Cincinnati woman wavered on motherhood before baby son’s death: court docs

Prosecutors say she and the boy’s father abused and murdered the 5-month-old in December.
Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 7:59 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A woman accused in the slaying of her infant son had a documented history of child neglect, one she appeared to have put behind her when police found the boy with traumatic injuries last month.

Shakayla Sams, together with the alleged father, Donte Farrier, now face murder charges in the death of 5-month-old Casey Sams.

Juvenile court records obtained by FOX19 detail a series of custody battles beginning in 2019 over Casey’s older brother—Shakayla’s first son—a 2-year-old we have chosen not to name.

Two men are alleged to be the older boy’s father; one disclaims it. They are wholly absent from the boy’s life, according to testimony from Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services.

Shakayla is accused of abandoning the child with others first in 2019 and again in 2020. A JFS case worker testified, “She wavers about her willingness to care for the child and deal with her life as a teenager at the same time.”

But the custody hearings ended in early 2021 after testimony from a case worker claimed Shakayla was “working well with the agency and doing all she is asked to do.”

Five juvenile court hearings took place between Oct. 20, 2020 and Jan. 8, 2021. The court system would not see Shakayla again until Dec. 28, six days after officers reportedly found Casey and his older brother with life-threatening injuries at their home in the Villages at Roll Hill.

JFS testified Casey had spinal injuries, a detached retina and head trauma consistent with the child having been shaken. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters recently added to the list: a dislocated neck, a subdural hemorrhage, a swollen brain, old and new rib fractures, bruising on the scalp and scarring on the leg.

Casey died at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center on Dec. 27.

JFS testified the 2-year-old was found severely malnourished with bruises on his abdomen, head and face and a laceration on his pancreas. The laceration, JFS said, was an older injury caused by blunt trauma.

“This was not a case of neglect by parents too young to understand their responsibilities,” Deters said. “This was a case of active violence, perpetrated on babies by two people…the same people who should be protecting them.”

The 2-year-old remained at Cincinnati Children’s as of a court hearing on Jan. 4, where a magistrate granted JFS interim custody. JFS is currently working with doctors on a discharge plan.

For the foreseeable future, the boy will live with his maternal aunt, Shakayla’s sister, with whom he lived for several months during a custody battle in 2020.

A hearing on permanent custody transfer is scheduled for Feb. 15.

Casey Sams and Shakayla Sams
Casey Sams and Shakayla Sams(Hamilton County Sheriff's Office)

History of Neglect

The first allegation comes from the family of Keyel Houston, one of the 2-year-old’s possible fathers. Houston’s grandmother, Kayla Houston, filed for custody in September 2019.

In an affidavit submitted as part of that filing, Kayla says Shakayla contacted them on Sept. 30 telling them to “pick him up” because Shakayla was experiencing homelessness.

Kayla claimed, and JFS confirmed, that the child has severe allergies. “When he arrived,” Kayla said, “he had welts all over his body, and if you held him he screamed in pain. [...]He desperately needs medical care.”

She testified her and her son had been “caring, loving on [the boy] for a month” and that they had gotten his “extremely bad” eczema under control.

The matter fizzled out when Kayla failed to appear for a court date in January 2020.

Ten months later, on Oct. 20, 2020, JFS filed for temporary custody with “reasonable grounds to believe the child [is] in immediate danger from their surroundings and that their removal is necessary.”

This second allegation of abuse centers around the family of Jeremiah Brooks. Shakayla has claimed him as the biological father; he denies it, according to court records.

At that time and afterwards, testimony shows, Shakayla lived with her mother, Keasha Brown, though she did not stay there consistently due to conflicts regarding “the rules of the home.”

A case worker claimed in an affidavit that in March 2020 an “overwhelmed” Shakayla had left the child in a stroller outside the Brooks residence.

“She texted him stating that she needed ‘a break’ from parenting,” the case worker said. “She reportedly has done this on more than one occasion.”

In an amended complaint, JFS said Jeremiah’s relatives were “unwilling to allow [him] to care for the child at their home.”

At that point, JFS stepped in to create a safety plan, which saw the child go live with his maternal aunt—Shakayla’s sister—Tiera Brown. JFS did not allow the child to live with Shakayla’s mother, Keasha Brown, because of her own alleged history of child neglect.

The plan required that Shakalya do certain things, including meet with a JFS case worker, engage in parenting education and visit the child.

Testimony from Oct. 20 indicates she failed to follow through on those things regularly or at all.

JFS testified Shakayla had “minimal involvement with the agency.” She met with her assigned case worker twice but did not participate in parental education and was not present for scheduled home visits at the caregiver’s home—i.e., Keasha’s home.

Tiera in the October hearing testified Shakayla visited “off and on” but had not done so for more than a month.

A court summary of Tiera’s testimony reads: “When [Shakayla] visits, she provides care but then states she is ready to go home and expects [Tiera] to care for the toddler while [she] is visiting.”

Tiera testified she tried to remind Shakayla of her biweekly meetings with JFS, even making attempts to pick her up. But Shakayla, Tierra said, did not respond to her sister’s text messages.

As recently as August 2021, according to testimony, Shakayla told JFS she wanted to grant permanent custody to the agency or Tiera.

But in the October hearing she disclosed a change of heart. She testified she wanted the child home and claimed the March 2020 incident was the result of a mistake after Brooks’ family agreed to help.

Shakayla admitted to being overwhelmed at the time but said she was “fine now.”

Her shortcomings in following the safety plan she ascribed to work and summer school as well as a mixup where JFS did not have her correct phone number. She said her family had been helping out and would continue to do so.

“[Shakayla] report[ed] being willing to do whatever she has to do in order for the child to be returned to her,” a summary of her testimony reads. “She says she has stayed at [Keasha’s] home consistently since April. She promises to cooperate with the interim protective orders and maintain contact with a case worker.”

Her testimony swayed JFS and the court. The child would remain with Tiera through the new year, but JFS announced at a hearing in January 2021 it intended to file to end the interim protective order.

“[Shakayla] is engaged in parenting education, making good grades in school and reports she will graduate in May,” JFS testified in that hearing. “[Shakayla] is working well with the agency and doing all she is asked to do.”

The order was formally terminated on April 2.

JFS filed a report prior to that hearing stating that Shakayla continued to do “very well.”

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