Erie County child protective workers and the law enforcement community were made aware of the danger posed by Michael Milner, Curtis Clinton, James Brothers and Adrienne Bartholomew well before their alleged acts caused the deaths of others.
Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew was just 18 months old when he died in his parents’ home as a result of malnourishment. The couple’s six other children, most of them also suffering from malnourishment, were removed from the home after the tragic death of young Isaac.
Owen Barker died in July 2012 as a result of alleged abuse at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, Milner, who babysat for the mother.
Erie County Children Services not only was aware of Danielle Flannery and Michael Milner, and Adrienne Bartholomew and James Brothers, it was aware of the danger their behavior posed to the children.
As the Curtis Clinton murder trial begins, I think about the decisions made before the strangulation deaths of Heather Jackson, 23, and her small children, ages 3 and 20 months.
It makes no sense to me.
In 1987, Clinton squeezed the breath from a woman until she passed out after she refused his sexual advances, and he strangled another woman who tried to intervene. In 1999, Clinton pleaded guilty to the involuntary manslaughter in the death of Misty Keckler, 18, whose nude body was found face-down in a bathtub, hands and feet tied behind her back.
He was sentenced to 10 years on the involuntary manslaughter conviction, and another three years on an assault conviction for an attack on corrections officers while he was an inmate.
The Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation released Clinton from prison in February 2012 after he served the full 13 years.
The state released a monster into the community.
Six months later — on Sept. 3 — he allegedly raped and strangled a 17-year-old girl. Sandusky police interviewed the girl, who still had visible strangulation marks on her neck, while she was still hospitalized. She identified Clinton as her attacker, but police did not seek him out or take any steps after the girl’s initial report to interview or arrest him.
Five days after that, the unimaginable happens. A family is found strangled to death in their John Street home. Two days later, Clinton was tracked down and arrested for the brutal slayings.
Is it possible — if warrants were issued for his arrest on Sept. 3, after police learned about the 17-yearold’s rape and strangulation — that Sandusky’s triple homicide might never have occurred?
After all, police knew where Clinton lived, and they knew his criminal history.
Is it possible — if the Erie County child protective agency had acted more aggressively after receiving complaints about the Bartholomew family — that caseworkers might have been able to stop 18-month-old Isaac Brothers-Bartholomew from being starved to death by his parents?
Is it possible, if child protective workers had been more aggressive, they would have learned Owen Barker was in imminent danger?
It’s easy to look back and believe Sandusky police and county child protective workers could have, or should have, done things differently. It’s easy to criticize. These are not isolated incidents, however, and the multiple missteps in multiple cases in just the past few years is extremely troubling.
Police have learned through time it’s difficult to get a rape conviction, even with a cooperating witness. That difficulty should not negate common sense, however, and with Curtis Clinton the warning signs were abundantly apparent. He’d just been released from prison six months earlier for killing a woman, and he’d just been accused of violently and sadistically raping and choking another victim.
Child protective service agencies have been mandated to re-unify families split by violence or dysfunction, but that too, should not negate common sense.
Clinton’s fate will be decided by a jury in the death penalty trial currently underway in Erie County Common Pleas Court.
Milner awaits trial, and James Brothers and Adrienne Bartholomew both were convicted of child endangering charges in the starvation death of their son.
In the process of bringing all of them to justice, the details about missteps and mistakes by public officials can get lost, but they should not be forgotten.