A year before a 25-year-old father was charged in his infant daughter's death, he lost custody of that same child following allegations of abuse.
But state records obtained by The Times show the girl was returned to his custody, and she ended up dead following more alleged abuse.
Khabaugh Musgrave is charged with two counts of felony battery on allegations he abused 15-month-old Najae Musgrave on March 6, 2017, at the family's residence in the 4400 block of 6th Avenue in Gary.
A Times probe of recently obtained Indiana Department of Child Services records provides a tragic look into a case in which the girl was reportedly abused, removed from the household and then put back into the home where the initial abuse allegedly occurred before she was killed.
Najae was declared brain dead March 8 at Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago, where the girl was treated for head and eye injuries associated with shaken baby syndrome.
Musgrave denied to authorities he intentionally hurt the child. He suggested he handled her too roughly and blamed his young son with causing the injuries.
Musgrave offered similar explanations when the girl was injured in May 2016.
Previous abuse allegations
On May 22 of that year, the girl's mother brought her to the hospital to be treated for blisters on her feet. Doctors were unable to explain those injuries, and a skeletal exam revealed the girl had suffered multiple bucket handle fractures — an injury caused by yanking or pulling on the bone and a red flag for physical abuse.
The Indiana Department of Child Services was alerted by hospital staff and took custody of Najae and her brother through an emergency order, according to DCS records obtained by The Times.
The case manager noted in a report the severe nature of the girl's injuries precluded anything but removal from the household.
“Due to the injuries being in different stages of healing, the child has sustained abuse at different times, making the likelihood of both children being abused again in the future a great concern,” the report states.
Less than a year later, the children were returned to Musgrave and their mother, Stephanie Swift.
Though a report was made with Gary Police Department, records suggest a detective assigned to the case never investigated the allegations for criminal charges.
Kerry Connor, Musgrave's court-appointed defense attorney, said she could not comment on the case by policy of the Lake County Public Defender's Office.
Multiple attempts to reach Swift by telephone at the residence listed in DCS records and at her listed place of employment were unsuccessful.
Framing the issue
Information about Najae's prior abuse was obtained through a public records request through DCS.
Though child welfare records are typically confidential, some records become available to the public if the prosecuting attorney files an indictment or information alleging a child died as a result of abuse, abandonment or neglect.
The Times filed its request for Najae's records in March 2017. The Lake County Juvenile Court finished redacting identifying information from the records over the summer. The Times then challenged the juvenile court's redactions, which delayed the records' full release.
The court redacted significant information from the documents, including the name of the Gary police detective assigned to investigate Najae's abuse and the names of DCS employees assigned to the case.
Najae was not the only Region child in recent years to allegedly die of neglect or abuse, despite prior intervention by child welfare services.
Kristen Gober, the 33-year-old mother charged in March 2018 with neglect in the deaths of two of her children in a Gary apartment fire, had numerous reports filed against her with DCS before her children's deaths, a Lake County deputy prosecutor said at her bond hearing.
Late last year, Lisa Marie Rodriguez was charged with murder on allegations she killed her 4-month-old daughter, Brooklynn Rodriguez. A month before Brooklynn's death, the juvenile court had authorized DCS workers to take custody of the girl because she was born with cocaine in her system.
The state's child welfare system has been under increased scrutiny since the resignation in late 2017 of former DCS Director Mary Beth Bonaventura. In a scathing resignation letter, the former Lake County juvenile court judge accused Gov. Eric Holcomb's administration of making management changes and service cuts that “all but ensure children will die.”
In response, Holcomb hired the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group to review the agency, which has struggled to keep up with almost 34,000 cases in recent years despite hiring hundreds of caseworkers. As a result, the agency has seen overworked employees, high employee turnover and financial challenges.
The group found Indiana gets more child abuse and neglect referrals and investigates more parents than all but a few states, but the vast majority of the reports are deemed unsubstantiated.
In 2017, the Department of Child Services received 2,031 reports of physical abuse against children in Lake County, according to preliminary data from the department. Of those reports, 176 cases, or 8.7 percent, were deemed as substantiated. In 2016, the department received 2,187 reports of physical abuse in Lake County, with 146, or 6.7 percent, substantiated.
A “particularly concerning” trend in Indiana was the dramatic increase in child fatalities attributed to abuse and neglect between the 2015 and 2016 federal fiscal years, the most recent years for which data was available, according to CWG's report.
From July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, 34 children died from abuse and neglect, a rate of 2.15 deaths per 1,000 children, which was slightly lower than the national average of 2.25 per 1,000 children. The following fiscal year, 70 children died from abuse or neglect, a rate of 4.44 deaths per 1,000 children. Meanwhile, the national average during that time rose only slightly, to 2.36 deaths per 1,000 children.
Only three other states — Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia — reported higher rates of abuse- or neglect-related child fatalities in fiscal year 2016.
Fractured bones and blisters
Najae, a brown-haired and brown-eyed girl, was 6 months old when Swift brought her to the hospital May 22, 2016, for blisters on her feet and lesions on her knees, records show.
Swift told medical staff the child attended day care for 12 hours a day, according to the DCS records. Doctors could not explain how the child sustained the injuries. A dermatologist ruled out a skin condition, and doctors ordered a skeletal exam.
The exam revealed Najae had a healed fracture to her left tibia (leg bone), an acute fracture to her right tibia, an acute fracture to her right femur (leg bone) and a healed linear fracture to her right radius (arm bone).
A family case manager was assigned to investigate, and both parents denied causing the injuries. The parents said Musgrave cared for the children during the day May 21, 2016, and Swift cared for the children the following day. Musgrave blamed the family's day care for the injuries.
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Najae and her brother were removed from the parents' custody the afternoon of May 23 without court-approval. The state case manager cited the severe nature of the injuries and the likelihood abuse would occur in the future for the emergency removal.
The children initially were placed in foster care but were later placed with a foster relative, records state. The agency filed a child-in-need-of services (CHINS) case, which initiated court proceedings, and a report was made with Gary Police Department.
Swift and Musgrave were granted supervised visitation with their children during the pending CHINS case. Caseworkers noted both parents were happy to see their children during the visits and sometimes brought presents of toys and outfits.
Both parents also attended therapy and parenting education classes. Musgrave was taught methods for controlling his anger in therapy sessions, DCS records state.
Musgrave told one employee during a clinical assessment he had no legal adjudications or prior detentions, though Musgrave had been previously charged in Cook County with armed robbery and domestic battery in separate incidents from 2014. Both cases were dismissed by the state.
In the domestic battery case, Musgrave was accused of punching his 55-year-old mother Oct. 20, 2014, at the family's Chicago residence. The charges were dropped after the victim failed to appear in court, court records show.
Musgrave said in an interview with authorities his life revolved around work and family. The interviewer noted Musgrave seemed to be a “loving and attentive parent” who was proud of his children and took seriously his role as a provider.
Police vacations delay abuse probe
In a report issued Aug. 18, 2016, DCS substantiated the abuse allegations against both parents. In a summary, the case manager noted a Gary police detective contacted her June 3, 2016, to conduct a criminal investigation of the alleged abuse. The detective said she would interview Swift and Musgrave, according to DCS records.
On June 30, the case manager was able to again speak with the detective, “after several unsuccessful attempts,” the report states.
The detective told the case manager she “has not done anything with this case because she had to handle several other cases with higher priority than this case due to her partner being on vacation,” according to the report.
The detective said she would be out of the office until July 18, 2016, at which point she would work on the case.
The case manager said she tried to contact the detective several more times, but as of Aug. 12, 2016, had not heard anything from her, records state.
Gary Police Department did not respond to several requests for comment on the case.
Bradley Carter, spokesman for the Lake County prosecutor's office, said prosecutors' records indicate Gary police never contacted prosecutors about the May 22, 2016, abuse allegations.
The case manager visited Najae and her brother's day care, according to DCS records. The owner told the case manager she had noticed a “little bruise” on Najae's knee in April 2016 and asked Swift about it. Swift allegedly told the owner she believed Musgrave, who was watching the children, must have fallen asleep. Swift believed Najae's brother dragged her across the carpet, which caused the abrasion, the records state.
It is not clear from DCS records when Najae and her brother were returned to their parents' custody. A case plan that noted reunification was the “permanency plan” for the children had effective dates of June 3, 2016, to Dec. 3, 2016.
Fast-forward to the morning of March 6, 2017.
Najae was transported by Gary medics that day to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus after her father found her unresponsive inside the family's residence, 4432 E. 6th Ave. in Gary, according to court records.
The 15-month-old girl was in a coma at the hospital with no signs of brain activity. She had an old wound to her nose, an old burn mark to her knee, a new burn mark to her left foot, dry scabs around her neck and bruised lungs, authorities reported. The girl also suffered retinal hemorrhaging, a common sign of shaken baby syndrome.
Najae died March 8, 2017, at Comer Children's Hospital in Chicago. Gary police detectives and an DCS case manager interviewed Swift and Musgrave about their interactions with the child that day.
Swift said she woke up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. to get ready for work. Najae woke up before 7 a.m., and Swift told authorities she put both her children in a bathtub. She reported her 2-year-old son threw up in the bathtub, and both children had excessive stool in their diapers, which she attributed to a touch of the flu.
The children ate a breakfast of waffle and sausages about 7:50 a.m., and then Swift put them in their room to play, DCS records state.
Swift said Musgrave came home about 7:30 a.m. and slept until she left for work. Swift said she arrived at work about 9 a.m. and received a call later that morning from Musgrave, who told her to call 911 because something was wrong with Najae. Swift said she returned home and saw the ambulance outside the house.
Musgrave told investigators he had worked the midnight shift at the Walmart in Portage. He said he arrived home and visited with the children for a few minutes before falling asleep. He said Swift woke him up when she left for work, and he checked on the children. He said he played with Najae for a few minutes before putting her back into her crib so she could sleep.
Musgrave said he went back to sleep until 11 or 11:30 a.m. He checked on his daughter after waking up and found her unresponsive.
Asked about Najae's injuries, Musgrave told investigators their son often “plays rough” with Najae. He said Najae had also crawled off the porch March 5, 2017, while he was securing her brother in a vehicle.
The children's advocate team at the Comer Children's Hospital told detectives Najae's brain and eye injuries were caused by abuse.
Detectives told Musgrave the toddler could not have caused such violence, and he said maybe he played with Najae too roughly.
“A lot of times I pick her up and, like, shake her, but it's not like that,” he allegedly said. “You know I'm playing with her. If I did something, you know, I'm heavy. I got heavy hands. If I did something to cause, like, that type of damage, it was not purposely.”
Swift said she had not seen Musgrave display any abuse toward the children.
“I have not seen that displayed to my children,” she said. “I was under the impression that he loves those kids more than he loves me.”
Musgrave is in custody at Lake County Jail. His next scheduled hearing on the charges is at 8:30 a.m. March 19 in Lake County court in Crown Point.