Sep 15, 2018
The following is from the Phoenix Times, Jan 2, 2018. My comments interspersed in italics. Normally, when the state charges somebody with first-degree murder, they rot in jail for a while awaiting trial. Not this time. Normally, when a grand jury clears prosecutors to charge first-degree murder, those prosecutors get an arrest warrant. Not this time. Normally, when a defendant fails to show up in court, even for a minor offense, the judge issues a bench warrant for the scofflaw’s arrest. Not this time. Normally, when pathologists suspect a child is murdered, the autopsy spells it out conclusively. Not this time. But then, nothing about the death of 7-year-old Sanaa Cunningham, the people accused of killing her, nor the case against them, has been normal. Most of the media blame the unusual aspects on cops looking out for one of their own, but Germayne Cunningham was no longer with the police force. He was working as a prison guard. He left the force during an investigation of it's operations and nothing should be concluded from that. He may have left to save being personally drawn into the investigation, or he may have left because of disgust over what was coming out of that investigation. Or the timing of his leaving may even be coincidental and had more to do with his challenging home life. Prison guards work regular shifts. Detectives, not so much. In short,he may or may not have been on good terms with former colleagues. But there is much more to this case. It’s unusual in many other ways. Very little information has been released. Prosecutors convinced the court to seal the police document that spells out the rationale for charging a crime. This is a routine public record, usually made available within days of an arrest or indictment. The Goodyear Police have yet to release its police report on Sanaa’s death. The state Department of Child Safety has not released any of four investigations of Sanaa’s treatment inside the Goodyear home. Which begs the question of what they are hiding. All are significant because Sanaa died in February, after DCS investigated three allegations of abuse at the hands of the Cunninghams. The first, alleging neglect, was launched on March 4, 2016. Child welfare agents ruled it “unsubstantiated” and closed the case. An October 27, 2016, allegation of sexual abuse remained open but was also ruled “unsubstantiated.” On December 21, 2016, state investigators opened up the third case, looking into allegations of neglect and abuse. It remained open when Sanaa died, and her death opened a fourth DCS case. But DCS didn’t report the death until December 12, exactly 10 months after she died, and two weeks after the state determined it was caused by abuse or neglect and a grand jury handed up an indictment. Here it looks a lot like Child Welfare have been working with police to put a case together against the couple. This may be no coincidence since the couple had laid the blame on Child Welfare for insisting that Sanaa be treated with anti-psychotic medications for her array of psychiatric and behavioral diagnoses. It and the autopsy read like a horror. Prosecutors allege the couple tied up Sanaa and left her to sleep outside, confined to a laundry room, garage or patio, with injuries that festered. This sounds terrible but it is without context. From http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/99/3/497 The Use of Physical Restraint Interventions for Children and Adolescents in the Acute Care Setting Committee on Pediatric Emergency Medicine Children and adolescents may need to be physically or chemically restrained for various procedures, because of disruptive behavior, or to prevent injury to themselves or others. The use of restraint for a child or adolescent requires clear indications, safe application, reassessment guidelines, and use only after the consideration of alternative methods. Seclusion refers to the involuntary confinement of a patient alone in a room, from which the patient is physically prevented from leaving, for any period of time. The use of seclusion or restraint on children and adolescents hospitalized for psychiatric disorders has been reviewed by several authors and is beyond the scope of this statement. 1-4 Restraints may be physical or chemical. Chemical restraint involves the use of psychotropic drugs or sedatives or paralytic agents. Physical restraint involves the use of physical or mechanical devices to restrain movement. Physical restraints may be cloth, leather, metal handcuffs or shackles, car seats, or seat belts. This statement is limited to the use of physical restraint in children and adolescents in the acute care or nonpsychiatric inpatient setting. END QUOTE The use of restrains in the above is in reference to specific children in acute care, not in the home. But other members of the family say that Sanaa was a threat to herself and to the other children and her age and array of issues would make her extremely difficult to manage in the home environment. Clearly, the parents wanted to try and manage without drugs. The autopsy noted scars on at least 60 locations on Sanaa’s body, about more than 100 cuts and bruises. She had multiple ulcers and abscesses on her nose, hands, legs, and feet. She died of septic shock, caused by a complication from bronchitis and pneumonia, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled in October. The official report states the manner of death was “undetermined” and how the injuries occurred “unknown.” Forensic experts, in other words, did not medically rule it a homicide. This is from a Child and Youth Care Worker onilne discussion group: http://www.cyc-net.org/threads/self-harm.html I have just encountered a youth whom self mutilates as a way of getting staff attention in our home. When he is in the time out room he bangs his head into the wall and cuts his arms with his finger nails and tries to strangle himself with his hands and makes threats of killing himself. The way we have got him to level the behavior is we don't treat bumps and bruised knuckles from time out pounding right away and let the youth deal with his self inflicted pain. (Unless it warrants immediate medical attention). When the youth is in this space staff monitor him but ignore behaviors when it is an obvious play for attention. When the youth tries to harm himself by cutting or makes suicide threats, staff treat it as an attempt which means the youths entire room is stripped and he is placed on safety checks every ten minutes until our therapist assesses that he is no longer at risk. This has happened twice in the two months he has been with us and his behaviors have greatly calmed down as he has found that when he does this it buys him more attention then he bargained for. END QUOTE These are obviously complex issues regarding teens despite some no doubt having some potential for reasoning. But Sanaa was 7 and her array of issues in combination at that age, made her a highly unusual case and exponentially more difficult to manage. They noted there were no signs of sexual abuse. And they noted Sanaa had “a complicated medical history.” It took them five pages to summarize that history. It involved diagnoses of severe mental illness: unspecified schizophrenia, pica, mood disorders, and conditions that led her to urinate and defecate uncontrollably. She had a history of scratching, biting, and hitting herself. She would binge and purge food. Sometimes she would eat paper or the hair from her dolls. According to the autopsy, Sanaa slept in a locked laundry room to protect her from herself on a lawn chair. She would stay there naked, or in an oversize shirt, whose arms were tied like the straitjackets they used to use in old-time insane asylums. A camera watched her. Sometimes she wore a diaper, had gloves taped to her hands, and goggles put on her face. Goodyear police told pathologists that Germayne Cunningham acknowledged using zip-ties and handcuffs to restrain his daughter. Police had been to the house on December 21, 2016, but saw no reason to further investigate. The Cunninghams reported many of Sanaa’s maladies to medical and psychiatric experts. Germayne’s defense attorneys said he’d tapped out his retirement in part to care for his daughter. The complete story will not be known until the trial. On the basis of what I have read so far however, the prosecution has been driven by Child Welfare to deflect from their own failings and that of the medical profession generally. Welfare had conducted three investigations of abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse. The agency had found no basis for any of the complaints. Given the nature of the complaints and lack of foundation for them, it is likely they came from a disaffected family member. What is clear is that, given the nature of Sanaa's issues, the parents should have had access to better support services than is evident. In one news report, the agency stated that there are two people who have been charged - "neither of them employed by this agency." That to me, speaks of over-defensiveness masking guilt. Another issue that has arisen is the lack of support by our government to an Australian facing the death penalty (Lisa is from Adelaide). There is $500,000 available to help with legal expenses in such cases and this has been paid in the past to a woman accused of trafficking cocaine in Colombia, another woman convicted of smuggling marijuana in Indonesia, a convicted terrorist who trained with the Taliban and met Osama bin Laden, and two people convicted of heroin smuggling in Indonesia in a case made famous as the Bali Nine. What do all of those cases have in common? None were in the US. The lickspittle Australian government is too weak-kneed to do anything that might potentially upset their puppeteers in Washington.