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State to Probe Failed City Response to 6-Year-Old Boy's Death, Cuomo Says

By Jeff Mays | September 29, 2016 1:13pm
 Geraldine Perkins, 26, right, and her boyfriend Rysheim Smith, 42, were charged in connection with the death of her son Zymere Perkins, 6, left.
Geraldine Perkins, 26, right, and her boyfriend Rysheim Smith, 42, were charged in connection with the death of her son Zymere Perkins, 6, left.
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NEW YORK CITY — The state will investigate the death of 6-year-old Harlem boy Zymere Perkins, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.

"Well we’re going to review the matter, because the state does have oversight, but this was a terrible, terrible tragedy," Cuomo said before a planned trip to Israel to attend the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Cuomo later canceled the trip due to a fatal train derailment in Hoboken, New Jersey.

"It should remind us all that what government does matters, and when government fails, there are consequences," the governor added.

Perkins' mother was the subject of five child abuse investigations, officials said. When the little boy was brought unconscious into St. Luke's Hospital Monday afternoon, authorities discovered that his body was covered in bruises.

Zymere's mother and her boyfriend have been arrested in connection with his death. Geraldine Perkins, 26, and Rysheim Smith, 42, were charged with acting in a manner injurious to a child.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday that he doesn't understand how Zymere's death could not have been prevented.

"There were warning signs. They were clearly looked at by a variety of agencies. How that didn't lead to a different outcome is what I don't understand," said de Blasio at an unrelated press conference.

De Blasio said Zymere's death reminds him of the brutal beating death of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown in 2006 by her stepfather.

The girl's death, including her last hours when she suffered horrendous physical violence, shocked the city and forced changes at the Administration for Children's Services, which had been aware of problems in the girl's home.

"It reminds me of Nixzmary Brown for sure, and that’s what’s troubling to me," de Blasio said. "In that case, different agencies had an opportunity to do something. That included NYPD, DOE, and ACS in the case of Nixzmary Brown."

Cuomo wasn't the only official to criticize ACS. Public Advocate Letitia James said the agency failed to protect Zymere.

Her office issued a report on similar child deaths last month and found that ACS often missed or failed to act upon the warning signs of abuse.

"ACS missed the red flag that Zymere, who had substantiated cases of abuse and was not registered for school, was in danger. This should have resulted in immediate action," James told DNAinfo New York.

"This is not the first time ACS has failed a child in this way, we found a pattern of ACS missing these warning signs in our investigation," she added.

Among the changes to ACS that James recommends is better oversight of contracted case managers and better training and supervision of all case managers.

James found multiple cases of child deaths where abuse was clearly indicated but caseworkers did not find neglect. In other cases, services were discontinued without cause and workers did not adequately investigate events that led to child injury.

"Zymere Perkins did not have to die, but mismanagement at ACS is costing young lives all too often. ACS must immediately reform its child protective and preventive services, providing the care New York City's children deserve," James said.

ACS has declined to comment on Zymere's case, saying it is investigating the circumstances of his death along with the NYPD.

The mayor said changes will be made after an investigation is conducted.

"I’m going to demand answers from everyone involved. And if we have to make changes as a result in our approach, we will," de Blasio said. "At least I can say very clearly, I know this was on the radar screen. But I don’t like what happened here one bit. I don’t accept it."