Monday, March 19, 2007

When you witness child abuse, you need to REPORT it

Neighbors describe dead girl's chronic abuse
Response by social services questioned
Kirby, Cassondra. Lexington Herald-Leader, March 13, 2007, pg. A1.

WINCHESTER -- Ten-year-old McCaylah Watkins, whose bruised and lifeless body was found in her family's Winchester apartment Sunday, was an unhappy child who lived in fear of upsetting her father and stepmother, said those who know the family yesterday.

More than half a dozen neighbors and relatives said Patrick and Joy Watkins routinely belittled and yelled at the girl in public, cursing at her, telling her to shut up and calling her stupid, along with other, harsher names.

Police arrested the Watkinses on Sunday and charged each with first-degree criminal abuse on a child less than 12 years old.

"The parents were charged with criminal abuse for failing to get treatment for the child's injuries," said Winchester police Capt. Harvey Craycraft. He said the couple hadn't made any attempts to render aid to the suffering child, other than calling for an ambulance.

Betty Stokley -- Joy Watkins' grandmother, who lives next door to the couple, said Patrick Watkins was especially cruel to McCaylah, his daughter from a previous marriage. Stokley said she had seen him kick the girl in the back, knocking her down, and had seen him force the girl to spread her fingers out on a table so he could smash them with his hands.

Stokley said McCaylah was often not allowed out of her bedroom and rarely got to go outside to play. She said the couple wouldn't even let McCaylah go to the bathroom, which was across the hall from her room, but placed a potty beside her bed for her to use instead.

"Caylah would dodge him and move to the side if he walked past her," Stokley said of Patrick Watkins, 30. "She would shake and go on. She was afraid."

McCaylah was pronounced dead just after 4 p.m. Sunday, when an ambulance and police were called to apartment 35 on Memorial Park for an unresponsive child.

McCaylah, who was found in a bedroom, had what Craycraft described as "trauma injuries." Stokley said police told her the body was badly bruised.

Patrick Watkins told police that the girl had fallen down some stairs, Craycraft said.

Craycraft could not go into more detail, but he said more charges were possible once authorities view the results of an autopsy that was completed yesterday. He said authorities hope to learn exactly what caused the child's death and when and how her injuries occurred.

Police confiscated a Dumpster after neighbors told police they saw Patrick Watkins take out trash just before calling emergency workers. Police have not said what evidence, if any, was found.

In Clark District Court, a not-guilty plea was entered yesterday for the Watkinses. Judge William Clouse said he would appoint public defenders for them. Each was being held in the Clark County jail on a $20,000 cash bond; they will be back in court March 20.

Because they are in jail, funeral arrangements have not yet been made for McCaylah.

Brother recently adopted
According to Clark County court records, Patrick and Joy Watkins, 28, do not have extensive criminal backgrounds. The most serious crime was in February 2000, when each was convicted of domestic violence against the other.

Stokley said the couple have been married for about nine years and have lived at the apartment complex on Memorial Park for about five years.

She said they were raising four children, including two of their own, Zachary, 4 and Mariah, 6. They recently gained full custody of McCaylah. And they have adopted Michael Woodrum, 4, McCaylah's half brother. He and McCaylah share the same mother, but Michael is not related to Patrick or Joy Watkins.

The other three children have been in state custody since Sunday. Stokley said she hopes to gain custody of them.

Officials with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would not comment yesterday on past or current investigations involving the Watkinses. They also would not say whether the remaining children will be released to family members.

In recent months, Stokley said, she hasn't been a significant part of Joy Watkins' life and hasn't been allowed to see the children often, because of Patrick Watkins. She said social service workers and the police have been called several times on the couple over their treatment of the children, and Patrick Watkins blamed her for the calls and attention.

Through tears yesterday, Stokley said she blames social service workers for not doing more to prevent McCaylah's death.

"The social workers, they didn't do their part," Stokley said. "If they had taken McCaylah out of there, this little girl wouldn't be dead. I don't know if I could have done anything to save her or not. I'm so broken-hearted about this that I can't hardly talk about it."

Neighbors grieving
As residents of the apartment complex recalled incidents of alarming physical or verbal abuse against McCaylah, many wondered yesterday whether there was something more they should have done.

"They were awful mean to the little baby," said Nancy Bowling, 60. "She was 10 years old, she wasn't nothing but a little baby who had no one to turn to."

Bowling, who used to walk her grandson to school with McCaylah and Joy Watkins, said Joy Watkins often seemed hateful and rarely said anything pleasant to the girl.

"She would call her stupid and say things to her like 'shut up,'" Bowling said. "Caylah was a real pretty, sweet little girl, but she didn't look happy. I don't ever remember seeing her smile."

In one incident, Joy Watkins became upset with McCaylah and began yelling at her in the street in front of Bowling's apartment. She was screaming so loudly that neighbors stepped out onto their porches to see what the commotion was about, Bowling said.

Watkins knocked the schoolbooks out of McCaylah's hands and then stormed off while the girl, who was crying, struggled to pick up her belongings, Bowling said.

Another neighbor, William Deaton, 35, said McCaylah, who was home-schooled this year, attended Shearer Elementary in Winchester last year with his 10-year-old niece. He said McCaylah told his niece that "her dad was being mean to her and beating her up."

Shearer Elementary Principal Ed Sigmon declined to comment about McCaylah yesterday.

"I don't know what happened down there that day," Bowling said. "But I do know what I've seen -- what we've all seen."


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