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Sunday, September 25, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State Sent Kids To Home Despite Complaints

(Copyright, 1994, The Seattle Times Co.)

The Seattle foster home where four babies died was the subject of several complaints of abuse and neglect of foster children in the home.

Yet state officials kept sending babies there, to the dismay of some state workers and the foster family's own pastor.

"Our own agency is guilty of neglect and abuse and the fatalities, in my opinion, by allowing this woman to maintain her license," said one outraged Department of Social and Health Services worker.

Foster parents Margaret and Jack Manson are under investigation by the Seattle police, the King County medical examiner and state authorities following the latest death, of a 6-month-old boy Sept. 14.

That death was initially believed to be sudden infant death syndrome. Three previous deaths of infants in the Mansons' care, in 1989 and 1993, were ruled SIDS.

Top DSHS officials say they couldn't shut down the foster home earlier. But three staff members, in separate interviews, said the agency seemed more interested in covering up its actions than protecting children.

The staff members insisted on anonymity because they were speaking out against a code of silence that DSHS uses to protect the privacy of foster children - and, the employees said, DSHS mistakes.

DSHS Secretary Jean Soliz said staffers should have handled their complaints within the state instead of going to a newspaper. But staffers, and people who knew the Mansons, said they did complain to the agency and that their complaints went unheeded.

-- The state received at least three complaints from outside sources alleging evidence of abuse by the Mansons toward other foster children. None resulted in the state pulling the family's foster-care license, even though two SIDS deaths had already occurred by then.

One of the DSHS sources said Child Protective Services received formal complaints that included first-hand information from medical professionals. The complaints included bruises, poor weight gain, inappropriate parenting and verbal abuse.

"DSHS dropped the ball big-time here," the source said. "I think they are lazy sometimes, and I think they are desperate for foster families, so they don't know where to dump these kids, and this was a woman who was convenient and always took them."

-- Staff at a local church who helped care for the Mansons' foster children and checked in on them weekly said they witnessed obvious signs of neglect. They said they once saw a baby lying on a soaking wet mattress. At other times, they said, they witnessed children ordered to bed for the night in the midafternoon, household filth and verbal abuse. The state didn't respond.

"They just ignored us," said the Rev. Ronn Haus, pastor of the Trinity Life Center. "I made several calls to DSHS. `Well, thank you sir, there's not much we can do, we are short on foster homes' - that was the attitude."

-- Last year, a foster child about 2 years old was pulled from the Manson home after he was taken to the hospital for turning blue from lack of oxygen. This occurred at about the same time as the third SIDS death.

-- After that, state workers informally stopped sending infants to the Mansons. But they went on to send 3- and 4-year-old girls there. Additionally, state licensing workers didn't discover that the Mansons were watching an infant in an unauthorized day care. That child died Sept. 14.

-- The home could have been disqualified from a foster-care license based on Jack Manson's admission last year that he'd committed a domestic assault. Manson had tried to hit his 20-year-old son with a stick and a fireplace shovel but was restrained by his wife. He was ordered in December to take classes in anger management.

Angry at reporter

The Mansons and state officials aren't saying much. Gordon Schultz, DSHS spokesman, said the agency is waiting for the outcome of the investigations. And the Mansons were told by Gwen Rench, their foster-home licenser, to stop talking to a reporter.

"Haven't you done enough damage already?" Margaret Manson yelled at a reporter Friday, while Jack Manson slammed their front door, rattling the windows.

Margaret Manson, 47, is a licensed practical nurse. Jack Manson, 70, is a part-time school crossing guard. The Mansons predicted last Monday that their foster home would be shut down if a newspaper wrote about them. Their license was suspended hours after The Seattle Times called DSHS.

Before that, though, the Mansons said they expected to get new foster children in three to six months. An assistant medical examiner had told them the latest death looked like SIDS again, and the police report made no mention of the other infant deaths.

Seattle homicide Sgt. Don Cameron said a full investigation opened up Wednesday.

In April 1993, Medical Examiner Donald Reay said, he and Cameron personally interviewed Margaret Manson after the third SIDS death because the pattern was so suspicious. But they couldn't prove any foul play was involved.

Reay said he was not told about the other complaints of abuse and neglect, and should have been. He said DSHS erroneously uses client confidentiality as a reason to not reveal complaints of abuse and neglect even to him and the police unless police can find probable cause that a crime has occurred.

"They're very close-mouthed," Reay said. "It creates barriers for us."

DSHS spokesman Schultz said the Mansons' license was never suspended before last week. Yet people who know the Mansons say the state did remove foster children more than once. Pastor Haus said the state removed children from the Manson home for diaper rashes, dirtiness and neglect.

But the Mansons always got more.

"She was always wanting us to go talk to her caseworker to tell them she was competent," said Haus. "But we felt so strongly about her incompetency to have children that we would never even let her near infants in the church. She always wanted to work in the nursery."

Michelle Williams, a children's pastor at the church, said she visited the Mansons' home once a week for more than two years.

"The youngest one was still in diapers, and I picked her up once and the whole bed was soaking wet. I said, `Margaret, can I change this bed?' And she said, `I don't know. They only give us so much for diapers.' "

The first to die

The first baby who died in Margaret Manson's home was a 10-week-old girl named Khadijah Bell.

She had been born prematurely to a woman addicted to cocaine. The foster-care caseworker, Leona Moran, told police the baby had been gaining weight and making progress.

Manson said Khadijah was fine when she checked her at 3:10 a.m. Jan. 4, 1989, but dead at 8:30 a.m. There were no signs of foul play.

The second baby who died in the home was a 6-month-old boy named D'Angelo Jamar Kinniebrew. He had been delivered to Margaret Manson directly from Harborview Medical Center at 7:30 p.m. on March 22, 1989. A friend of Manson's, who insisted on anonymity, said the baby had been suffering from bronchial pneumonia.

Margaret Manson told police she gave the baby Children's Tylenol, but he fussed most of the night before falling asleep shortly after 7 a.m. When she went in to give the baby some medicine at 8:30 a.m., Manson said, he was dead.

There were no signs of trauma. D'Angelo was pronounced a SIDS death.

After that, Manson moved from her house in a Rainier Valley neighborhood north to the house where her husband was living.

"One reason Margaret moved from the first place," her friend said, "was because there had been two SIDS deaths there, and she knew it was going to be on the record, and she wondered if it was the house."

The third baby who died in Manson's care was a 2-month-old girl named LaShawna Roth. She should have been with her mother, not Manson, according to the child's grandfather, Gary Roth of Bellingham. Roth said the mother was "a bit of a basket case" but could have cared for the child.

State authorities had wanted to take custody of the baby at birth, but they miscalculated the due date, Gary Roth said. And his daughter went into hiding with her baby.

"They finally caught up with her a month or so after (the baby) was born, and put her in this home, and a week later, she was dead," Roth said.

Roth said his wife, who is a nurse, had checked the baby a few days before she was given to foster care and said she was healthy.

Manson, however, told police the baby had a medical checkup the day before she died and "may have a heart condition, but no testing was done," according to the police report.

Manson told police she fed LaShawna at 11:15 p.m. and then found her dead at 2:30 a.m. on April 28, 1993.

This caused great concern. Reay said he interviewed Manson - a rarity for the chief medical examiner - and took Cameron with him in case Manson needed to be arrested. But Reay couldn't find anything from that interview or from subsequent testing on the baby.

SIDS `a nightmare'

SIDS is "a medical examiner's nightmare," Reay said. He can tell if a baby asphyxiated, but unless there are marks or bruises, he can't tell how. Reay and other experts say it is impossible to tell between SIDS and gentle suffocation.

Roth said he hired an attorney and private investigator, claiming DSHS was "furiously trying to hide" facts of the case to protect itself from legal liability.

Roth's attorney, Mark Mestel of Everett, said: "What we found was DSHS didn't want her to talk to anyone. I think DSHS needs to be awakened that their job is to protect the children."

DSHS did pull foster children from the Manson home, including the toddler, who had turned blue at about the same time. There was no proof of abuse in that case.

The agency also gave psychological tests to Margaret Manson. The outcome of the tests has not been disclosed.

DSHS decided to require Manson to take special SIDS training from the Pediatric Interim Care Center of Kent. She was then sent more children, sisters age 3 and 4.

Lisa Cain's mother lives across the street from the Mansons.

The Cains knew Manson had had a SIDS death in her home, but they didn't know she had had three. They knew she kept her foster-care license, but they didn't know the DSHS office had decided, informally, that Manson couldn't be trusted with babies.

Lisa Cain, 31, wanted to keep working at Group Health even though she might have made more money on welfare. Margaret Manson said she admired this in Lisa, and agreed to take care of her infant son for only $183 a month.

Manson, according to her friend, would have never taken this baby if she'd known Lisa Cain had lost a baby to SIDS 13 years earlier. Lisa Cain said she'd never have let Manson take her boy if she'd known three babies had died in Manson's home.

The medics were called at 5:44 p.m. on Sept. 14. Jack Manson reported the baby was dead.

He said his wife had left for a meeting an hour before, and he told The Times last Monday that he had heard the baby crying after his wife left, then assumed he'd fallen asleep.

The death investigator from the medical examiner's office said it looked like yet another case of SIDS.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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