Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel has concluded his criminal investigation into the death of Katelynn Frazier and has decided not to file criminal charges against city workers involved in the case.
"Law enforcement has done all that we can in this case and now it is up to others to institute real reforms in the system,” Sengel said. “I certainly believe that the social workers who were responsible for Katelynn were careless but this carelessness did not rise to the level of criminal negligence. Should they have known that Katelynn was being abused? Yes. Should they have known that leaving her in that home would result in her death? Not necessarily.”
Sengel obtained a guilty plea to child abuse and neglect from Katelynn’s mother, Pennee Frazier, in August of last year. Frazier admitted that she stood by while her boyfriend, Asher Levin, administered weekly beatings to the little girl from the time she was returned to Frazier in September 2000, until he killed Katelynn in December of that year. Frazier is serving a 10-year sentence for her actions. A jury found Levin guilty of felony murder and child abuse and he is serving an 18-year sentence.
A CHRONOLOGY OF ABUSE
Sengel, in his letter to City Manager Philip Sunderland, called his decision not to prosecute city social workers a “close call.” Sengel took issue with an independent report that was prepared for the city in January 2002, that concluded that social workers might not have known about the abuse that Katelynn was suffering and that there might not have been sufficient evidence for social workers to remove the little girl from her mother’s custody.
“Following an extensive investigation into this case, I have concluded that the following chronology of injury to Katelynn Frazier between Aug. 11, and Dec. 22, 2000, accurately and fairly states incidents of injury that were known or should have been known to social workers responsible for her case,” Sengel wrote.
On Aug. 11, 2000, Katelynn’s foster mother noted a dark bruise to Katelynn’s hip following her return from a brief stay with Pennee Frazier, who attributes the injury to “jumping on the bed.”
On Sept. 15, 2000, Katelynn is taken from her foster parents and returned by social worker, Marilyn Mills, to live with Pennee Frazier. Three days later, on Sept. 18, 2000, Mills notes a small bruise on the left side of Katelynn’s face, for which Pennee has no explanation except to say the children were in another room playing and she did not know what happened.
In late September or early October, a bruise to Katelynn’s face is seen by apartment complex employees who later report that Katelynn stated to them that Asher Levin, Pennee’s boyfriend, hit her. The employee describes the bruise as linear bruises separated by intervals, which is consistent with a hand slap. Another resident of the complex also recalls seeing a “hand print” bruise on Katelynn’s face.
Between Sept. 18, and Sept. 28, 2000, Katelynn remained in the daycare supervised outside Penee Frazier’s home. During this time, a daycare worker sees and takes three photographs of a large bruise on Katelynn’s forehead. Dating of this photograph is corroborated by foster parents who viewed the pictures and noted that Katelynn’s hair had been cut. Mrs. Abrams (foster mother) stated that this haircut was not done during the time they cared for Katelynn up until Sept. 15, 2000. After Sept. 28, according to the Department of Social Services records, Katelynn no longer attended daycare. The injury is clearly visible in the photographs, and according to the daycare workers, was pointed out to Mills. During this time period, Mills is providing transportation for Katelynn between Pennee’s apartment and the daycare provider. The photographs are further dated by sequence in a role of film containing another photograph taken on Sept. 16—17, 2000.
In these same photographs there is also a visible bruise to Katelynn’s right cheek. This chronology includes additional extensive injury detailed in the autopsy report which appeared to have been inflicted on Dec. 27, 2000, causing Katelynn’s death on Dec. 29, 2000.
On Sept. 26, 2000, Mills is questioned by the daycare provider who notes a bruise/scratch injury to Katelynn’s ankle. Mills tells the daycare provider that the mark is, according to Pennee, caused by Katelynn’s shoe rubbing. The daycare provider says this does not appear to be a reasonable explanation of the injury, because the injury is higher on Katelynn’s ankle than the height of her shoe.
Also between Sept. 18 and 28, 2000, an assistant to the daycare provider notices a large bruise on Katelynn’s back. The daycare provider questions Katelynn about it and the child says “Pennee did it.” Daycare workers photograph the injury but the photograph was lost. According to the daycare provider and her assistant, Mills is informed of this injury.
On Oct. 24, 2000, the home health care nurse notes a bruise on Katelynn’s face.
On Oct. 31, 2000, Mills notes a bruise on Katelynn’s forehead. She notes that the explanation offered by Asher Levin that Katelynn and her sister bumped heads.
On Nov. 21, 2000, Mills notes that according to Kelly Spickard, a home visit worker, “Jessica had left a mark on Katelynn’s face.” No follow-up is described.
A photograph of Katelynn taken on Dec. 2 or Dec. 9, 2000, shows a bruise on the left side of Katelynn’s face. This photograph was dated by testimony of Billie Frazier, who was present when it was taken (she is partially depicted in the photograph), by forensic analysis which established the sequence of photographic negatives from the role of film, and by business records showing the date of purchase of clothing worn by Katelynn in the photograph. Leslie Dodson flatly denies the representation in the report that she told investigators that the dress worn by Katelynn in the picture was given to Katelynn on Dec. 17, 2000. Evidence at the criminal trial of Asher Levin established that the dress was purchased on Nov. 24, and given to Katelynn shortly thereafter.
This same photograph taken Dec. 2, or Dec. 9, 2000, shows a bruise within the orbit of Katelynn’s left eye.
This same photograph taken Dec. 2 or Dec. 9, 2000, shows a bruise adjacent to Katelynn’s lower lip.
A photograph of Katelynn taken on Dec. 2 or Dec. 9, 2000, shows multiple bruises on Katelynn’s lower leg. This photograph was also dated as part of the same series of photographs containing the photograph referred to in 11, 12 and 13.
On Dec. 13, 2000, Alexandria City Public School workers visit the Frazier home to assess Katelynn and note that she has multiple bruises on her right thigh.
Billie Frazier and one of her co-workers recall seeing Katelynn with a black eye during the period between Sept. 15 and December, 2000.
Two photographs dated on Dec. 17, or later by a person present when they were taken clearly show a bruise on top of Katelynn’s right hand. In one of these pictures, Katelynn is standing in front of the contract employee (Spickard) visiting the home on behalf of social workers. The injury is unreported in any case notes.
Two photographs taken the last weekend before Christmas during a visit to see Santa Claus at a local mall depict a bruise on Katelynn’s left cheek. (Note that a prior photograph taken after Dec. 2—9 pictures and before this picture shows the Dec. 2—9 injury in the same area had healed and disappeared.)
Autopsy examination following death revealed evidence of an “old” bruise to the back of the head which had healed probably having been sustained a week to 10 days prior to Dec. 27.
“At the outset of any critical analysis of this series of injuries, it should be obvious that whether or not any of these injuries were reported to social workers by others is ultimately irrelevant. All of these injuries, with the possible exception of the one described in 19, were of such a nature and location that they were clearly visible to persons having casual contact with Katelynn…” Sengel wrote.
SOCIAL SERVICES REFORM
Sengel also expressed skepticism about the much-publicized reforms at the Department of Human Services in the wake of Katelynn’s death, particularly in light of a recent letter that was signed by 40 social workers and supervisors, requesting that Mills and Janice Pritchett, Mills' supervisor, not be disciplined.
“The aftermath of this case has spawned an aggressive and public campaign touting new policies and procedures and increased staffing at the Department of Human Services,” Sengel wrote. “At the end of the day, such “reforms” ring hollow in the face of actions by employees of the Department of Human Services which reveal a disturbing degree of intransigence.
"For example, on Jan. 28, 2002, two letters (one each on behalf of Mills and Pritchett) inscribed on DHS letterhead and signed by over 40 department employees, (including supervisors) were addressed to personnel director Henry Howard and members of City Council. The letters aver that city officials “err by recommending that disciplinary action be taken” against Mills and Pritchett, and argue that the Frazier case was handled with “extraordinary skill and attention to detail." The letters obliquely acknowledge failure in this case only in the form of “larger system failures beyond her (Mills Pritchett) control.” Entrenched beaurocracies often defend against failure by blaming “the system” rather than by undertaking honest examination of individual accountability. If such a response reflects a departmental view that discipline in this case is unwarranted because no mistakes were made by Mills or Pritchett, the lessons of this case remain unlearned by those who need to learn them most.
In the face of such institutionalized obstinacy, for which departmental management ultimately must be held accountable, no amount of highly publicized procedural reform or increased staffing will portend any greater level of safety for Alexandria’s most vulnerable children,” Sengel concluded.
Representative James P. Moran, who has been silent on the Frazier case, responded to the letter from the social workers. “The employees we should be looking for are those who did not sign the letter,” Moran said.
Councilwoman Claire Eberwein reacted to Sengel’s letter saying. “After the conclusion of the criminal proceedings in this case, I went to the Commonwealth attorney’s office and reviewed some of the evidence,” Eberwein said. “I completely agree with the conclusions and concerns that Mr. Sengel expressed in his letter.”