A Baton Rouge woman was indicted Thursday on a second-degree murder charge after her toddler overdosed on fentanyl and died in late June.
Police arrested Whitney Ard, 28, on a count of negligent homicide in early August over the overdose death of her 2-year-old son, Mitchell Robinson III. But an indictment filed Thursday says an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury has charged Ard with second-degree murder.
The little boy’s death has prompted fury and calls for reform from state lawmakers, attorneys and others. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services received three reports about the little boy potentially overdosing on drugs in the months leading up to his death. But DCFS never removed him from his mother’s care.
DCFS received the first report about Mitchell in April after he was revived at a hospital with Narcan. The department did not open an investigation.
DCFS received a second report about him on June 4, when he was hospitalized again and hospital staff suspected another overdose. DCFS opened an investigation, and then received a third report about him on June 17 from the doctor in charge of his treatment. She reported that his toxicology screen was positive for fentanyl, and said she was worried because Mitchell’s parents were recently arrested in a drug bust.
DCFS failed to intervene.
A worker who had been assigned the case had tried to visit the family once when they were not home. She went out on sick leave June 21, and nobody picked up the case in her absence.
Mitchell overdosed and died on June 26.
It took about a month for police to piece together what had happened until they arrested Ard in August. Amid the backlash, DCFS opened an internal probe into what went wrong, while the Louisiana Office of Inspector General also opened an investigation.
The DCFS worker assigned to the case was placed on leave pending the investigation, while the supervisor who oversaw the case resigned.
Ard remains jailed. Her attorneys have sought to portray her as another victim in the case, caught in the grips of a raging opioid epidemic. Prosecutors, meanwhile, have argued that a plethora of drugs found in her home shortly before the toddler’s death showed criminal intent.
Police found 8.5 ounces of fentanyl, 4 pounds of methamphetamine, an illegal gun, $26,000 in cash and assorted other drugs in her Denova Street home a few weeks before the little boy’s death.
Mitchell was one 12 children under five who have been killed in East Baton Rouge this year — an alarmingly high number that is twice the level of such homicides at this point last year. DCFS officials have said that reports of child abuse and neglect are soaring, while the agency has been hobbled by a lack of staff. The agency currently has 460 openings.
This is a developing story. Check back later for more.
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