A note taped on the front door of the two-story brown and tan house in Brooklyn Park declared it “unfit for human habitation” this week.
For years, it’s where child protection officials have come repeatedly on reports alleging physical and sexual abuse. It’s where an 8-year-old boy was found dead in his pajamas in February.
And it’s where police were summoned on Monday in their search for an 11-year-old girl whose mother said had run away from home after an argument. What they found inside led authorities to put the four children living there in protective custody. Their mother was taken to the hospital.
Brooklyn Park Deputy Chief Mark Bruley described the house in the city’s Norwood neighborhood Tuesday as “unfit for children.”
Police are investigating the boy’s death and are weighing whether to file neglect or abuse charges in the coming days.
Court documents reveal an extensive child protection history involving the children’s mother, including reports of physical abuse, neglect, a criminal conviction related to malicious child punishment and allegations of sexual abuse.
That includes the February death, where police officers found the 8-year-old boy dead in the living room, cold to the touch. His mother told police that the boy had been sick and that she had been unable to wake him up for school, prompting her to call 911, court records show. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office found several “loop shaped scars” on his back and two scars on his genitals, but an autopsy failed to determine the cause of death.
In April, the county’s Human Services and Public Health Department learned the death was not caused by a viral infection or the flu, according to a child protection petition filed in May.
In a statement Tuesday, Hennepin County said child protection has acted diligently in this case, including a request in February for emergency protective out-of-home care for the children.
“This is a complex, adversarial system by design, to ensure all arguments and voices are heard,” it said. “In the end, the juvenile court makes the final decision.”
The Star Tribune is not naming the family to protect the privacy of the children.
Child protection history
The boy’s parents have had prior child protection involvement. But other child protection petitions have been dismissed in recent years, including a 2016 petition alleging sexual abuse of one child by a relative and sexual abuse of other children by an older sibling. The order dismissing that case noted that their mother had been “cooperative with the department and in following her case plan,” with the mother reporting that she felt “her family is in a good position at this time.”
Rich Gehrman, executive director of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, a watchdog group for child welfare, said the case is similar to other high-profile child abuse cases in recent months, including the home in south Minneapolis that prosecutors have dubbed “the house of horrors.”
“They all have similar patterns of long histories of abuse,” Gehrman said.
Local child protection agencies across Minnesota received more than 75,000 reports of child maltreatment in 2016, an 11 percent jump over the previous year, state records show.
On Monday, Brooklyn Park police pulled up to the house on the 8200 block of Queen Avenue N. after getting a report from the mother that her daughter had run away.
When officers arrived, they found the mother “highly uncooperative,” telling police there were “rat-tailed maggots coming out of her skin,” according to a search warrant. Authorities say the house was flooded, with the mother boiling water and tossing it on the walls and floors to get rid of the bugs. Mattresses and bedding were strewn on the deck and backyard.
One child living in park
Inside, police found a 3-year-old in an upstairs bathroom. And in nearby Norwood Park, officers found the missing girl’s brother, 12, sleeping on a swing in the rain. He had run away Friday, living in the woods for two days, the warrant shows. Bruley said police found another brother at a friend’s house.
The 11-year-old girl was found in Bloomington. Marilyn Harris, a neighbor from Brooklyn Park, said she happened to see the girl sitting on the curb outside a health clinic.
The girl told her that a friend’s mother had dropped her off there. She asked for a ride home.
Harris said she hasn’t noticed anything unusual at the house across the street over the years, but police reports show that at least one neighbor has raised concerns to law enforcement as recently as last month.
The neighbor told police she was “very concerned about the welfare of the children,” rarely seeing them outside playing. She said she had seen instances of abuse in the past and had tried to offer them resources and clothing.
No one was allowed inside the condemned house, but on Tuesday, a junk removal company hauled away toys and other belongings from inside.