DENVER — In June Denver Police responded to an apartment for a call about a child who was unresponsive. That child 8-year-old Dametrious Wilson died from his injuries, and since his death, 9NEWS has been looking into the circumstances.
On June 3, 2022, Susan Baffour, Dametrious' great aunt called 911 to report that the boy was not breathing. They responded to their apartment in the 1900 block of Ulster Street around 8:20 a.m.
Baffour told police she spanked Dametrious the night before. She's since been arrested and faces charges of first-degree murder and child abuse in connection to his death. She's next due in court for an arraignment on Dec. 9.
For months 9NEWS has been working to learn if something could have been done to prevent the death of this little boy. We’ve found one person who tried whenever Dametrious would attend school.
Schools are meant to be a safe haven. A refuge for children who are not safe at home. Reed Gibson aims to provide that safe space at Ashley Elementary, particularly in classroom 209.
"I love it. It's a great place. It's really a family," Gibson said.
In her room, she teaches her second graders to be terrific. Second graders that once included Dametrious Wilson.
"He was the sweetest little boy. He had this huge smile on his face. Every day he would come running in through the little fence and he would say 'Ms. Gibson, hi,” Gibson said with excitement.
Gibson also taught Dametrious' big sister Noelle White, who is now in the fourth grade.
"She's also an angel. Multiple times I told her you are always just on task ready to go. She was always doing her work. She was always wanting to help others and be a leader and all of the other kids in the classroom knew that and looked to her when things were going on," Gibson said. "They both are such great kids and I feel lucky to had been a teacher for them."
This year in room 209, Dametrious' smile and spirit remain.
"It was the first thing I put up when I came in. I think just looking at his face and seeing that smile and that grin. I mean that's the smile that he had every day all day,” Gibson said.
Even after his life was cut short.
"It's something you never want to see ever. And especially for a child who is 8 years old who still had so much left to give. And was just taken way too early,” Gibson said.
There are offices in the state of Colorado that strive to protect children to the best of their ability.
"Children are unable to protect themselves physically and emotionally, even verbally,” said Colorado Child Protection ombudsman, Stephanie Villafuerte.
Villafuerte and her office are often challenged with investigating concerns regarding children.
"They may not have the skills they need to say I need help, so the idea is that these professionals in their life take over this responsibility for them,” Villafuerte said.
A mandatory reporter is a professional that holds that responsibility. Certain professions require their staff and employees to report child abuse or neglect to the Department of Human Services (DHS). That includes teachers like Ms. Gibson.
"I don't even know if I can make a count of how many I've done," said Gibson about mandatory reports she made.
When asked if it was more than a dozen or less than that, she responded," more than a dozen."
It's her fifth year as a teacher.
DHS was involved in Dametrious's life from the start. In March 2014 he was born with marijuana in his system. The hospital contacted Denver Human Services.
Over the years DHS investigated four other reports regarding Dametrious and his older sister Noelle.
That includes a February 2017 incident when DHS removed the children from their mother’s home and placed them in the custody of their great aunt Susan Baffour.
Baffour was cleared by human services for kinship placement after background checks were completed. However, legal custody belonged to DHS until Baffour was granted parental rights in October 2017.
Permanent placement for Dametrious and his sister Noelle had to take place within a year of their removal from their home due to their ages.
It was a decision Dametrious' family thought was the right one.
"At first, it started out ok," said his aunt Candance White.
"I had him like every other weekend," said his dad Anthony Wilson. "And then it just stopped."
White noticed the changes too.
"I couldn't hardly make a phone call to them without there being an excuse," she said. "If they were planning on coming over Saturday it got canceled at the last minute."
"I kind of wondered why he wasn't coming around," said Anthony Wilson. "And it bothered me. I don't know I thought she [Baffour] just kept them away."
COVID quickly created more isolation from their family. But Dametrious and his sister still attended school online.
"I think as a teacher people say wow you really have an impact on these kids you hang out with them a lot. But you're with that child for five days a week, eight hours a day,” Gibson said.
In October 2020, Gibson first became concerned for the kids' wellbeing.
"She [Noelle] had a cute little skirt and tights on. And she came back didn't say anything to me, but she had ripped her tights in the bathroom while she was pulling them up. And she went home, Susan saw that they were ripped. She came back the next day and she said I got grounded because my aunt said that I took scissors into the bathroom and cut my tights,” Gibson said.
Then Noelle began to open up even more when she realized Gibson cared.
"Then that's when she broke down and kind of said I don't want to go home, I don't like it there, I want to stay here. And that's why I made the report [to DHS],” Gibson said.
Gibson filed a report with DHS. We found her report was screened out after DHS determined it didn't fit the criteria to launch an investigation. Another red flag came nearly a year later.
“Susan had emailed asking if we could put him [Dametrious] on remote learning and we told her that that wasn't an option. And that was another time that we made a call because it wasn't right that she was trying to keep him out of school for two weeks,” Gibson said.
Baffour's reasoning to keep them home was punishment according to the school. In September 2021 the school attendance secretary called the Denver Public Schools Department of Safety to conduct a welfare check at their home. Baffour never answered the door. And DHS was never contacted.
Additional records received from Denver DHS on Tuesday indicate that another concerned person contacted them in November 2019. That concern was also screened out, according to DHS.
"The issue with mandatory reporting is it's designed to serve as an alert system, we have a child who is in peril and we need someone to go look at his home, check this out, when this doesn't happen we do run the risk of children left in harm's way,” Villafuerte, the Colorado Child Protection ombudsman, said.
Under current law, DHS is not required to follow up with a family once a caregiver is granted parental responsibility. The last time DHS made contact with Noelle and Dametrious was in 2017, not even a year after their placement with Baffour.
9NEWS showed Gibson the documents related to Dametrious and the five year gap between when Baffour was granted parental rights and his death.
"I mean…I don't know how DHS works and I don't know what that process is. But you would think that there would be some follow-up after they've been placed in her custody to make sure everything is ok," she said in response.
The silence showed Gibson was speechless.
"Yeah. And heartbroken too,” she said.
"How do we get more youth to really be seen and heard by all the professionals designed to help them,” Villafuerte asked rhetorically.
Professionals like Gibson who believes DHS needs to do a better job.
"I mean there are some days to me where I'm like is it even worth me reporting anymore? Because…. obviously, I will I'm a mandatory reporter I'm not going to not. But like, it just makes you lose a lot of hope in the system when you have something like this happen,” Gibson said.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 844-CO-4Kids. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, every day.
Watch the November story below.
9NEWS initially reached out to Denver Human Services regarding Dametrious in September. After receiving the first 296 pages days before the first story aired in November, we noticed there was a 5-year gap.
We asked Denver Human Services multiple times if they had provided everything regarding Dametrious. They responded by phone and e-mail stating they were “not currently aware of any other records matching these parameters for which Denver Human Services is the custodian.”
After 9NEWS contacted the Colorado Department of Human Services about the gap. Additional documents from Denver Human Services were received along with the following written response:
“Finally, let me once again apologize for our failure to initially provide complete documentation to the father and then our mistake in representing to you that we, in fact, had made a complete response. It was not our finest hour and we have taken steps to insure that such occurrences do not happen again,” Bob Wolf, Denver City Attorney, Human Services Legal Services.
If you have any information about this story or another story idea, email Darius Johnson or Janet Oravetz or Anna Hewson.
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