Police: Clover mother was too drunk to care for paralyzed daughter

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comApril 10, 2014 

Stephanie Johnson was arrested for unlawful neglect of a child or helpless person Wednesday after a police investigation stemming from a home health caregiver reporting that Johnson, mother of the child she cares for, was “extremely intoxicated.”

— Paralyzed from the neck down and breathing with help from a machine, a 6-year-old Clover girl who requires around-the-clock care was taken from her home after police say her mother was too drunk to care for her.

Police on March 29 were sent to a Stonegate Boulevard home after a home health caregiver reported that Stephanie Michelle Johnson, mother of the child she cares for, was “extremely intoxicated,” according to a Clover Police report. The caretaker told police she watches the girl for about eight hours each Saturday and Sunday. The caretaker told police the girl is paralyzed from the neck down after she was injured in a car accident when she was 2.

The caretaker explained that Johnson returned home 40 minutes after she was scheduled to leave and appeared to be “highly intoxicated” because her speech was slurred and she could not maintain her balance. Johnson, 29, later went into her bedroom and “passed out,” the report states. The caretaker unsuccessfully tried waking her. Paramedics were sent to the house, where they noted that Johnson was either intoxicated with drugs or alcohol. She was taken to Carolinas Medical Center-Steele Creek.

The caretaker said she could not leave the girl alone because she was hooked to a life support system that had to be continuously monitored, the report states.

Police were unable to find family members able to care for the girl. Her grandparents, the report states, live in Georgia. Police decided to put the girl into emergency protective custody and she was taken to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte. Some time later, police learned that Johnson had been released from CMC-Steele Creek and was on her way to Charlotte to see her daughter. Police called a hospital social worker, who blocked the girl’s name from Levine’s in-patient registry so she could not be looked up. Hospital officials told police the girl was “doing fine” and sleeping.

It took more than a week for police to arrest Johnson because authorities wanted to conduct a “thorough investigation” that involved ensuring the girl was safe, said Lt. Tanner Davis. Police also consulted with the 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office about the case, and took into consideration previous incidents at the home that had gone unreported to law enforcement.

Johnson was arrested Wednesday at her home and charged with unlawful neglect of a child or helpless person.. On Thursday, she was being held at the York County Detention Center on a $5,000 bond. Her daughter, Davis said, has been placed in DSS custody.

More than 2,330 children who were taken into emergency protective custody by police were placed in foster care last year, according to statistics from the state Department of Social Services. As of April 2, 627 of 844 foster care entries this year came from children taken into emergency custody. Some of those children were placed in foster care because they had a parent in jail or no other relatives willing to care for them, said DSS spokeswoman Kathleen Goetzman.

The York County office of the Department of Social Services had been investigating Johnson after the same caretaker reported that on March 22 she found the girl alone in the home with three men who had been drinking beer, the report states. They told the caretaker that Johnson was not home. A day earlier, the caretaker spent the night with the girl because Johnson was drunk, police documents show. Police were not made aware of the first two incidents until the girl’s caretaker called them on March 29, Davis said.

“We don’t know how many of these incidents have taken place,” said Laura Hudson, executive director of the S.C. Victims’ Council. “You know of two, but are there others?”

Hudson said she is concerned that all DSS intake workers might not be trained on how to identify addictions, saying “parenting under the influence seems to be more accepted than I think it should be.”

A DSS spokeswoman said all caseworkers are trained to identify substance abuse when performing home checks and assessments.

“Having a drink is one thing,” Hudson said. Drinking to the point “it interferes with your life, your inability to provide for your child ... is a different thing. We have to make decisions based on the safety and well-being ... of the child ... not adults.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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