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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

CPS caseworker missed chances to intervene before death of Pullman baby

Chelsea Keyes And Jaclyn Logsdon Murrow News Service

Washington’s Child Protective Services missed opportunities to intervene with the family of a Pullman baby who suffocated on a plastic bag Easter Sunday, according to a state review of the boy’s death.

The child fatality review found that a social worker failed to conduct comprehensive interviews with the baby’s parents despite five CPS referrals to the home since 2012. Nor was a full safety evaluation of the home conducted in the months prior to the death of 4-month-old Charles William Becker Jr. The baby’s father, 25-year-old Charles Becker, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree manslaughter in the death of his son.

The boy apparently suffocated on a plastic bag, but a doctor also reported possible head trauma, according to court documents.

Officers responded to the family’s apartment in a Washington State University apartment complex late in the morning on April 5. Police found dirty diapers, rotting food, soiled clothes, garbage, and plastic materials in the bedroom and on the bedroom floor. Two other children, ages 1 and 3, were in the home.

According to the police report, both Becker and Samantha Wimberly, the infant’s mother, told police they knew the infant frequently fell out of his bed. Wimberly, who was studying early childhood education at WSU at the time, has not been charged with a crime.

Pullman Regional Hospital staff determined that the boy died hours before police arrived at the apartment shortly after 11 a.m., according to the police report.

Several of the referrals mentioned possible domestic violence in the home, according to a report compiled by the Washington State University Police Department.

A state spokeswoman did not respond to requests for information about the case.

The state Children’s Administration formed a committee of local and regional experts to review the department’s dealings with the family in the months leading up to the baby’s death.

They found that the social worker assigned to the case didn’t emphasize safe-sleeping practices with the family, as required by department policy. The committee also raised concerns about the caseworker’s supervision and recommended increased staff development and training.

Neighbors told police they often heard children crying at the residence and a male voice yelling “Shut up,” according to the police report. They also reported hearing a female voice yell at the male to be nice to the children.

Becker told police that the boy had been regularly receiving medical checkups, according to the police report. However, further investigation by police revealed that the infant had not been seen by a doctor since his birth.

After the boy’s death, a neighbor heard male and female voices arguing, according to the police report. The neighbor said he heard a female voice ask, “Are you happy now?” The male responded, “No I’m not, I also cried.” Then the female said, “You are a monster.”

Becker’s defense attorney, Steve Martonick, said Becker is free on his own recognizance. Becker’s trial is set to begin in December.

Martonick said CPS was not involved with the criminal investigation but only in the care of the surviving children, who were removed from the home.

“They are not investigators,” Martonick said. “They are involved more with the other children, and the Pullman police handle the case.”

The prosecutor for the case, Denis Tracy, said Becker could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

The Murrow News Service provides local, regional and statewide stories reported and written by journalism students at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.