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De Blasio Vows to Reform City Agency After Zymere Perkins' Death

By Jeff Mays | October 5, 2016 6:58pm
 Zymere Perkins died late September after enduring months of physically abuse by his mother's boyfriend, officials said.
Zymere Perkins died late September after enduring months of physically abuse by his mother's boyfriend, officials said.
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CITY HALL — The Administration for Children's Services will increase the number of NYPD and child services personnel who jointly investigate suspected cases of serious abuse in the wake of the beating death of 6-year-old Harlem boy Zymere Perkins, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday.

ACS will now have to approve closing all contracted services for cases involving serious physical abuse and will work with the Department of Education to determine when absences from school should trigger an investigation.

Zymere's mother had been investigated by ACS five times for abuse and some of those cases were substantiated.

After Zymere went to school complaining of pain in his legs in April, he and his mother met with four different agencies — ACS, the NYPD, the District Attorney’s Office of New York and social work organization Safe Horizons. The boy was allowed to remain with his mother.

Zymere had not been attending school at the time of his death, officials said.

"The central question is did something go profoundly wrong? Yes," de Blasio said during a press conference with ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrión and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio.

The mayor said Palacio will conduct a multi-agency review to find out exactly what went wrong.

"Our review will get to the bottom of what happened here," Palacio said.

Already, five ACS workers have been placed on desk duty after Zymere's death, including two supervisors, a manager and two child care specialists.

Carrión warned that anyone on her staff who "failed their duty to protect this child will have to answer to me."

The hourlong press conference did not shed any new light on how multiple city agencies failed to prevent Zymere's death.

A lawyer for the city sat at the dais in the Blue Room of City Hall during the press conference and de Blasio warned repeatedly that neither he nor his department heads would answer basic questions about Zymere's life and death, citing confidentiality and the ongoing criminal investigation.

"We are not going to be able to answer anything about the specific trajectory of this family," said de Blasio.

Public Advocate Letitia James said that de Blasio was not being forthcoming enough about what had happened as Zymere's case wound its way thorough various city agencies.

"The mayor should give an accounting of what happened to this child. He is hiding behind the fact that there is an investigation that is pending," James told DNAinfo New York.

Zymere's mother, Geraldine Perkins, and her boyfriend, Rysheim Smith, were charged with child endangerment in connection with the boy's death.

Asked whether de Blasio's remarks that the ongoing criminal investigation prevented him from answering basic questions about Zymere's case was accurate, Danny Frost, a spokesman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment.

Frost did say that the DA's office has asked other agencies to refrain from "conducting witness interviews of individuals who may have information bearing on Zymere's" death.

"That is because multiple interviews by multiple authorities might impair our ability to conduct our criminal inquiry," Frost said in a statement.

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said that police had received no calls about abuse at Zymere's Harlem address.

"We didn't get any alarms from that residence," he said.

But James said there were plenty of other alarms that should have prompted Zymere's removal from the home.

If the DOE had reached out to ACS about Zymere's absences from school or if ACS had done a better job of following up on abuse allegations, James said the outcome might have been different.

"DOE dropped the ball. ACS failed to investigate a pending allegation," James said.

James, in an August report on ACS, said the agency should better supervise its contracted workers and provide enhanced supervision and training for caseworkers.

Comptroller Scott Stringer also issued a report in June that found that ACS did a poor job of following up on allegations of abuse. He is now conducting another audit to see if his recommendations were implemented.

A May report from the Department of Investigation found similar issues and said there was a system-wide failure at the agency to properly investigate and act on abuse allegations.

But Carrión's job seemed safe for now as the mayor fully backed her, saying that he had asked her to take on a difficult job and that she had dedicated her career to protecting children.

"Although the mayor is standing behind the commissioner and believes she is doing a good job, I disagree," said James. "She is doing a poor job."

The reforms the mayor announced don't go far enough, James added.

ACS needs to be broken up into a smaller agency focused on child welfare, foster care and adoptive services only, she said. A supervisor needs to review every current high-risk cases and conduct a home visit to prevent what happened to Zymere.

"I refuse to surrender any child to injury or death and neither should ACS," James said.