The grandmother of a fatally abused Brooklyn girl and two former workers for Administration for Children's Services who allegedly did not check in on the girl's family pleaded not guilty Wednesday to homicide charges in Brooklyn.
Prosecutors say the grandmother, Loretta Brett, former caseworker Damon Adams and former supervisor Chereece Bell bear some of the blame for not doing enough to prevent the death of four-year-old Marchella Pierce.
Marchella weighed just 18 pounds when she was found dead inside her family's Bedford-Stuyvesant home in September. An autopsy concluded that she died of child abuse syndrome, including drug poisoning, blunt impact injuries and malnutrition.
Carlotta Brett-Pierce, Marchella's 30-year-old mother, was previously charged with murder.
Investigators say Brett-Pierce tied her daughter to a toddler bed, battered and starved her and force fed her over-the-counter medication.
Prosecutors say Loretta Brett witnessed Marchella's mistreatment and is now facing charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child.
Brett was brought into police custody and her bail was set at $300,000 in cash.
Bell and Adams were both taken into police custody on charges of criminally negligent homicide and official misconduct, for allegedly failing to check in on Marchella's family.
Adams is also accused of falsifying records.
Bell's bail was set at $25,000 cash or bond and the bail for Adams was set at $30,000 in cash.
"Baby Marchella might be alive today, had these ACS workers attended to her case with the basic levels of care it deserved, or had her grandmother stepped in and put a stop to the shocking abuse she is charged with facilitating,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes in a statement. “Children are our most precious gifts and we, as a society, must come together to fight and prevent child abuse wherever we see it.”
"The prosecution is reaching out to indict people that are not criminally liable," said Bell's attorney, Joshua Horowitz.
The district attorney also announced that a special investigative grand jury will start hearing evidence in May on whether there was what prosecutors call a "systematic failure" in the city's child welfare agency.
ACS issued a statement saying, "Both ACS and the DA are doing everything possible to protect children's lives.... [W]e are very concerned that today's indictments of social work staff may discourage excellent, idealistic individuals from taking jobs helping our society's neediest and most vulnerable children."
The agency said it conducted its own investigation and "the worker and supervisor were immediately suspended and are no longer employed by [ACS]."
The Social Service Employees Union charges that the city is scapegoating the workers.
Brett-Pierce faces between 25 years to life in prison and Brett could serve up to 15 years.
Adams faces up to seven years in prison and Bell could serve up to four years.