Judge blasts DCF over boy's death

Antwan Hope found dead inside mother's apartment; Destene Simmons Baker Acted

Destene Simmons (left) and her son Antwon Hope (right)
Destene Simmons (left) and her son Antwon Hope (right)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A Broward County Circuit Court judge blasted the Department of Children and Families following a 4-year-old boy's death.

A status hearing was held in Judge Elizabeth Scherer's courtroom Friday morning, days after Antwan Hope was found dead in his mother's apartment in Coral Springs.

Destene Simmons, Hope's mother, has mental health issues and lost custody of her son in 2011 when police say she tried to smother him. Up until February, Simmons had complied with all the court orders so she could reunite with her son.

During Friday's hearing, Scherer learned she never received a copy of an in-home study of Simmons, and that Simmons missed multiple therapy sessions between February and June.

"How was the home study approved by the Department (of Children and Families) -- number one, when this mother had an outstanding criminal warrant for her arrest? Can somebody answer that question?" asked Scherer.

Police arrested Simmons on an outstanding traffic warrant Tuesday. After she posted bond, she was Baker Acted.

Simmons was also having unsupervised visits with Hope, violating the court order.

"I want to know who from the Department (of Children and Families) approved that," said Scherer. "I want to know who made that decision and why that decision was made."

Beatrice Ford, the child advocate, tried to answer Scherer's questions.

"Every report I received from the caregiver stated that the child returned, was fine, was doing well. Interaction between mom and the child was fine," said Ford. "According to my observations, she was doing what she needed to do."

Scherer said had she known, she would've never allowed Simmons to have unsupervised visits with her son.

"My problem here is that this child was denied the judicial oversight part of the equation and I cannot make that right for him," said Scherer, "and whether or not it turns out that your client is responsible for the child's death, I think the system has failed the child because even if it turns out that the child died of natural causes and the mother was calling 911 and hanging up, unable to articulate, 'There is a problem. We need medical attention,' that is still a risk to the child."

"We can't get AJ back," said Sharon Walker, Hope's grandmother. "Someone has to accept their responsibility where they were wrong, and they was wrong."

"I am deeply sorry for your loss. This system has failed you and I'm sorry," Scherer told the boy's family.

Hope's father believes Simmons will likely face murder charges. The medical examiner hasn't released the cause of death yet.

A second hearing concerned who would receive Hope's body -- his father or his caregiver, who had custody of him. A burial home will take Hope's body, and a funeral will likely be scheduled for next week.