Nearly a decade ago, a baby named Joel was beaten. He recovered but it happened again.
The I-Team is taking a closer look at how the system failed baby Joel and how it forever changed a once vibrant and healthy child.
This was Joel at two years old, after he recovered from a severe beating when he was two months old. Foster parent Paula Cheney nursed him to health after Joel and his older sister, who was not harmed, were placed in her home through protective custody.
“He did get a lot better, a lot stronger and then he started to just come around and crawl and he was really thriving,” Cheney said.
Joel’s father, Hobart Weathersby pleaded guilty to gross misdemeanor child abuse and neglect. The sentence: 12 months in jail.
According to Metro Police, Joel’s mother, Alicia Corte, gave detectives inconsistent statements about how Joel got hurt but she was never charged.
A series of events would later unfold that would place Joel in harm’s way again.
Reporter Vanessa Murphy: “You’re blaming yourself somehow even though you’ve stepped up so much. Why?”
Paula Cheney: “Because I feel like I could have done more.”
The children’s mother worked with Child Protective Services or CPS and had increased contact and visits with Joel and his sister.
Two years after the children were placed in Paula’s home, she learned unexpected news: Both children would be returned to their mother.
“That’s when my heart dropped because I wasn’t prepared for that,” Cheney said.
She says Joel was attached to her.
A CPS spokesman tells the I-Team it’s up to the biological parents on whether foster parents can stay in touch with the children.
Paula says she offered to help the mother but she was warned by a CPS supervisor to stay away.
“It’s like a death. I don’t know if you ever experienced … it’s like a death.”
Two months later.
“I just had a feeling that something wasn’t right,” Cheney said.
She learned from a CPS worker, Joel had been beaten again.
“He was just so little, so fragile and all the tubes and all that was going. And they said, ‘Well he may not make it through the night,'” she said. “I said you fight and I’ll make sure this time that you are safe.”
Joel’s mother was arrested and convicted of felony child abuse.
According to a CPS spokesman, the supervisor who Paula says warned her to stay away from the children is still employed and making a $94,000 salary.
“I think that she should have a cell right next to the mom. That’s what I think. Because I think she’s 50-percent responsible,” Cheney said.
CPS does not release information about specific cases, but a spokesman released a statement about reuniting children with parents which reads in part:
“These decisions are reviewed internally by supervisors and/or a multi-disciplinary team that includes clinical staff, the DA’s office, and other child welfare experts, and then by a judge who can overrule our recommendations. A single supervisor does not make decisions on their own regarding removals or reunifications.”
Joel pulled through but that second beating left him wheelchair bound, non-verbal, and legally blind. He’s also fed through a tube.
In January, he turned 10 years old.
Alicia Corte is expected to be released from prison later this year but she may be deported. For Joel and his sister, home is with Paula. She adopted them.
“My heart’s desire is to make sure that this little boy has the best opportunity and the best that life has to offer. We as adults failed him the first time. We did.”
Tuesday night, right here on 8 news now, Joel’s story continues. Find out how a prosecutor has connected with the family and how she’s trying to help as Paula and Joel face another hurdle.