The Louisiana Record, Louisiana’s Legal Journal, reports on a lawsuit that charges the Gretna division of DCFS with forcibly removing three children from their home, leading to the death of one child, and to the parents asking questions about the child’s death a year later. The article provides a brief overview of the allegations, but one that only provides an outline of the story:
The plaintiffs allege Eli Simmons was forcibly removed from his parents’ home by Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and their caseworkers on Feb. 11, 2013 without just cause. The child, who allegedly had special medical needs, was placed into the care of foster parents who the plaintiffs claim did not have proper training or possess the child’s medical records to handle his medical condition.
On April 8, 2013 the Simmonses assert they were summoned to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans and when they arrived they found their son was dead. They claim they were not offered an explanation of what had caused his death. The plaintiffs allege the death of Eli Simmons was due to negligence on behalf of the defendants.
The defendants are accused of improper placement of a special needs child in a foster home, not ensuring foster parents were properly trained and supervised, placing a foster child with special needs in a home not within reasonable distance from emergency care facilities, failing to timely obtain medical records in order to properly place child in foster care, failing to provide the plaintiffs with a cause of death, failing to ascertain cause of death, failing to allow parents and children to bury their son or sibling, failing to timely provide the coroner with proper medical records, infliction of emotional distress and infliction of pain and suffering.
The Orleans Parish Coroner is specifically accused of mishandling the child’s autopsy, failing to provide the body to the family for mourning and Christian burial, failing to provide the body to the family for a separate autopsy to determine the cause of death, disposal of the body to inhibit the family from exhuming the remains, disregard for the court order to preserve the body, infliction of emotional distress and failing to properly document the autopsy.
Two months before his death, DCFS removed Eli and his three siblings from his parents’ Gretna home following allegations of abuse, WWLTV Eyewitness News reporter Natalie Shepherd explains.
“They just came, and when they left, they had the kids with them,” said Patrick Simmons, the children’s father.
5-year-old Eli Simmons’s life ended on April 8, 2013, and it was news that the family received over the telephone.
“You need to get to Tulane University immediately, because Eli is having a medical emergency,” Crystal Simmons said was how she got the news.
The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office ruled his death an “accident,” and the Simmons say DCFS never gave them an explanation, Eyewitness News reports.
“The last time I seen my child, he was laying on the table at the hospital where he died at,” Patrick Simmons said. The Eyewitness news account continues on to say:
But that wasn’t the end to the heart-breaking news for the Simmons. Patrick Simmons went to the coroner’s office to get his son’s body, only to find a post-it note stuck to the report saying he’d been buried a month earlier.
The Simmons said they were told Eli’s body had been cremated and the remains were put in a potter’s field. They’ve never been able to visit his grave or have a proper funeral. And now there’s no chance the family can have their own autopsy performed to get a second opinion about how their child died.
“Basically, the coroner’s office buried our child without permission,” Crystal Simmons said.
According to their attorney, Rachel Moss, a Jefferson Parish judge issued a court order to preserve Eli’s body. That order, however, was apparently either disregarded, forgotten, or misplaced.
“The coroner’s office, in their report, didn’t have any reference to the court order that they preserve the body.” Moss said.
“They’re doing everything they can to cover their mistakes and they’re not giving any information.”
The parents to this day don’t even know what the names of their children’s foster parents were.
The family’s troubles aren’t quite over yet. Before it was discovered that Eli’s body had been buried, they were on track to be reunified with their remaining children, according to their attorney. Moss says the state is now pushung for their parental rights to be terminated.
“They’re bullying,” Moss told Eyewitness News. “They’re using the system to bully these parents and to say they don’t want them to have their children.”
Patrick Simmons said, “I feel like they didn’t care. I feel like they took me as a name on a sheet of paper. A number. And it’s just their job.”
Patrick wants justice to be done for his son, while Crystal said that what she needs is peace.
“And it would be peace for me to know why my child died,” she said.
The Simmons family may get some answers soon. A hearing in the case is set for May 27.
Presumably now that a suit has been filed, DCFS will provide more than just enough information to fit on a post-it-note.