The state Department of Social Services on Friday called the abuse-related death of toddler in Mount Pleasant “an awful tragedy” but the agency refused to discuss its own involvement in the case.
Relatives of 2-year-old Elijah Washington have criticized DSS for failing to act sooner after the agency was notified of injuries to the boy prior to his March 19 death, allegedly at the hands of a 25-year-old Mount Pleasant man.
After remaining silent on the matter for a week, DSS spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus released a short written statement Friday pledging that the agency would thoroughly review the case, as it does all deaths of children known to the department.
“We are in that process now. We will find out what exactly happened and will take all appropriate actions,” the statement said. “The agency is cooperating fully with law enforcement and sharing information with law enforcement officials.”
But Matheus would not discuss details about the case, saying “DSS will not provide specifics due to the pending criminal case and State confidentiality laws.”
Matheus called the boy’s death “an awful tragedy that no family or community should ever endure.”
The toddler died at East Cooper Medical Center of severe abdominal injuries as a result of blunt-force trauma, according to the Charleston County Coroner’s Office.
Mount Pleasant police officers arrested Bryan Okeith Seabrook, 25, of Mathis Ferry Road May 9 and charged him with homicide by child abuse. He was denied bail on the charge and remains in custody at the Charleston County jail.
After attending a bail hearing for Seabrook on May 10, Elijah’s great-grandmother Dorothy Williams, 67 of North Charleston, and two other family members questioned why DSS didn’t sooner remove him from the home where he received the fatal blow.
Williams said that she spoke with DSS officials concerning fractures to the boy’s wrist and leg prior to his death. She said she reported several bruises and marks that she’d noticed on Elijah over the course of his young life.
“We are in the process of carefully evaluating how this case was handled,” Matheus said when questioned about the family’s concerns. “This includes determining what information was given to DSS and whether decisions made were consistent with policy, procedures and good practice.”
The Mount Pleasant Police Department has not yet released supplemental incident reports that might answer more questions surrounding Elijah’s death.
Although an arrest has been made, Police Maj. Stan Gragg said, the case is still active. Releasing the information contained in the supplemental reports would compromise the case, he said.
“As soon as it is possible, they will be released,” Gragg said in an email.
Seabrook was watching Elijah when the child received the fatal injuries in March, according to a police report. Seabrook is the boyfriend of Elijah’s grandmother.
Seabrook told officers that the boy threw up while seated at a table and appeared weak in the bathtub. He appeared even worse after being placed in bed, so Seabrook brought him to the hospital, according to police.
A detective in an arrest affidavit said that Seabrook caused the child’s death while committing child abuse. Eyewitnesses reported that Seabrook struck the child shortly before he became unresponsive, the affidavit said.