LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A Child Protective Services spokeswoman said Thursday that the 21-month-old son of Claudia Morales was initially taken from her custody during an investigation into his welfare, but he was returned to her care before he died on July 3.
According to the Angelina County Sheriff's Office, ACSO detectives arrested Claudia Morales, 25, of Nacogdoches, on three felony counts of injury to a child and a felony count of manslaughter. Collectively, her bail amount has been set at $160,000.
The arrest was made after an Angelina County jury indicted Morales on the charges on Nov. 24. The indictments were connection to the death of her son, Gitgley Mederamo. On July 3, ACSO deputies responded to Morales' home off of FM 2251 and started the investigation. The child was pronounced dead later that night at CHI St. Luke's Health Memorial in Lufkin.
"It is our belief that the evidence in this case will demonstrate that this child was neglected and also malnourished and as a result of that, the child did pass away," said Lt. Brett Maisel of Angelina County Sheriff's Office.
According to the text of the manslaughter indictment, Morales is accused of causing Gitgley's death by failing to "properly feed and/or nourish" the toddler.
In Counts 1 and 3 of the indictments for injury to a child, Morales is accused of causing "bodily injury" to her son by "failing to properly feed and/or nourish" him from July 1 to Sept. 17 of 2014 and from June 23 to July 3 of 2015. Count 2 of the indictment stated she caused her son to fracture his arm on Sept. 17, 2014.
Shari Pulliam, a spokeswoman for CPS, confirmed that Morales' son was "placed out" of her home during an ongoing investigation into his wellbeing.
"The child was placed out of the home for a period of six months," Pulliam said. "During this time the family worked the services the department asked them to do. We placed the child back in the home on a monitored return in March."
Pulliam said CPS officials stayed involved with the family, working closely with them and checking on the child in the home until they were dismissed from the case in June.
"CPS does not make these decisions alone," Pulliam said. "A judge would be involved along with CPS."
District court records show CPS first became involved in Gitgley's case in February of 2014. An affidavit from CPS states they received a report of neglect. The affidavit details a home visit from CPS in which it describes how there was no central heat in the home and just a couple space heaters which were not enough to keep the home warm. It states how the baby was only about three pounds over its birth weight and there was a concern he was malnourished. A motion for nonsuit filed in March 2014 stated there was no reason to keep the child from the home.
In a Family Service Plan from October 2014, family members did express concern that Morales may try to take the child to Mexico and he would not get the medical attention he needed. The plan also indicated that Morales taught her son different from another child in the house.
Morales was also arrested for second-degree injury to a child in February.
The affidavit stated that an ACSO deputy was dispatched out to CHI St. Luke's Memorial on Sept. 17, 2014 to take a report. Medical professionals told him that Morales' son appeared to be "failing to thrive" because of his weight and appearance.
When the deputy went to speak with the child's parents he was unable to do so because of a language barrier. After a translator was brought in, Morales told the deputy that her son had fallen off a bed in April 2014, causing the injury to his arm, the affidavit stated.
The affidavit also quoted the deputy's report as saying that Gitgley had sores on the bottoms of his feet. Morales allegedly told the deputy that the sores were caused by places on her floor that were "torn up."
An Angelina County Sheriff's detective took over the case on Sept. 18. He went to the hospital, where Gitgley was still being treated for his injuries. In the affidavit, the detective stated that the toddler appeared to be extremely underweight.
"At the time, the lead detective in this case, Libby Hancock began an investigation," Maisel said.
Later, the detective found that Gitgley was in the lower fifth percentile for his age in regard to his weight, that affidavit stated. The toddler also has a splint and a bandage wrap covering his entire right forearm and sores on the insides of both his feet.
According to the affidavit, the detective also noticed that the child's head was "extremely flat" on the back.
Using a translator, the detective spoke to Morales, and she said Gitgley fell off the bed while they were sleeping together. She said that was when her son broke his arm, the affidavit stated. Later, Morales said that Gitgley fell at a residence in Nacogdoches.
Then the ACSO detective spoke with two of Morales' relatives, who said that Morales and her son had stayed with them at their residence in Nacogdoches from April to July of 2014. According to the affidavit, Morales told them her son had fallen off then bed, but they didn't notice that he had a broken arm.
Child Protective services had been investigating allegations that Gitgley had failed to thrive at that time. Because CPS officials feared for the child's safety, the toddler was taken from Morales' custody.
In addition, the affidavit stated that medical records indicated that the injury to the toddler's arm happened more recently than April of 2014 and that Morales failed to report it or seek treatment for her son.
Pulliam said another child in the home has been placed in the custody of a relative and is doing well.