LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The death of a 7-year-old boy at a Kentucky children’s residential center has been ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, and two center workers have been fired.
The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office determined that Ja’Ceon Terry died on July 17 of “positional asphyxia,” meaning his body position prevented him from breathing. He provided no other details other than that the child was pronounced dead in a hospital.
At the time of his death, Ja’Ceon was in the care of workers at Brooklawn, a children’s treatment center in Louisville. The facility provides care for “Kentucky’s most vulnerable young people and their families,” providing therapeutic foster care for children recovering from the effects of abuse and neglect, its website says.
As of Monday, no charges had been filed in the case.
Louisville Metro Police spokesman Aaron Ellis said the matter is under ongoing investigation.
“Once we have gathered all the facts relating to this death, we will present them to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office to determine how we will proceed,” Ellis said in an email.
In a statement, Seven Counties Services, which runs the center for children with emotional or mental needs, said it had fired two employees involved in the incident.
The agency did not respond to a request from USA TODAY for the names of the employees, their titles and how long they have worked for the company.
Live Updates:Hurricane Fiona overwhelms Puerto Rico with flooding, landslides and massive power loss
Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II:Moving, King Charles III bids farewell to the Queen at her funeral
In the statement, the company wrote that it was “completely devastated by the indescribable loss of a child in our care.”
“He should not have died on our watch,” the statement continued. “As protectors of Kentucky’s most vulnerable children, we are committed to ensuring this never happens again.”
Almost all of the children in the centers are in the state foster care system and are placed there by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Last week, 93 foster children were with the agency.
In a separate statement, the firm said it “mourns the passing of any children or anyone of any age in their care.”
“This sadness was further compounded upon learning of the autopsy results, identifying asphyxia as the cause of death,” said the statement provided by spokeswoman Susan Dunlap.
The firm is investigating the death but declined to release any of its findings, saying the investigation was continuing. A “comprehensive review” of Brooklawn is continuing, Dunlap said, and the firm has suspended placement of children at the center for the time being.
Increased staff training
Seven Counties’ statement says she has taken a number of steps since the death.
He said the agency has increased training for staff who provide direct care to children, including de-escalation and relationship-building strategies. He also said staff were being retrained on therapeutic approaches.
He also wrote that he had increased the presence and monitoring of leaders in the cottages where the children live and increased the screening and assessment of young people before they are admitted to Brooklawn.
“We are still seeking answers to the many questions about what happened that Sunday afternoon,” the statement read, referring to Ja’Ceon’s death. “Brooklawn management will continue to cooperate with state and local authorities investigating this tragedy.”
Contributor: Natalie Neysa Alund, USA TODAY.
Contact journalist Deborah Yetter on Twitter at @d_yetter.