Hennepin County allowed a Minneapolis couple to keep custody of two of their children, despite having previously removed nine children from their care following accusations of neglect and abuse dating back to 1993, court records show.
Now Cardie Jackson and Shonwta Jackson have lost their last two children. The Jacksons are each charged with murder after their 6-week-old daughter died of suspected neglect in March. While investigating the death, the county put their 2-year-old son into foster care after determining that he had "significant special needs" that the parents were failing to meet.
Mary Ann Harris, Cardie's cousin who adopted two of the Jacksons' children, says Hennepin County child protection should be held accountable.
"They should be sitting right there with her on the stand," Harris said Tuesday. "They knew she had issues with alcohol and they still let her keep her kids. That newborn's life was dependent on Hennepin County taking action," she said.
That baby, Imani, was found not breathing at her parents' Minneapolis home on March 2. Shonwta Jackson woke up that morning to use the bathroom and found the baby face down in a laundry basket where she regularly slept, according to the criminal complaint. Both he and Cardie Jackson said they had been drinking and smoking marijuana the night before, and the mother put the baby in the laundry basket before going to sleep, the complaint said. There was no crib in the home.
Both were booked at Hennepin County jail on Tuesday after being charged with second-degree murder.
At least 26 children have died in Minnesota from abuse or neglect since 2005 despite child protection knowing they were at risk, the Star Tribune reported in May. Imani's death would not add to that list, because the county did not have a case on her.
Janine Moore, Hennepin County's director of child protection, said she could not comment on the case.
Records show that the county removed nine children from the Jacksons' custody following findings that the parents neglected, endangered and abused them.
Yet in October 2011, Cardie Jackson was granted full custody of the then-2-month-old boy, despite Hennepin County identifying the child as being at high risk for future maltreatment. The county recommended that Cardie Jackson be granted custody of the child and dropped a child protection case against her because she complied with a case plan, stayed sober, had a "well-kept" home and was committed to a new direction in her life.
Because she completed a case plan with that child, the county did not open a case when she gave birth to Imani in January, court records show.
After getting a report about Imani's death, Hennepin County placed the couple's 2-year-old son in foster care and filed a petition to terminate Cardie Jackson's parental rights to the boy.
In that petition, the county said that the boy appeared to have missed developmental milestones and that it was not known whether he had received all his immunizations or well-child checkups. Hospital nursing staff also reported that the child "appears to have a misshapen forehead and flattened ears, he does not use words and makes little eye contact."
Records show that Cardie Jackson has been complying with a case plan. Typically, when parents complete case plans successfully, they are reunited with the child. The records say that Cardie Jackson has attended treatment and remained sober, and that supervised visits through the summer with the 2-year-old have been positive.
The Jacksons' family appears split on the charges against them. One of their daughters, Quiavontaya Jackson, 19, said she believed that her parents should have had custody of the two youngest children. "They do the best they can and they love us to the best of their abilities with their whole heart," she said.
The Jacksons' parental rights to Quiavontaya, along with four of her siblings, were terminated in March 2004 after the county found the parents responsible for medically and educationally neglecting them and for sexually and physically abusing another child. Cardie Jackson has twice prenatally exposed her children to drugs, most recently in 2008 when she gave birth to her ninth child and tested positive for cocaine, according to records.
Quiavontaya said she would have prefered to stay with her parents rather than being placed in foster care, and doesn't want the same thing to happen to her 2-year-old brother. "I would rather be with someone who loved me than with complete strangers," she said.
Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626