The mother of a 2-year-old boy and her boyfriend appeared in bond court on Wednesday after being arrested on charges related to the child’s death.
Claude Alexis, 32, faces the charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse following the death last week of Ezra Raphael, and he was being held without bond, while the boy’s mother, Cierrah Raphael, 22, faces a charge of child neglect and was being held on $7,500. It wasn’t immediately known if she had an attorney.
Alexis appeared in court wearing a suicide protection vest. While a public defender advised him not to make any statements, he said, "I love that boy, man."
According to the arrest affidavit, an officer found Alexis sitting in front of the North Miami Beach Police department on Tuesday. He told the officer that he couldn’t sleep and walked to the station.
Alexis told police he had been upset with the boy on June 21 and struck him on the back and buttocks with a belt, the affidavit said. He said he had been home alone with the child and when he woke up, he noticed “water all over,” the affidavit said. He became upset and began to hit the boy, who became unconscious, the affidavit said.
Alexis called 911, but the child couldn’t be revived, the arrest affidavit said.
When authorities were summoned to 15664 NE 10th Court, they found the child unconscious on the dining room floor, according to police.
He was taken to Jackson North Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter, police said.
The boy had trauma to his back and body, and an autopsy revealed his death was due to a homicide, police said. The investigation found sufficient probable cause to arrest Alexis on the murder and child abuse charges, police said.
Raphael, a prostitute, told police she had left the home that night to solicit sex, according to police. She said she repeatedly left her child home alone and uncared for, according to police. According to DCF documents, there is a prior history with the family.
Raphael, who had been a foster child herself, gave temporary custody of her Ezra over to a family friend one month after he was born in May 2011, the arrest affidavit said.
DCF documents show that in June 2012 the boy was in the custody of Raphael’s former foster mother’s friend Elizabeth Wims in Gainesville, whom she does not know.
"The Department of Children and Families had one encounter with Ezra in February 2013. At that time, Ezra was in the care of a non-relative caregiver in Alachua County," the department said in a statement. "The caregiver did not have legal guardianship or custody of the child. However, the child was determined to be safe."
Raphael said she took custody back of Ezra in May 2013, according to the affidavit.
"I know Cierrah wasn't fit or ready to take on Ezra. I knew this," Wims said in a telephone interview with NBC 6.
Wims said she gave the child back to Raphael after she called her incessantly shouting that she wanted her baby back. Wims tried to keep Ezra, but was denied by DCF
"They says there was nothing that they could do," Wims said. "They had closed the case."
She resigned herself and dropped off the baby at Raphael's stepmother's home in Miami Gardens in April.
“When a child dies as a result of abuse or neglect, it is a tragedy. In cases of this nature, we investigate to determine what services were performed and what additional actions we could have taken to further protect these children and families,” DCF Secretary David Wilkins said in a statement. “My number one mission is to do everything in my power to protect vulnerable children in this state. We will hold ourselves accountable to that mission as we implement new investigative processes that will improve the way we assess and take action for those who are counting on us to get it right.”
The arrest affidavit said that Raphael noticed bruising on the boy in the past, but took no action.
Raphael also has another child, who is in the custody of the father.
Meanwhile, Debra Elder, Raphael’s former foster mother, told NBC 6 said Ezra was always smiling. She considers herself his grandmother.
He had just started to speak in full phrases.
"You give him something, he'll say thank you. He was so lovable, sweet," Elder said. "He deserved to grow up."
North Miami Beach Police said the Department of Children and Families has been notified of the investigation and is in contact with them.
Elder said Raphael may have had personal struggles, but she loved her child.
"I don't think she would hurt her baby, so I guess I don't think it’s Cierrah, it’s the boyfriend," she said.
Elder said she only met Alexis a few times.
"The guy seemed very nice. My husband said don't let that fool you but he did fool me,” she said.