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Tipsters urged investigation before Vermilion Township child died

Emil Whitis • Dec 9, 2012 at 5:39 AM

Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew died Nov. 6 of malnutrition, according to Erie County deputies and a coroner's report.

Erie County Job and Family Services employees never acted on previous tips from people who suspected something was amiss in the Brothers-Bartholomew household.   

Two reports — one in July 2009, the other in August 2012 — came from social workers who were tasked with monitoring the family and ensuring the children’s welfare, after children’s services had stepped out of the picture.

“The family has been missing a lot of doctor’s appointments,” an Erie County Wraparound worker told children’s services in 2009. “(The worker) also reported the children are supposed to be seeing specialists and they have been canceling or no showing the doctors. (The worker) said that the Wraparound team has not seen the children because the family keeps them upstairs during wraps.”  

The reported continued: “(The worker) is concerned because Marcus needs to see a doctor for his heart problems and feeding tube.”

When a worker from Erie County Help Me Grow showed up at the family's Risden Road home on Aug. 22, 2012, the father — James Brothers, 33 — barred the worker from seeing the children, according to a report.  The worker called Erie County Job and Family Services the following day.

“(The worker) said that dad is very controlling and doesn’t let anyone speak with anyone other than him,” the report said. “(The worker) said that they go long periods of time without seeing the family because dad cancels the appointments.”

The report went on to describe how Brothers made excuses to keep her from seeing the children.

“(The worker) said that they talked in driveway and he stated that his wife would kill him if he let them in the house the way it looks,” a report said. “(The worker) said that she has never seen any safety hazards in the home before but the family is dirty.”

To get into the house, social workers had to file a complaint with Erie County Job and Family Services. And that's exactly what they did, but it went nowhere.  

The third report, filed in August 2010, came from a worried Risden Road neighbor. The neighbor told social workers "she has not seen the children outside of the home since March 2010 and is concerned,” the report said. “(The woman) said (Brothers) has come out of the house several times and when asked about the children states that they are sick.”

All three reports were dismissed by Erie County Job and Family Services because there was not enough evidence to warrant an intervention, Erie County Job and Family Services director Karen Balconi-Ghezzi has said.

The Brothers-Bartholomew family had been investigated by Cuyahoga County Job and Family Services before, and that agency actually had an active case when the family moved to Vermilion Township about five years ago.  

The case stemmed from allegations that Brothers and his wife, Adrienne Bartholomew, 34, were not providing adequate medical care to their children, Cuyahoga County officials have said.

The case was transferred to Erie County, where social workers monitored the family for about a year before ending the matter.  

Balconi-Ghezzi's agency didn't get involved with the family again until Nov. 7, the day after Isaac died.

Four of Isaac’s siblings were later taken to Cleveland hospitals, where they were treated for malnutrition, deputies said.

The children’s grandmother served as their home healthcare nurse, and she was in the house five days a week for eight hours a day, according to deputies.

Erie County deputies are still waiting on a final autopsy report from the Lucas County Corner.

In previous interviews, Balconi-Ghezzi said Erie County Job and Family Services didn’t get a single complaint about the family between 2009 and Nov. 6, when Isaac died.

She later told the Register her agency had, in fact, received three phone calls in recent years.

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