NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, October 1, 2016, 7:58 PM
A city child welfare worker involved in the tragic case of 6-year-old Zymere Perkins was once the subject of an official misconduct investigation, sources told the Daily News.
Nitza Sutton, 48, came under scrutiny after a manager suspected her of falsifying statements in a case report, sources said.
The Department of Investigation launched a probe into Sutton’s shady filings — and she was placed on administrative duty, sources said.
But despite the allegations leveled against the Brooklyn caseworker, the Administration for Children’s Services promoted her from a supervisor to an investigator just a few months ago, sources said.
The outcome of the DOI probe was not known, and the agency declined to comment about Sutton.
The revelation emerged five days after Zymere’s mother brought his battered, lifeless body to the hospital.
Authorities say the mom’s hulking boyfriend Rysheim Smith, 42, pounded on the helpless Harlem boy with a wooden broomstick Monday after he defecated into an ice bucket at their W. 135th St. apartment.
The mother Geraldine Perkins, 26, did nothing as her son was brutally beaten — and still didn’t step in when Smith hung the boy’s limp body by his T-shirt from a hook on their bathroom door, authorities said.
Nitza Sutton, 48, was probed by the city’s Department of Investigation when a supervisor suspected her of falsifying records.
Zymere’s little body, covered with new bruises and old injuries, made a horrifying road map of prolonged abuse and neglect in his short, tragic life.
Perkins was investigated five times for various child abuse allegations — including three in the past 15 months that were confirmed, sources said.
“That many reports for a 6-year-old child? That’s unheard of,” said an ACS source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“That child did not fall through the cracks. Somebody failed that child.”
A second ACS source said, “Here’s the nail in the coffin: DOI investigated her (Sutton) one or two times previously.”
Sutton couldn’t be reached for comment, but her aunt described the caseworker as an intellectual powerhouse.
“That’s not the Nitza I know,” the aunt said when told that Sutton was previously investigated for falsifying reports.
Zymere Perkins was brought to a hospital, covered in bruises, on Sept. 26. He died soon after.
“Nitza is so bright,” added the aunt, who declined to give her name. “I have a masters from Columbia. But I wouldn’t compete with her intellectually because she was so naturally gifted.”
Sutton was somewhat of a well-known figure among child protection staffers — she was featured in May on a union public access TV segment on violence against caseworkers.
“I don’t care if you’ve gone to that house five times,” she says in the video. “You have to know when to flee, you have to know when to get out.”
ACS caseworkers are notoriously overworked and underpaid but sources said the often overwhelming caseloads shouldn’t have prevented a staffer from saving a child in Zymere’s condition.
“It’s impossible to be that burned out,” a source said, noting that Zymere’s teeth were rotting and he was frighteningly malnourished. “Even on our worst days we still do the work.”
ACS declined to answer questions about Sutton, citing the review of Zymere’s death.
Perkins and Smith were charged with endangering the welfare of a child. The charges could be upgraded to murder pending the determination of the boy’s cause of death.
Daily News front page for Sunday, Oct. 2.
(New York Daily News)
City officials announced Friday that five child welfare workers have been placed on desk duty and barred from handling cases as the probe plays out. It was not immediately clear whether Sutton was among them.
The ACS sources said Sutton was likely involved in at least one previous investigation into Zymere’s treatment.
In April, a school social worker spotted bruises on his legs, and reported them to officials.
Zymere was examined by a doctor and interviewed by police and prosecutors.
A police source said Zymere told the investigators that his mother hit him in the head with a belt. She denied it, and the case was closed less than two weeks later, the sources said.
Two months earlier, officials investigated Perkins and confirmed a separate allegation of abuse. They also confirmed maltreatment complaints in August and June of last year.
Sutton would have been aware of the previous cases even if she only investigated the April allegation, sources said.
Geraldine Perkins, Zymere’s mother, appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court Wednesday on a charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
(Robert Mecea/Robert Mecea)
And yet, Zymere continued living in a squalid, roach-infested apartment with mold spreading across the walls, no electricity, and the only lifeline being an extension cord running out the front door to a hallway outlet.
Zymere wasn’t even registered for school this year.
Any investigator with the most basic competence level would have noticed those conditions and removed the child, two ACS sources said.
“Somebody should have snatched that baby out of that house,” the source said.
ACS automatically flags cases regarding children that have been reported as abused four or more times. In those cases, a manager must review the case and sign off for it to be closed.
Thus, ACS managers would have had to sign off at least twice on Zymere’s complaint reports before closing them.
In addition, caseworkers can always refer a troubling case to a judge to review whether the child should remain in the home.
Geraldine Perkins said boyfriend Rysheim Smith (pictured) had beaten her 6-year-old son with a broomstick.
But despite the five abuse complaints against Zymere’s mom, no one ever did.
The ACS sources said the city puts child welfare caseworkers through a 90-day course in social work. They initially get one new case a week, followed by three to four a week.
Caseloads swell to 20 open cases, and a routine work-week hits 60 hours, the sources said.
The ACS sources said the work load is so intense and the pay so low that a lot of workers quit or cut corners and don’t fully investigate cases.
“Investigators look the other way because there’s not enough resources,” one source said.
The amount of red tape is so crushing that even when an abuse case makes it to court, it can take at least two years.
The ACS sources predicted more tragedies in the future because of the overburdened staffers, many of whom are not experienced investigators.
“There’s going to more death if something doesn’t change,” the source said. “I can see that happening again very soon because we don’t have the staff. Fatalities are going to happen.”
With Megan Cerullo