A family case worker invoked her constitutional right not to testify Wednesday at the murder trial of a mother-of-six charged in her baby's starvation death at a homeless shelter.
Tanya Williams, 34, is charged in the Dec. 23, 2010, death of 2-month-old twin Quasir Alexander.
At the time, Williams was receiving social services from at least three agencies. The case worker who refused to testify Wednesday, Cleo Smalls, worked for Lutheran Children and Family Service, which provided voluntary, city-funded parenting support.
Smalls saw the baby 36 hours before the boy died, when he weighed just over 4 pounds and his twin was near death. She reported that they were awake and seemed healthy, and she discharged Williams from the program, according to records read by an agency official.
"Ms. Smalls never saw the children unclothed," Richard Gitlen, executive director of the Lutheran agency, testified.
"So why was she fired?" defense lawyer Gregory Pagano shot back.
"Because she didn't meet social work practices ... in this case," Gitlen said.
Pagano said it appeared that Smalls filled out the report of her Dec. 21 visit in 2010, on Dec. 23 hours after the baby died.
Smalls and an assistant case worker had reported on earlier shelter visits that the twins were asleep. They talked with Williams about setting up appointments for pediatric visits, immunizations, food stamps, and even one at the electric company, where she hoped to pay down a bill to qualify for public housing.
They provided her a cellphone and transit tokens, along with clothes and Christmas presents for the six children.
But Williams rarely if ever made it to those appointments and, instead, talked of rescheduling them, according to her Lutheran case file. She did say she had enough formula for the babies until her food-stamp interview.
Williams, a one-time daycare worker, became homeless in September 2010, after fights with her mother and then a church friend who had taken her in. She had no prenatal care, and did not know she was carrying twins until she delivered them on Oct. 21 and 22.
The twins were sent home on Oct. 25, although Williams was ordered to bring Quasir, born at 4 pounds, 12 ounces, in the next day because he was losing weight. It's not clear if that occurred, and he lost another half-pound before he died.
On the Dec. 21 visit, Smalls told Williams that she had to make doctor's visits for the children by 3 p.m. the next day, or be referred to the city as an abuse-and-neglect case. The family's welfare was also being monitored by a case worker with the Travelers Aid shelter and by a home-health nurse.
Pagano has argued that his client, with no high school degree and a reported IQ of 65, could not manage the complex needs of the low-birthweight twins. He said the family should have been under closer watch by child-welfare officials.
However, city officials deemed the family a low- to moderate risk and steered her to the voluntary program run by his group, Gitlen testified.
"You cannot be everywhere, all the time?" Assistant District Attorney Peter Lim asked Gitlen. "You expect those families to take the initiative to take advantage of those services."
In opening statements last week, Pagano called Williams "a scapegoat" for the failings of social workers, doctors and others charged with monitoring the family.