Secrecy shrouds child abuse case
Almost five months have passed since the parents of 8-year-old Xzayvion Riley were arrested for allegedly beating the boy to death in his Baton Rouge home. Although some details about Xzayvion’s death have emerged, it’s still unclear what led to his demise and whether anyone tried to prevent it.
Such information could come out during the court proceedings for Xzayvion’s mother and father, both of whom have been charged with first-degree murder and are being held in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. But nothing is guaranteed, especially when it comes to getting information from the state Department of Children and Family Services, the state agency responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect.
Shortly after Xzayvion died, DCFS spokesman Trey Williams said he could confirm the agency had “an open and active case with the family,” but could not say when the case was opened or provide more detailed information about the steps the agency took to protect the child.
Williams said the state law requiring the confidentiality of case records of clients of DCFS allows “limited public disclosure of summary information” in child abuse and neglect records when an examining physician determines abuse or neglect was the cause of death of a child.
The limited DCFS disclosure in Xzayvion’s case was triggered by East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark’s preliminary autopsy report that said the child’s death was the result of abuse by a caretaker.
The report shows Xzayvion died of “overwhelming infection,” caused by a ruptured bowel from blunt-force trauma to his abdomen, Clark has said. It also shows the boy had 60 external signs of recent and old trauma, including abrasions, bruises and a human bite mark, he said.
Since Clark released the report, DCFS hasn’t made public any more information about Xzayvion’s case, despite requests by The Advocate and defense attorneys for Xzayvion’s parents, Lavaughn Riley, 32, and Michael Robertson, 46.
In August, The Advocate asked DCFS if it had completed its case concerning Xzayvion, and if so, what the outcome was and whether the newspaper could review any and all documents related to the case.
Williams said “the court proceedings are ongoing and until such time they have reached a conclusion we cannot provide any information in regard to the Riley case.” At the conclusion of the case, Williams said, “we will review with legal what can be provided by law.”
Robertson’s attorneys with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in New Orleans filed a motion in July requesting the complete case file related to Xzayvion.
Riley’s attorney, Margaret Lagattuta, a public defender with East Baton Rouge Parish, did the same in June and noted in her request that the file is especially pertinent to her client because DCFS spoke to Riley on several occasions after her arrest without Lagattuta’s consent.
In response to the attorneys’ requests, DCFS delivered documents to the 19th Judicial Disrict Courthouse in August; however, those documents are under seal and are in state District Judge Don Johnson’s custody.
Attorneys for both Riley and Robertson are due in Johnson’s court Nov. 13 for a motions hearing. Robertson’s attorneys are scheduled to be back in court Nov. 29 for a bond-reduction hearing.
Hopefully, at some point during the court proceedings regarding Xzayvion’s death, what is in the DCFS documents will be revealed. If not, the public may never know if the child’s death could have been prevented.
Kimberly Vetter covers crime in East Baton Rouge Parish for The Advocate. She can be reached at email@example.com.