Shocking Deaths of Two Infants Prompt Denver Human Services Inquiry

Recent stories about the death of 23-month-old Jayvion Johnson and the arrest of Kinyaita Davis, who allegedly abused her two kids using a steam iron and a power drill, have led to calls for an investigation into Denver Human Services, an agency that had already been apprised of potential problems in each case.

Now, DHS is reportedly paying researchers $60,000 to look into its actions, with an eye toward determining what went wrong and finding ways to prevent such problems in the future.

However, the investigation will look into two other equally disturbing cases.

The first, which we initially told you about in August 2014, involved Natalee Hurst-Skinner, a two-month-old who was beaten to death, allegedly by her mother, Kelsy Newell-Skinner.

The second, according to 7News, which has done the heavy lifting on this story, involved another two-month-old, D'Anthony Herron, who authorities believe died at the hands of his father, Michael Herron, described as a bipolar man with a history of violence.

The details of these cases offer a good argument for why such an inquiry is necessary.

As we've reported, Natalee Hurst-Skinner wasn't Kelsy Newell-Skinner's first child. Even though she was just 21, she'd given birth to five children by two different fathers — and she was already on the State of Colorado's radar at 11 p.m. on July 27, 2014, when, according to her arrest affidavit, a police officer was contacted in regard to an infant transported to Children's Hospital.

The document states that Natalee, who'd been brought to another area hospital by her maternal grandmother, Krista Skinner, "was brain dead with severe bruising on her head, a swollen left eye, fractured ribs and suspected bite marks on her left thigh area."

In the days that followed, reports maintained that the family had never been contacted by Denver Human Services personnel despite Newell-Skinner's past history and the fact that she'd tested positive for THC at the time of Natalee's birth the previous May.

Shortly thereafter, the department issued a statement refuting that claim. A synopsis of a report by caseworker Rotchana Madera maintained that Newell-Skinner....
• Was bonding appropriately with her baby
• Knew how to care for her premature baby
• Had a safe and appropriate home with sufficient food for all of the children
• Knew appropriate discipline techniques
• Had the support of extended family, including the fathers of her children
In addition, the investigation is said to have found that....
• Ms. Newell-Skinner's alleged use of THC had not endangered the well-being of her children
• Natalee did not test positive for THC
• The children showed no signs of abuse or neglect
However, an ombudsman concluded Madera "was fabricating her reports." His conclusion: Madera hadn't visited the house, hadn't seen the victim, had faked documentation about phone calls and had falsely reported that the baby tested negative for THC when the opposite was true.

Madera, who subsequently resigned from her post, was arrested in January, and she eventually pleaded guilty to forgery and official misconduct. She received a two-year supervised deferred judgment in regard to the forgery beef and two years of supervised probation for the misconduct charge that will run concurrently.

The case involving D'Anthony Herron is just as horrific.

According to 7News, Herron had a substantial police record that included complaints for domestic violence and more, as well as twelve years' worth of referrals to Denver Human Services, starting in 2002 and continuing through D'Anthony's birth in May 2014.

On the day the child was born, Herron allegedly caused a scene at the hospital, raising concern among staffers about his ability to care for the child.

Nonetheless, DHS allowed Herron, who was living separately from D'Anthony's mother, to take D'Anthony home along with another son, age two.

Shortly thereafter, on July 15, 2014, DHS received another referral about Herron, who had allegedly been "screaming at the kids" — and the older boy had a scratch on his face.

Nonetheless, the children remained in Herron's custody — until five days later, when D'Anthony was taken to the hospital in dire condition.

After his death, the child was found to have suffered a skull fracture, and there was evidence of prior injuries, including broken ribs.

These two cases will be examined by a Colorado State University team headed by Marc Winokur, 7News reveals. Areas of focus will include the actions of supervisors and caseworkers, not to mention the closure of previous assessments — decisions that might have saved the lives of these children had they gone the other way.

Look below to see two 7News reports — the first about the Herron case, the second an update about the latest developments.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts