The two children of the Florida man who stabbed his entire family in a Deerfield Beach RV park earlier this month were allowed to return to him and his wife despite a troubled history, according to the Department of Children and Families.
There wasn't enough evidence to meet the “very high burden of proof” required to permanently remove the children from their parents, Joe Follick, the DCF's communications director, told NBC 6 Wednesday.
In February 2008, William DeJesus’ wife, Deanna Beauchamp, told authorities that they both had been molesting their two sons, newly released DCF documents show.
“When the mother made allegations of sexual abuse, we immediately asked for permanent removal of the children from the family. She recanted,” Follick said.
He said the agency had no physical evidence, and it was difficult to get clear statements from the two children, including the older son, who barely spoke.
“The mother had already recanted and said she had made up the allegations, and this made it very difficult to go to a judge and get the children permanently removed,” Follick said. “It’s hard. It’s tragic. There’s nobody at this department who is not committed to protecting the children.”
The DeJesus case hurts not only the people working on it, “but it hurts everybody at this department,” he said.
On the night of Feb. 9, DeJesus, of Port Orange, drove his family into the Highland Woods RV park in Deerfield Beach, where he shot a Canadian man twice, killing him, before he went into the man’s home and ultimately stabbed his wife, his sons and himself, according to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. His standoff with a SWAT team lasted six hours.
Beauchamp, 37, and their 7-year-old son survived and are recovering, and DeJesus, 41, and their 9-year-old son died.
Hundreds of pages of documents the DCF released on the case Wednesday reveal that DeJesus was previously accused of stabbing and assaulting his wife, and that his youngest son called him “Monster Jackson.”
In an Aug. 6, 2009 report, a foster mother told a DCF representative that the younger son kept saying, “Monster Jackson is going to kill me and he’s coming back to get you.” But when the representative asked “who is Monster Jackson?” the child demurred, smiling and saying, “I don’t know,” according to the report.
In 2008, Beauchamp “reported a history of domestic violence with the children’s father for the last eight years,” investigators wrote, and said that she was forced to sexually abuse them, fearing that DeJesus “would kill her if she did not fondle the children” with him.
DeJesus was barred from contact with his ex-wife and children in New York, according to the file.
A July 2009 case note said that the DCF required “clear and convincing evidence” that DeJesus and Beauchamp were unfit parents. Asked about that, Follick said, “This was a damaged family doing damaged things. The father by all evidence was damaging his family.”
But, he noted, “You have to be very, very sure when you’re going to, as a state agency, remove children from a family permanently. And you have to convince a judge. And these children had been out of the house for a year and a half.”
During that time, the parents had been evaluated, done anger management and domestic violence classes, and received therapy.
“After a year and a half of the parents making these efforts, no judge was going to say these children can’t go back,” Follick said.
He said the sons moved back in with their parents in mid-2010. A community partner of the DCF followed up, and after that six-month follow-up period ended in December 2010, DeJesus and Beauchamp had no more involvement with the DCF, Follick said.
In another horrific child abuse case a year ago, the two Barahona siblings were found after being tortured by their adoptive parents after falling through the cracks of the foster care system, authorities said. Nubia Barahona, 10, was found in a trash bag in the back of her adoptive father’s pickup truck after being beaten to death, and her twin brother Victor was found barely alive with chemical burns all over his body.
Since then the DCF has made changes that have included hiring 100 more child protective investigators, including many in Miami-Dade County, said Follick, who added that the agency intends to hire more to further reduce caseloads. If the Legislature approves a bill under consideration, investigators would be paid more, he added.
The agency is also striving to ensure that if a school has expressed concern about a family, or there has been police involvement, that information is shared right away with an investigator, Follick said.
On a broader level, the DCF is also reworking how it treats domestic violence cases. Besides more training, it is emphasizing that case workers and law enforcement and people involved in a given case communicate better with each other and not work in a silo, said Follick. He described it as “having a group of people helping a family rather than having 10 well-intended people helping a family separately.”
“We are trying to show a lot more patience and thought when we approach a family where domestic violence is occurring,” he said.
Follick said that any time a child dies, the DCF reviews it, but it is too early to tell “what shape that is going to take” with the DeJesus case. A panel is one possibility.
The case has been a nonstop topic of discussion for hundreds of people at the agency the past two weeks, he said.
“Our focus is on this child’s near-term and long-term needs,” he said of the surviving brother.