A Hartford mother who has been charged with the manslaughter of her autistic, emaciated teenage son in February is due in court today.
Police charged Katiria Tirado, 33, with manslaughter and cruelty to persons in connection with the death of her 17-year-old son, Matthew Tirado. When he died, the 5-foot-9-inch-tall teen weighed roughly 84 pounds.
State officials and police said Matthew's food was severely restricted and that he was beaten if he attempted to sneak food, according to a report from the state Child Advocate's Office.
Tirado's arrest warrant details text messages from Tirado to her sister, which included a photo of the cabinets and refrigerator screwed closed. In the messages, Tirado told her sister that her son had been trying to drink cooking oil and ketchup.
An investigation found that Matthew’s death was preventable and there were problems with the state child welfare agency.
The report said Tirado had been previously accused of child abuse, educational neglect and had an open neglect case. Tirado did not appear or respond to the juvenile court child protection proceed and the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) closed the neglect case involving Matthew a month before his death, after his mother refused for almost a year to let a DCF worker see him.
Matthew died at 5:15 a.m. on Feb. 15, hours after he was taken to the hospital.
Police said Katiria Tirado called 911 at 2:53 a.m. on Feb. 14 to report that her son was vomiting at an apartment on 519 Park St. and had "gallstones."
"My 17-year-old son– I don't know what it is– but he might have gall-gall stones because he's been vomiting for the past 24 hours. Now his belly is bulging. But he hasn't urinated anything. I mean, I used to have gallstones before and I know what it feels like and how it looks like," the mother said during a 911 call that police released in March.
Matthew was brought to the hospital and he was pronounced dead hours later.
Officials at the Chief State Medical Examiner reported that Matthew showed signs of significant physical abuse, including broken ribs, a laceration to his head, several contusions and bedsore-type injuries to his buttocks, and severe malnutrition, according to the report and police.
The report from the Child Advocate's Office claims Matthew was very ill in the days leading up to his death, deteriorating and vomiting frequently, "but his mother allegedly delayed seeking medical attention for fear that Matthew's appearance would lead DCF to 'get involved' with the family."
Relatives were shocked by Matthew's appearance during a family party of Tirado's a week before his death, but didn't suspect physical abuse because they were told he had a "fast metabolism," according to the report.
The OCA said they spoke and reviewed records with DCF personnel, Hartford Public Schools officials, the Judicial Branch, Oak Hill School and the Office of the Chief Public Defender, to determine how Matthew's death could have been prevented.
The OCA found that Matthew's neglect and abuse dated back to 2005 when he was 6 years old. Between 2010 and 2014, there were no DCF reports regarding the Tirado family, however, Matthew was taken out of Hartford schools for months and even years at a time without being enrolled elsewhere. There was no inquiry from the school district.
In November 2014, Hartford Public Schools called DCF, alleging education neglect since the boy had not enrolled in school for a long period of time.
"Records show that Matthew remained out of school for most of his life between June 2012 through his death in February 2017 without adequate intervention or response by state or local authorities, and, for multiple years, without anyone noticing," the OCA report reads.
After April 2016, the Hartford school district was told by DCF that it intended to file a neglect petition on Matthew's behalf, but there is no documentation that the school district continued to follow up on the teen's non-attendance. There is no documented communication between DCF and Hartford Public Schools between May 2016 and the boy's death in February 2017, the report alleges.
The Juvenile Court held six short hearings on the Tirado family's case between July and Dec. 8, 2016.
"In December 2016, the day before a court hearing and after nine months of not being allowed to see Matthew or verify his whereabouts, DCF submitted a written recommendation to the Juvenile Court requesting that the Court terminate the case and end Protective Supervision early. The paperwork did not spell out what efforts had been sought or made to find the children and ensure their safety. DCF did not allege that closing the court case served the best interests of the children," according to the OCA report.
In January 2017, the DCF closed its own case of the family.
"DCF’s risk,17 safety, and needs assessments completed on Matthew and his family between 2014 and 2016 were inconsistent and inaccurate, resulting in a lower assessment of risk to the children than actually existed. The erroneous assessment of Matthew’s risk of harm and his vulnerability to harm, affected the trajectory of his case until it closed," the report claims.
The OCA recommends the DCF generate specific policies, training and case practice guidance regarding investigations of alleged abuse and neglect for children with developmental disabilities.
DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said her agency lacked authority to force his mother to allow access to the boy.
"Nothing diminishes the heartbreaking nature of what happened to Matthew; the level of abuse inflicted by the mother and intentional denial of food are egregious and incomprehensible. In this particular instance, the mother repeatedly denied child welfare, school, and law enforcement officials, among others, access to Matthew. Lacking the authority to force the mother to cooperate and allow access to Mathew, none of these entities had evidence of the abuse that she inflicted on him," Katz said in a statement.
Katz said the agency is taking steps to improve DCF.
The Hartford Public Schools released a statement that said the district is working closely with OCA to develop a framework to change how staff reports suspected child abuse and neglect.
"This report identifies failings in our culture to serve children, and within the district’s policies, procedures and practices regarding chronic absenteeism, internal processes and proper collaboration with external agencies," the Hartford Public Schools' statement said.