“Judge,” said the juror, “I need a tissue.”
Chicago can be a hard town, and it’s not every day you see a juror break down and sob in court. He was a big man with a neck tattoo.
Then again, even in a hard town, the abuse inflicted on Gizzell Ford, an eight-year-old girl strangled by her own grandmother, was overwhelming in its cruelty. The juror cried, but so did a hardened police investigator, and so should we all.
On Wednesday, the jury in the civil suit made a bold statement that this cannot be allowed to happen again. The jury, ruling in a wrongful death suit, awarded $48 million to other members of Gizzell’s family, who alleged that Gizzell might be alive today if only a doctor had not been medically negligent.
The way to understand that $48 million is not as a penalty intended to punish just one doctor. On the contrary, Dr. Norell Rosado, a respected pediatrician, was hardly alone in his failure to protect Gizzell. The jury’s award was an expression of disgust with Illinois’ entire child-protection system, which failed Gizzell time and again.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is asked to do the impossible. We know that. It is charged with protecting some 15,000 children from abuse and neglect, children who in many cases were born into terribly dysfunctional, even dangerous, families. Every missed home visit by a DCFS investigator or contractor, every failure to fill out a form, can, at least in theory, result in a child’s death. DCFS will never save every child.
But as the Chicago Tribune has detailed, Illinois failed Gizzell not once, or even twice, but at least four times. And while DCFS, under new leadership, has fashioned various reforms since her murder in 2013, we have yet to see a comprehensive review of all that went wrong and all that should now be done.
It was a mistake for a Domestic Relations Court judge to place Gizzell in the home of her bedridden father, Andre Ford, and her paternal grandmother, Helen Ford, both of whom had criminal records. It was there that she was abused constantly, tied to a bedpost for days at a time, denied food and punished for taking a sip of water from the toilet.
It was a mistake when a DCFS investigator visited Gizzell’s home on July 12, 2013, about a month before she was killed, and failed to report her many bruises and wounds.
It was a mistake when Dr. Rosado examined Gizzell and noted what appeared to be healing loop mark on the girl, a possible sign of abuse, but failed to follow protocol and call the DCFS hotline. It was a mistake when he failed to question the girl privately — out of her grandmother’s hearing — about the loop mark.
It was a mistake when the DCFS investigator failed to follow up on the doctor’s written report.
Gizzell’s father died in custody in Cook County Jail in 2014 before he could be tried. Helen Ford, who tortured and killed Gizzell, was found guilty of first-degree murder in March and is serving a life sentence in prison.
It was at the civil trial this month that the juror broke down. At least three other jurors cried, too. They were overwhelmed by photos of Gizzell’s body, bruised head to toe, with a maggot-infested wound on the back of her head.
“That child suffered a slow and agonizing death,” the judge in the murder trial said. “That little body looked like it had been puliverized from head to toe.”
We would rather leave you with a different photo of Gizzell, the one you see here. She is wearing a red headband and her eyes are shining, and she could be every child you ever loved.
Children fear monsters in the dark. Gizzell lived with them. If only we had rescued her.
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