HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The mother of a 2-year-old boy who died two days after falling 35 feet from a third-floor window last month was arraigned Thursday on a manslaughter charge.
According to the police report, Tabitha Frank left Corneliuz Shand-Williams, and his four older siblings, who are all under 12, home alone on July 22 at her apartment on Capitol Avenue in Hartford while she went to the store for food and diapers.
The report said the boy was jumping on the bed when he accidentally went out the screen window. He suffered skull fractures and head trauma and died on July 24.
Frank, 34, and her five children were living in filth, the police report stated. Bugs and flies fed on trash on the floor and moldy food in the sink; there was no air conditioning, and a foul odor was present, according to police.
Frank also faces ten counts of risk of injury to a child stemming from the allegedly deplorable conditions. On Thursday, the prosecutor asked the judge to raise her $100,000 bond.
Frank’s family said her four other children are well and are now staying with family.
About a dozen family members and faith leaders supported Frank at the courthouse on Thursday. Frank’s attorney, Wesley Spears, and her sister, Hera Noel, said the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) is responsible.
“DCF had an open case with his family and provided no adequate sport to help Ms. Frank get through this situation,” Spears said.
“DCF has failed my sister, in my opinion,” Noel said. “From my first niece, who is 12, DCF has been involved from a young age, and they continued to leave them in her care, deeming things clean, safe, everything. Now that it’s a tragedy, and they do this with other families as well; now that it’s a tragedy, we want to pretend that she’s this horrible mother.”
Frank claimed a DCF worker paid her a surprise visit three weeks before her son fell.
“It was a random visit,” Frank said after appearing in court. “She called. I said, “You’re five minutes away? Come.” Because I felt like, at the time, I had nothing to hide. I still don’t feel like I had nothing to hide.”
News 8 contacted DCF about that claim, and the agency denied it. They also declined a request for an on-camera interview.
“DCF Commissioner Vannessa Dorantes previously told News 8 that they had an open case. The agency said they received the most recent report on the family in April, and a DCF worker last visited in mid-June. Dorantes said the living conditions police found on July 22 were nothing like what DCF workers reported.
“As the family and community grieve the loss of this baby, Corneliuz S. Williams, please pause any judgment on individuals who are subject to child maltreatment allegations. The Department of Children & Families has responded to a total of 18 prior reports on the family. On only one occasion, in 2016 and prior to the birth of Corneliuz, were conditions present in the home of Ms. Frank which met the statutory criteria of physical neglect resulting in a substantiation.
The last contact we had with the children was in Mid-June 2023 and based on the assessment at the time, further child protective services involvement was not warranted – and the case was in the process of being closed – resulting in no additional visits or contact. The children were visible within their community and DCF had contracted with a community provider who was connected to the family to assist Ms. Frank in supporting her five children.
It takes the collective efforts of all members of our community – family members, neighbors, professionals, and concerned citizens — to ensure that children can safely remain at home.
A simple gesture of offering help may change the life of a child and their caregiver.”– DCF Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes
Mysogland said it’s essential for everyone to know what resources are available and who to contact if they are concerned about a child’s welfare.
“The circumstances surrounding this traumatic incident highlight the complexities of child protective services work, how quickly conditions in a home can change, and the importance of everyone in the community knowing who to contact if they are concerned about a child’s welfare,” he said.
Connecticut residents can dial 211 and the Substance Use Access line at 1-800-563-4086. Information for families seeking behavioral health services can be accessed online at www.connectingtocarect.org. The agency said “a reasonable suspicion of child maltreatment” can be made anonymously to the Child Abuse and Neglect Careline by calling 1-800-842-2288 — 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Hartford police declined News 8’s request Thursday for an interview about the living conditions.
Rev. Samuel Saylor is among the faith leaders supporting Frank. He said Frank was working hard to step up as a single mother, and her son’s death was an accident.
“One little mistake makes her a villain? She’s living on the margin,” Saylor said. “We have a thousand families in Hartford living on the margins. If she’s guilty, everybody’s guilty! I’m guilty!”
Frank is due back in court on Aug. 10.