Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions.
Though a Child Protective Services worker visited the home of “severely emaciated” Lufkin baby nine days before his death, it was for a courtesy interview, not an abuse allegation, an agency official said Thursday.
According to CPS spokeswoman Shari Pulliam, a services worker — not an investigator — visited 8-week-old Imauri and his 18-year-old mother, Dequisha Jackson, on Oct. 2 at the 1506 Williams St. home where Jackson and the baby’s father, 19-year-old Isaiah Tolliver, were living with her aunt, Linda Bankhead. The couple recently moved to Lufkin from Liberty, where CPS had previous contact with Jackson in a case involving her 1-year-old. The child currently lives with its father, Pulliam said.
“CPS did do a courtesy interview to look at the home environment since this mother had just moved to this region and had a new baby. This was not an investigation; there were no allegations being made against her on this baby,” Pulliam said. “The worker observed the mother holding and feeding the baby. The baby was fully clothed in a one-piece sleeper. The worker photographed the child while (he was) being held by the mother. The worker did not observe anything usual at the time of the visit with the baby.”
Before leaving, Pulliam said, the worker provided Jackson with a play pen and diapers, as well as material on safe sleeping practices.
At 10:40 a.m. on Oct. 11, Imauri was pronounced dead at Memorial Medical Center-Lufkin — 30 minutes after his parents dialed 911. While his autopsy results are pending, at the time of his death Imauri weighed 5.6 pounds — his eyes sunken and bones and musculature visible through his “thin, gaunt” skin, according to a Lufkin Police report. Imauri was reportedly born full-term, weighing 6.7 pounds, on Aug. 13.
A 911 recording released by Lufkin Police on Thursday showed that Imauri’s father placed the call, though Bankhead took the phone from him after he seemed to stumble over the information the dispatcher needed.
“Ma’am, can you send an ambulance to 1506 Williams St.? This is an emergency,” Bankhead says on the recording. “He’s not responsive. He’s not moving or anything?”
“Is the baby’s chest rising?” the dispatcher asks.
“No, it’s solid,” Bankhead answers.
When the dispatcher puts an EMS worker on the phone to help, the EMS worker asks Bankhead what happened and more questions about the infant. Bankhead puts Tolliver back on the phone.
“Is the patient awake?” the EMS worker asks Tolliver.
“We just told you he just wasn’t responsive. Why would you ask if he’s awake or not?” Tolliver says back.
“I need to know if he’s conscious,” the dispatcher replies.
“He’s not conscious. We just told you he wasn’t responsive — he wasn’t moving or anything,” Tolliver says.
As the dispatcher attempts to ask other questions, Tolliver appears to talk over her, saying “No, no, no.” After a short pause, the dispatcher begins instructing Tolliver on how to perform CPR on Imauri.
Five days after the incident, Lufkin Police sought warrants for the arrests of Tolliver and Jackson on charges of child endangerment by the couple failing to seek medical care for their malnourished infant. They were taken into custody from their home Wednesday morning, according to Bankhead.
While speaking to The Lufkin News outside her home Thursday evening, Bankhead said she still does not understand what happened to her great-nephew. Prior to his death, she said, her only concerns were his small size and breathing issues, possibly mistaken as congestion.
“There wasn’t no neglect, she kept feeding the baby. She was always feeding the baby. That’s why I didn’t understand why he wasn’t growing,” Bankhead said. “She was always coming to me for help when she didn’t know what was going on with the baby. ‘Why is he crying so much?’ You know, she was a young parent. She didn’t know. They tried their best.”
Bankhead said her niece and Tolliver moved to Lufkin to “start their lives over” and were attempting to get on their feet when Imauri died.
“The dad, he went out and got a job and I told her that she needed to be here with the baby because he was too small to leave behind to even try to go look for a job. ‘That ain’t nothing to worry about right now. Just stay right here and fatten him up,’” she said of her advice to her niece.
In the month since Jackson and Tolliver moved to Lufkin with Imauri, Bankhead said, she has been trying to help them get set up with the services they need. Though she encouraged Jackson to take Imauri to a doctor, she said they were in the process of getting his two-month checkup scheduled and that the baby had not been seen by a doctor since before her niece moved from Liberty.
“I ain’t trying to take up for nobody, but they were a young couple. Everybody makes mistakes. Even when it causes death,” Bankhead said. “I don’t know what the autopsy might say. He might have had a medical problem, but she kept a bottle in his mouth.”
Without the money to post 10 percent of their $25,000 bonds, Bankhead said her niece and Tolliver will have to stay behind bars. Reflecting on the past week’s events, Bankhead said she wishes the police department had waited on arrest warrants until after autopsy results showed Imauri’s cause of death.
“Jail just ain’t no good place for them to be right now — now that their baby has passed. I mean, where are they going to go? They ain’t going to run nowhere. They still have to bury their child,” she said. “Their heart is as broken as anybody should be. They are in mourning. And for them to just take them and lock them up like that ... They ain’t nothing but kids. They didn’t give them a chance. I know death was involved, but she didn’t want that for her child.”
If a grand jury returns an indictment against the couple and they are convicted of the alleged crime, Jackson and Tolliver would face up to two years in state jail, served day for day.
Jessica Cooley’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.