The state’s Department of Children and Family Services says it is investigating a caseworker assigned to the family of a 2-year-old boy who was beaten to death Monday at his Washington Park neighborhood home.
The toddler, Ja’hir Gibbons, was found unresponsive by his mother at their home in the 6500 block of South Prairie Avenue after he was repeatedly struck by his mother’s boyfriend, Dejon Waters, according to Cook County prosecutors.
Waters, 21, is charged with first-degree murder in Ja’hir’s death and was ordered held without bail during his initial court hearing Thursday afternoon.
Cook County prosecutors said the DCFS caseworker assigned to the family had been to the home only two days before Ja’hir died.
On Thursday evening, DCFS announced the caseworker was being investigated for allegedly falsifying records.
“As part of the initial review of this case, DCFS learned that two separate and contradictory reports were submitted regarding this home visit, and I have ordered an investigation into the caseworker responsible for this visit,” DCFS Interim Director Debra Dyer-Webster wrote in a statement.
“Falsifying records will not be tolerated, and DCFS will pursue all available discipline, including termination, if records were falsified,” Dyer-Webster said.
According to DCFS, the caseworker submitted two reports after following up with Ja’hir’s family on Saturday. The initial report, submitted Sunday morning, stated that Ja’hir and his brother were home when the caseworker went to the family’s home. The caseworker “reported the children to be safe,” DCFS initially said.
The day after Ja’hir’s death, the caseworker submitted a second report, stating that only Ja’hir’s brother was home when the caseworker met with the family, according to DCFS.
The caseworker was employed by Buffalo Grove-based Omni Youth Services, which has a $2.1 million contract with DCFS.
Messages left with Omni seeking comment on Thursday evening were not immediately returned.
The toddler’s body was covered with new and old bruises when he was brought to Comer Children’s Hospital on Monday, according to authorities.
His mother, 28-year-old Brittany Hyc, faces a charge of endangering the life of a child resulting in death, according to prosecutors, who said she left Ja’hir in the care of her boyfriend despite knowing he was abusing the boy.
She waited at least 20 minutes to go to a neighbor’s home for help while she tried to get Waters to tell her what had happened to her son, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said. Waters went to the store to buy cigarettes when Hyc left for the neighbor’s home. Officials said it was the neighbor who called 911 about 6:50 p.m.
The neighbor felt a weak pulse on the boy’s arm and attempted CPR until police officers arrived, Murphy said. Ja’hir was brought to Comer, but was pronounced dead shortly after.
An autopsy found Ja’hir had rib fractures that were at various stages of healing and a new wrist fracture, Murphy said. Ja’hir had also suffered lacerations to his liver and a contusion to the lung. To suffer those injuries, the boy would have been subjected to “significant blunt force trauma,” Murphy added.
Waters, who appeared in court in a blue jumpsuit, kept his head down during the hearing, but shook his head slightly when prosecutors said he had admitted to beating Ja’hir with his hands and a rolled up T-shirt when he got mad at the boy on Monday. The beating caused Ja’hir to begin “foaming at the mouth,” prosecutors said Waters told detectives.
Hyc told investigators she had noticed bruises on the boy for a week or two prior to his death and said that burns on the boy’s face were from toothpaste, Murphy said. A search of her iPad found she had searched the internet for how to hide bruises in the days before Ja’hir’s death.
DCFS has been involved with the family since 2010 due to allegations of neglect and abuse of Ja’hir siblings, according to agency spokesman Jimmie Whitelow. Prosecutors said DCFS was most recently in contact with the family following an incident in August.
Hyc had taken Ja’hir to a doctor for a possible bite mark to his abdomen and doctors found additional bruising on the boy, which Hyc blamed on the boy’s daycare facility. In October, a DCFS worker went to the home and heard what they believed was Waters striking the boy. The worker called the Child Abuse Hotline and another agency employee was assigned to follow up, prosecutors said.
Police were called to the home in February after a neighbor reported a possible domestic disturbance. Hyc told officers at that time that everything was fine, but the same neighbor later noticed Ja’hir walking with a limp, prosecutors said.
Police records show Waters was taken into custody at the hospital on Monday night and was also found wanted on a warrant charging him with possession of a controlled substance. Hyc was taken into custody the following day, according to her arrest report.
Hyc was not in court for the hearing Thursday because she was hospitalized for a mental health evaluation, an officer testified in court.
Assistant Public Defender Steven Stach said Waters had attended high school through his junior year and had been unemployed since January. Stach said that, other than the pending drug charge, Waters had no criminal history. Stach said he had not been able to talk with Hyc, but described her as a single mother who was working to support her family.
Judge Michael Clancy ordered Waters held without bail on the murder charge and set Hyc’s bail at $200,000, noting the length of the abuse the boy was subjected to and the recent searches on her iPad for how to cover up the abuse.
Both were scheduled to appear in court next on March 27.
Ja’hir’s father, Robert Gibbons, who lives in Waukegan, said his son’s smile “could light up a room.”
Gibbons said Ja’hir’s brother will be placed in the custody of his maternal grandparents.
A memorial service will be held for Ja’hir March 28 at Tolar-Westgate Funeral home in the north suburb. The family is asking for donations to help pay for the funeral.