Meanwhile, a South Bend Police search last week of Department of Child Services intake reports — routinely forwarded to police agencies — turned up nothing referring to a caller’s pleas last spring to stop ongoing abuse at a South Bend home, where a 10-year-old was found dead from abuse six months later.
‘You can call the police’
Sweeping changes to DCS policies in the last several years have been the focus of a Tribune series in February, “For the Love of Children,” and several articles since.
One of the most hotly debated changes has been the recent closings of local call centers in favor of centralizing all child abuse and neglect calls through Indianapolis.
An article nearly two weeks ago described the Tribune’s successful fight for hotline recordings involving the beating death of 10-year-old Tramelle Sturgis in his family’s West Washington Street home. In one of the recordings, in May 2011, an anonymous caller offers many accurate details about the family and pleads repeatedly for authorities to intervene at the Sturgis home right then, because
children were being beaten that night.
The caller said the injuries were visible under the children’s shirts, and that the basement was where Terry Sturgis, the father now charged with killing Tramelle and abusing other children, was living in filth with many of the kids. The caller referred to having called once before, “in December,” but that nothing was done then.
The caller was worried about identification, citing longtime violence in the Sturgis home.
“If the police go there right now, y’all go there, I think y’all see it,” the caller says in the recording. “I really do.”
“Well, if you have an immediate concern,” the hotline worker replies, “you can call the police. I mean — ”
“I know but, you know, I don’t want my — you know ... I live by myself...” the caller says.
“All right,” the DCS worker says.
“... and I don’t want no problems,” the caller says.
A couple of hours after the detailed call, an anonymous voice described much like that of whoever called the DCS line earlier then dialed police but provided few details, alluding to calling the 800 number earlier.
Crime in progress?
Records in the Sturgis case indicate that the hotline worker contacted a local on-call DCS case manager that night. But nothing suggests that either employee contacted police at any point, and no explanation has been offered as to why the on-call worker did not go to the home immediately.
When two South Bend police officers responded to the vague call to them just after midnight, they reported seeing nothing suspicious.