New Cassel Mother's Neglect of Children Evident Long Before Murders of Three ChildrenMar 3, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Two days before the triple New Cassel child murders by Leatrice Brewer, 27, the father of two of the children—Innocent Demesyeux—complained to Child Protective Services (CPS) that Brewer was behaving bizarrely and threatening to harm the children. A caseworker was sent to investigate, but found no one home. A second caseworker was sent that night and was unable to gain access. Instead of ordering a follow-up visit for Saturday, a night supervisor scheduled another visit for Sunday; he was suspended without pay. The family blames the Nassau County child welfare agency, saying it should have been more proactive. “Everybody knew she left the kids home sometimes,” said a family member.
Brewer drowned all three children—Jewell, six; Michael, five; and Innocent, 18-months—that Sunday and then called 911 to report she had drowned each after repeatedly stabbing Jewell with a knife. Brewer then threw herself from the second-floor, surviving the fall. Brewer was arraigned on three counts of murder; she pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The father of Jewell Ward, one of the three murdered children has filed a $60 million lawsuit against Nassau County, Child Protective Services and the Department of Social Services. Ricky Ward is being represented by the Long Island law firm Parker Waichman LLP. The lawsuit charges that the County "negligently, carelessly and recklessly failed to protect Jewel Ward and are, therefore, responsible for the pain and suffering and wrongful death of his daughter.” The lawsuit alleges that if the agencies followed policy Jewell and her two brothers would have been removed from Brewer's home, preventing their deaths.
Family and friends say Brewer was both extremely possessive and severely negligent towards her children. Brewer stopped working sometime last year; some say she was fired. Visitors often found the children alone. “You would ring the bell and the little girl would say, ‘No, my mommy’s not home, come back later,’” a friend, said. Conversely, at Christmas, Brewer permitted Jewell to spend an evening with her father. Brewer telephoned the house several times each hour to check on Jewell and find out when she would be returning home.
In 1997, Brewer was fined twice for disorderly conduct. Police were often called to the home by the children’s fathers who claimed she assaulted them when they tried to see their children. Brewer is six-feet tall and 200 pounds, “Leatrice was moody, and she could be a little ‘off’—one day friendly, the next day like she never knew you,” said a friend. Relatives said after giving birth to Jewell, Brewer suffered from depression. That year she was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree criminal contempt and sentenced to three years’ probation. From 2003 until last week, caseworkers from CPS investigated nine complaints against Brewer alleging she neglected her children, leaving them unattended, or failing to send them to school. Jewell was responsible to change diapers and wash baby bottles. Family members pleaded with Brewer to let the children live with them.
The fathers sought custody, claiming Brewer was mentally ill and neglectful and may have been abusing drugs. Custody was never in jeopardy, Dr. Curtis said. “When we spoke to the kids, they were not bruised, they looked well cared for, the house was clean,” Curtis said adding, "Being mentally ill is not automatically grounds for removing children from their mother." Police, mental health, child protection, and Family Court officials all had case files on the family, Curtis said, yet none was in communication with workers in the other agencies.
Neighbors also noticed Jewell handled increasingly more of her brothers’ care. “She would change the baby’s diapers, wipe Michael’s nose, take care of the house, make sure they didn’t play near the stove, all that kind of stuff,” said Ms. Maddox, Ms. Brewer’s friend.