaining support in the General Assembly's final days.

It appears too late, however, to shed any light on the case of two Augusta brothers.

A year ago Monday, April and Thomas Beasley took their 9-year-old son to the emergency room. He had suffered a blow to the head hard enough to leave him partially blind and deaf. Law enforcement was called in, and Mr. and Mrs. Beasley are now under indictment in Columbia County Superior Court for child abuse.

They have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

When the Beasleys' other son, a 7-year-old, got the chance to talk without his parents, he gave authorities an account of horrific abuse that he and his brother endured over the years. What no one could explain is why it continued to happen and why a Juvenile Court judge -- now dead -- twice sent the youths back to their parents.

"(The brothers) are really the kind of kids the system has failed," Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms told a judge last fall in a successful attempt to keep Mr. Beasley in jail pending trial. "... all I know is that they've presented signs of injuries for years and now (the oldest) is in a situation that he may not recover from."

The secrecy of Juvenile Court is intended to protect children's privacy, but it also hid what happened to the Beasley brothers from November 2001 through last March 30, when the 9-year-old was admitted to Medical College of Georgia Hospital with a subdural hematoma.

That's when the 7-year-old told investigators that his father had slammed his brother to the floor two days earlier. The 9-year-old suffered a mini stroke in addition to the brain injury, according to Columbia County Superior Court records in the criminal case against the Beasleys.

At 7, the younger son has 200 scars on his body, and, according to the court documents, is terrified of water because his father would hold his head underwater until he became dizzy.

Former Superior Court Judge Duncan D. Wheale said he was furious when given details of the case. He presided over Mr. Beasley's bond hearing and denied bond. Prosecutors consented to a $25,000 bond for Mrs. Beasley, whose attorney contends was abused by her husband. She filed for divorce Monday in Columbia County Superior Court.

For a decade, Judge Wheale strongly criticized Augusta's Juvenile Court proceedings. He said children were endangered instead of being helped in the Richmond County Juvenile Court system. The brothers, he said, are victims of that system.

Although often critical of the Department of Family and Children Services, Judge Wheale said that in this case the state agency tried valiantly to protect the children.

School and hospital workers also tried to help them, according to a transcript filed in the Columbia County criminal case..

It started in November 2001 when the Beasleys first came to the attention of medical personnel after they took their older son, then 3, to the emergency room.

The toddler exhibited signs of shaken baby syndrome. Doctors were puzzled because they had never seen that diagnosis in a child as old as 3. They worried because the child had broken ribs. From the stage of healing, they could tell that injury occurred at a different, earlier time, according to court documents.

The brothers were taken from their parents, but Richmond County Juvenile Court Judge Herbert Kernaghan returned them in early 2002 and dismissed the child advocate appointed to look out for their interest. The reason is sealed in closed Juvenile Court files.

Three years later, a school nurse at Sue Reynolds Elementary School called Mr. Beasley. His older son was suffering severe abdominal pain. He refused to go to the school and later, at the hospital, refused to let a doctor operate on his son, according to court documents filed in the Superior Court criminal case.

In January 2006, staff members at the school worried when the older child was absent for several days and returned with puffiness around his eyes. They called the Department of Family and Children Services. School officials called again the next month when the child missed more school and returned with a black eye.

The brothers were removed from the family's Willowood Road home in Augusta. According to court documents, the physician who examined them believed they had suffered physical abuse.

The younger child, then 5, had a busted lip and bruises on his face, according to court documents. His brother, then 7, was suicidal.

"He said his house makes he sad. And when asked why his house made him sad, he said 'they told me not to tell,' '' the prosecutor told Judge Wheale at Mr. Beasley's bond hearing.

Mr. and Mrs. Beasley refused to cooperate with a psychological assessment, but a month later Judge Kernaghan closed the case and sent the children home with their parents.

No longer under DFCS' watch, the family moved to Knob Hill neighborhood in Columbia County in July 2006.

By March 2008, the youths were back in foster care and their parents were charged with child abuse.

The Augusta Chronicle petitioned Juvenile Court Judge Benjamin Allen on Dec. 12 for permission to review the Beasleys' Richmond County Juvenile Court records. The files should document what brought the family into Juvenile Court repeatedly, whether abuse was confirmed and, if so, what services and steps were taken to safely reunite the family.

As of Friday, Judge Allen had not ruled on the petition.

The Chronicle also petitioned Juvenile Court Judge Douglas Flanagan. He is presiding over the family's current deprivation case in Columbia County, a court preceding running parallel to the criminal case against the couple.

Judge Flanagan spoke with The Chronicle's attorney Jan. 30, and a hearing date was set.

Two days later, however, Judge Flanagan wrote a letter informing The Chronicle's attorney that "your request is denied."

Judge Flanagan wrote that he had already decided "that the (public's) interest does not outweigh the protection of these children."

Charlene Ingram, of the Child Welfare League of America, a coalition of hundreds of private and public agencies serving vulnerable children and families, said that abuse allegations lodged against a family should raise red flags about the family and how the system is handling the allegations.

Although Ms. Ingram opposes opening Juvenile Court to the public, she said the public has the right to know the details when the system fails a child.

The public has the right to expect the system to work, too, said Ms. Ingram, the coalition's vice president for practice excellence.

Augusta area lawyer William Sams, a former Juvenile Court judge, said he supports a move to open Juvenile Court hearings so long as the judge retains the ability to close certain cases.

"I understand the reluctance to open them and the potential impact on the children," Mr. Sams said. "But which is worse -- have the child get picked on by his peers or the continuance of that abuse and neglect?"

A bill to open juvenile courts in Georgia is moving through the Senate and pending in the House. Mr. Sams supports the bill and the efforts to open the Juvenile Court system. It builds confidence in the system and enables the court to pull in extended family, friends and neighbors who want to help children, he said.

Deciding how to do what's best for children isn't easy, and there are no automatic answers, Mr. Sams said.

He questioned the return of the Beasleys' sons in 2006, however, considering their history with DFCS. A judge needs time to develop confidence that abuse won't happen again, Mr. Sams said in an interview.

The Beasley children were returned within six weeks, and neither parent underwent psychological counseling or examination, according to documents in Superior Court.

The family flew under the radar of law enforcement.

Richmond County DFCS never called sheriff's investigators about abuse allegations, according to sheriff's office documents.

The DFCS general policy is to involve law enforcement at the start of an investigation involving physical and sexual abuse or serious neglect, wrote David Noel, the public information office for the state's Department of Human Resources, in an e-mail response to The Chronicle's inquiry.

Assistant District Attorney Kristi Connell said law enforcement agencies won't know about child abuse unless they are told by someone such as a DFCS caseworker, hospital employee or family member. Ms. Connell said she has discovered cases through the Multi Child Review Team.

The team of child welfare professionals meets regularly to review and track child abuse cases. The hope in forming the team is to keep cases from falling through the cracks, she said.

A former neighbor of the Beasleys was shocked to hear of the allegations. It was clear Mr. Beasley was the head of the household, but he never exhibited any signs of violence, said the elderly neighbor, who asked not to be identified.

The brothers never played with any of the other neighborhood children, and the only time neighbors spotted the children was when they got onto or off the school bus.

Mr. Beasley told a neighbor they were moving to Columbia County for the school system.

On Avrett Way in Columbia County, a quiet, kid-friendly cove of manicured lawns, neighbors there say they rarely saw the brothers outside.

"They were quiet and kept to themselves. They seemed to be nice," Ashley Wahl said.

She once asked Mr. Beasley why his children weren't outside more. Her boys are the same age, she said, and they play outside every chance they get. Mr. Beasley told her he couldn't get his sons off the video games, Mrs. Wahl said.

Mrs. Wahl never heard or saw any evidence of abuse, she said, but she did notice one thing she now suspects was a sign. The kids always wore long-sleeved shirts and long pants, even in summer.

"He just seemed to be just a good kid," Mrs. Wahl said of the older Beasley son.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

TIMELINE

SEPT. 9, 1998: First Beasley son born

JULY 23, 2000: Second Beasley son born

NOV. 8, 2001: Older son, then 3, has brain injury and broken ribs; both children taken into protective custody in Richmond County

2002: (exact dates unknown) Juvenile court case is closed, boys' custody returned to parents and child advocate dismissed

2005: Older boy suffers abdominal pain, Mr. Beasley rejects physician's recommendation for surgery

JANUARY 2006: Older son misses school and returns with puffiness around eyes

FEBRUARY 2006: Older son misses school again and returns with black eye

MARCH 1, 2006: Richmond County Department of Family and Children Services take both boys into protective custody

APRIL 18, 2006: Richmond County juvenile court case closed, Beasley family reunited.

JULY 27, 2006: Mr. and Mrs. Beasley purchase home in Columbia County

MARCH 30, 2008: Older son admitted to hospital with brain injury

JUNE 25, 2008: Mr. and Mrs. Beasley indicted by Columbia County grand jury

THE DEFENDANTS

Thomas G. Beasley Jr., 32

- 5 counts of cruelty to children in the first degree

- 1 count of cruelty to children in the second degree

- Being held without bond in Columbia County jail

April L. Beasley, 31

- 1 count of cruelty to children in the second degree

- Free on $10,000 bond

Juvenile records

Senate Bill 207 has passed in the Senate and has had a second reading in the House. It would open juvenile courts to the public with certain exceptions.

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Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 03/29/09 - 01:56 am
0
0
Do confidential juvenile

Do confidential juvenile court proceedings protect children or do such proceedings protect an inept, disorganized, underfunded juvenile justice system held hostage to local political considerations?

pofwe
5
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pofwe 03/29/09 - 06:13 am
0
0
I knew Richmond County

I knew Richmond County Juvenile Court Judge Herbert Kernaghan, personally. He was friendly, funny, intelligent, capable of legal issues, but he was NOT judge material. Since his death, some very surprising issues have surfaced concerning "sealed records." I know there must be a lawyer(s) within the local legal circle that can bear me out or "correct" me if I'm wrong but ... is it true or not that many times when records are sealed; especially in the Juvenile System that the reason is (or can be), to conceal the incompetence of the Judge himself. Right or wrong? I'm not bashing Herbert, I liked Herbert. But I wouldn't want Herbert to preside over precedings that would effect my life or my children's. The truth is the truth ... even when it hurts. And the truth does hurt. That is why we all lie so often. Love ya Herb.

karmakills123
8
Points
karmakills123 03/29/09 - 06:19 am
0
0
This is such a sad story...my

This is such a sad story...my heart breaks for these boy sand other children in this type of environment.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 03/29/09 - 07:58 am
0
0
In an effort to "level the

In an effort to "level the playing field" our government has created a whole society where personal responsibility doesn't exist. The Beasley's probably don't even know they've done anything wrong. After generations of being told everything's the fault of somebody else, the support system that teaches personal responsibility and respect for human life has been worn away. Now, this horrible action by these horrible people may very well be the result of action taken by those "leveling the playing field".

SCGAL53
0
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SCGAL53 03/29/09 - 08:05 am
0
0
This problem began in

This problem began in Richmond County and someone at RCDFCS needs to be fired. The sherriff's department should have been notified in 2001. Those poor children should never have to see their abusers again and I hope they are in loving homes.

SCGAL53
0
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SCGAL53 03/29/09 - 08:07 am
0
0
Patricia, I totally disagree.

Patricia, I totally disagree. Those monsters knew they were wrong from the beginning.

corgimom
33198
Points
corgimom 03/29/09 - 09:01 am
0
0
Those poor babies, I hope

Those poor babies, I hope they are receiving intensive psychiatric care to heal their minds along with their bodies. And I hope that father is beaten every single day that he is in jail and prison. Let him find out what it feels like.

HYPOCRITES 08
7
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HYPOCRITES 08 03/29/09 - 10:04 am
0
0
PT you are a IDIOT. This is

PT you are a IDIOT. This is nothing more than a sorry azz bully picking on someone that is not able to defend themselves. Amazing that your words of wisdom are missing from the article about the beating death in Columbia County. I wonder why?

trishN
0
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trishN 03/29/09 - 11:38 am
0
0
It makes me so sad to think

It makes me so sad to think of the Beasley children being returned again and again to that house of horrors. All the signs were there and yet ignored by so-called right thinking people. My heart breaks especially for the older boy.

The Knave
24
Points
The Knave 03/29/09 - 12:12 pm
0
0
patriciathomas has weighed

patriciathomas has weighed into the discussion with her customary drivel. All the ills of society, according to her, are attributable to "the government." In this case, she assets that "the government" actually intentionally taught these dysfunctional parents to be dysfunctional. If she could remove her reactionary, extreme right-wing blinders for just a moment, she might realize that, in this instance, if the government systems had performed, as intended, this tragic situation could have perhaps been avoided, or mitigated. The government did not fail the children by design, but by ineptitude and incompetence. This is particularly true of members of the judicial class, which are too often treated with a respect and reverence that they have not earned -- similar to the corrupt and corrupting holy men and holy books of the world's assorted religions. However, patriciathomas is enthralled with government when it is engaged in activities such as killing people and destroying things in foreign lands; and devising ways to facilitate the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few in this crumbling Republic. patriciathomas loves or hates government when it suits her twisted views.

420Time
0
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420Time 03/29/09 - 12:23 pm
0
0
Cane both of the parents.

Cane both of the parents. 1000 lashes for the father (in increments of 25) and 500 for the mother. I volunteer.

GordonP
0
Points
GordonP 03/29/09 - 12:55 pm
0
0
what a wonderfully optimistic

what a wonderfully optimistic headline!

saltine
281
Points
saltine 03/29/09 - 01:02 pm
0
0
This is where the problem

This is where the problem starts,DFACS is working to re-unite the family ALWAYS! a six weeks course on parenting, a couseling class and clean drug screens, means ,you get your kids back!How can they justify that you will not abuse your children.This is a life style and it is taught!Unless you break the cycle ,it will contiue.Talking about children not having a voice,now this child may never speak again.I would like to hear more about this ,"Multi Child Review Team""

saltine
281
Points
saltine 03/29/09 - 01:09 pm
0
0
How do you protect a child's

How do you protect a child's privacy,after it appears on the obituary page ??????

toldya
0
Points
toldya 03/29/09 - 02:11 pm
0
0
The parents should be locked

The parents should be locked up for good,the kids need to be placed in a foster home with a family who understands their frightening background. The judges need to wake the hell up and realize that some parents can reproduce but it doesn't mean they are going to be good parents. what a screw up this was.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 03/29/09 - 02:26 pm
0
0
In what year did Judge

In what year did Judge Flanagan graduate from Harvard Law School? Only there could he have learned to think and write with such lucidity and Wisdom. And, by the way, has the judge really designated a joey as his court marsupial?

toldya
0
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toldya 03/29/09 - 02:35 pm
0
0
craig: FUNNY stuff you got

craig: FUNNY stuff you got there...marsupial/kangaroo court- FUNNY STUFF. Take a bow big guy-funniest post thhis morning anywhere on the boards

yvalentine6
0
Points
yvalentine6 03/29/09 - 03:29 pm
0
0
Don't forget the "poor,

Don't forget the "poor, victimized" mother who sat back for years and allowed her precious children to be repeatedly assaulted by this monster. There are shelters, there is legal aid, there is public housing and DFCS to support women and children who must escape violent homes, assuming she has no education or job skills. In my opinion, she is every bit as guilty as he, and she stayed there and allowed this because she wanted it to be that way.

TruthJusticeFaithHope
222
Points
TruthJusticeFaithHope 03/29/09 - 04:19 pm
0
0
As if legislation is the

As if legislation is the answer. Because there is so little common sense, and so few are ethically based, we seek to legislate a solution..... This is why so many laws have flaws... because the legislators barter with their power, have little experience with real life, and are limited when it come to common sense and ethics themselves. Opening court procedings to the media and the public... to "police" the judge... now that is stupid.

SIGHER
0
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SIGHER 03/29/09 - 04:30 pm
0
0
yval, you were doing good

yval, you were doing good until that last sentence. No one WANTS it that way, Geesh. I do agree that she could have gone to a shelter to get away. She most likely feared for her life and the boys if she tried to leave. Happens all the time. IMO, I would live under a bridge to get away from that animal. One of the boys is already seriously, physically damaged for life, not to mention the psychological and emotional damage inflicted upon these two precious children that will scar them for rest of their lives.

helpicantfindthespacebar
1
Points
helpicantfindthespacebar 03/29/09 - 04:58 pm
0
0
The Knave.... patriciathomas

The Knave.... patriciathomas is right. The efforts of liberals to 'level the playing field' has warped our government and judicial system to the point that many in our society feel nothing they do is their own fault. People are being told from early on that they are not 'bad', they just did a 'bad thing'. Well guess what?? Some people are just plain BAD, and that's why they do bad things. The left-wing has concocted a syndrome or illness to excuse these monsters, and our government caved in and hinders punishment...thus becoming enablers. What you call right-wing blinders is nothing more than common sense. My only hope is that the pendulum of morality has finally swung so far to the left that people will come to their senses and drag it back to somewhere more near the middle.

what2
0
Points
what2 03/29/09 - 07:08 pm
0
0
I was a foster mom and the

I was a foster mom and the system is designed to fail.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 03/29/09 - 07:08 pm
0
0
TruthJusticeHope&Faith, how

TruthJusticeHope&Faith, how many juvenile court sessions conducted in The Augusta Judicial Circuit have you witnessed? My inference is that you have witnessed none. I've witnessed several: two presided over by a newer appointee who cares about our kids, two wisely and courageously conducted by an eminent juvenile jurist whose reappointment was foiled by political rivals, and three by the most senior juvenile jurist whose performances were appallingly rude and unwise. The last probably survives in his judicial position because of the The Public's ignorance of his woeful performance- an ignorance which is founded upon an absence of transparency about his actions in his Columbia County courtroom.

what2
0
Points
what2 03/29/09 - 07:23 pm
0
0
The case workers don't return

The case workers don't return phone calls, they tell parents when their drug tests are so the parents can pass them. In less than one year we went through 17 case workers and NONE of them cared about the children. I complained and complained. The board would set rules and there would be a new case worker and I would ask if the parents followed the plan.."what plan was that" would be the response. They didn't even take the time to read the file. They would always say "we are overstaffed" - we'll tell that to an abused or neglected child! Just disgusting!

Rose
17
Points
Rose 03/29/09 - 08:04 pm
0
0
Dang! That woman looks

Dang! That woman looks familiar.I have nothing but contempt for child abusers. That woman is just as guilty as that man, because she allowed that man to abuse those kids.

BH90201
0
Points
BH90201 03/29/09 - 09:18 pm
0
0
Once again the father is in

Once again the father is in jail and the mother is free to go just like the other case in Burke County. Why is that? I would bet my life that if more cases were looked into the public would be appalled at what would be discovered. Keep looking. Keep digging. The lives of innocent children depend on it.

Rose
17
Points
Rose 03/29/09 - 09:37 pm
0
0
The state of Georgia does not

The state of Georgia does not care about kids.The woman gets lawyers free of charge, and does not even have to show proof of an illness. All she has to prove is she has dr bills. She gets the kids, and the father is forgotten.But let her get evicted, and she lets the father keep the kids 4 or 5 months, then she can get them back when she gets a place to live. I was told that a child 14 and older can no longer choose which parent to live with.I was told the law change recently.So if the father takes it to court, he pays big money, but the mother pays nothing.

ripjones
2
Points
ripjones 03/29/09 - 09:59 pm
0
0
Judge Benjamin get off your

Judge Benjamin get off your da&* [filtered word]... Or would you like to be assisted by the father -- maybe you can have a mini-stroke also. The SYSTEM failed these children, and everyone that had anything to do with this case should be thrown under the jail !!

craziigurl72
0
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craziigurl72 03/30/09 - 01:31 am
0
0
it is very sad the boys got

it is very sad the boys got sent back to the abusive family, but this happens all the time, i really don't think child services takes there jobs seriously sometimes.....

change display name
0
Points
change display name 03/30/09 - 09:30 am
0
0
EVERYBODY EXCEPT THE JUDGE

EVERYBODY EXCEPT THE JUDGE knew these kids didn't need to be back in that home. I hope Judge Kernaghan is reminded of that every day whereever he is. It is his fault that the children were hurt. DFCS, Doctors, Social Workers, Guardians--everyone said they did not need to be returned and he did it.

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