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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Judges should lose immunity when they use children to "reform" abusive parents

Son, then father accused of killing children

Lionell Dangerfield, Christopher Dangerfield were supposed to be caring for victims

By Eileen Kelley • •

December 29, 2010

This news item is published at Cincinnati.Com

WALNUT HILLS, OH - Tyrese Short was close to 3 years old when he was handed over to his father.

The boy was supposed to help Christopher Dangerfield, a 48-year-old with a lengthy criminal record, turn his life around.

But Dangerfield had other issues to contend with as well: the prospect of losing another son to the death penalty.

And now in the span of seven months, a father and a son are accused of the same crime: killing children they were supposed to be caring for.

Christopher Dangerfield was arrested in the death of Tyrese, and Lionell Dangerfield has been charged in the death of 3-month-old Zhi Merah Binford, his girlfriend's daughter.

Tyrese was pronounced dead Tuesday at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Zhi was discovered dead on a couch in South Fairmount on May 31. Her skull had been fractured and her ribs broken. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has recommended the death penalty for Lionell Dangerfield, 26.

That case could go to trial in March.

"Like father, like son," Grace Dangerfield, Christopher Dangerfield's stepmother, said Tuesday evening.

Grace Dangerfield, 77, said Tyrese was a happy child and appeared to be no trouble for her stepson, who had been arrested three times in the year leading up to a court awarding him custody of Tyrese. His 12 other arrests include drug trafficking, assaulting a police officer and theft.

"He had troubles," she said, adding that the family hoped that by raising Tyrese, her stepson would act more like a father.

Since Tyrese was born, caseworkers with the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services had been involved in his life. That involvement did not stop early this summer, when a Juvenile Court judge awarded custody to his father.

The case file on Tyrese's life is thick.

Included are reports that Tyrese recently suffered a broken leg and was badly burned. He also told a baby-sitter that his father had punched him in the stomach, police told The Enquirer on Wednesday.

Police also said that Tyrese's mother reported that her son's eye had been blackened recently.

Brian Gregg, a spokesman for the Job and Family Services, would not discuss specifics of the case. An emergency meeting on the matter was called Wednesday, the same day The Enquirer reported about the death of another child under the care of the child welfare department, Savon Edwards.

Savon had been on life support for two years after being shaken so badly he stopped breathing Dec. 26, 2008. Savon's caseworkers were implicated for failing to adequately protect him from his abusive father. Savon, 2, died Monday.

Now an investigation is under way regarding Tyrese.

"If we find there are failings at this end, we will take action," Gregg said.

With each recent injury, Christopher Dangerfield had an explanation ready, police said.

Dangerfield called emergency dispatchers from his Walnut Hills apartment just before 3 p.m. Tuesday to say some young kids at the corner store had jumped his son, something they'd done three times before.

It wasn't until deep into the conversation that the dispatcher learned that Tyrese was just 3, not an older child hurt in a street fight.

"He's 3 years old? Who's hitting him?" the dispatcher asked.

Dangerfield again blamed street kids, and then suggested adults were involved, too. Dangerfield said he could see scars on Tyrese's legs and back and that he was barely awake.

The dispatcher walked Dangerfield through CPR chest compressions for his son.

Homicide investigator Sgt. Gary Conner said police have checked all leads, including the possibility that neighborhood boys were involved, but came back with the conclusion that Dangerfield killed his son.

In court Wednesday, attorney William Whalen told a judge that Dangerfield told him the child fell while bathing and struck his head.

Grace Dangerfield thinks her stepson snapped.

She said he had been on medication and has heard her husband, who is Christopher's father, and others in the family say that Christopher has bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder can cause severe mood swings that include serious bouts of depression and extremely anxious behavior. People with the disorder may be explosive and irritable, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

"I think something must have happened with his mind, because I don't think that he could hurt him intentionally," she said. "I didn't picture him as being abusive."

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

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Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

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