Stories about neglected or abused children always bother me more than others, and this one was no exception. Maybe it’s because I see children as being completely powerless to change a bad situation, it makes those who neglect them, such as parents and social supporters, as being particularly heinous when they shirk their responsibilities. The failure here was not just with Child Services, but also with the city officials who are more worried about how things look to the public than protecting the public it is paid to serve.
In this case, abusive and mostly absent parenting, coupled with a bunch of bureaucrats who are more worried about their statistics and keeping their jobs, contributed to the death of an innocent child, and endangered the life of another. The SVU gets involved in the case and find themselves hitting a brick wall when higher ups at One PP would rather handle this internally than make a public spectacle. While Benson finds her hands tied, it’s Rafael Barba who comes to the rescue, as he doesn’t have to toe the One PP line. I found myself cheering inside during his press conference. As usual, Raúl Esparza brought the real emotional footnote to the case when, while cross examining Janette Grayson (Whoopi Goldberg), his voice sounded like it was cracking with horror and disgust for this woman’s incompetence and for what happened to other children. In fact, I think Raúl completely stole that scene. While I recognize Whoopi’s many acting awards, I thought that the performance could have been just as good with another actor.
It was a bit of a surprise, however, when Barba told Benson and Rollins that to go after the caseworker he would need more than maternal outrage to make a case. I know Barba has a sharp tongue but that comment was sexist. He could have just omitted the word “maternal” and still made his point.
Rollins took a pregnancy test in early June and she barely looked pregnant at that time. It is now early August and she looks much farther along than one would expect for that 2 month time frame. I do understand the timing with Kelli’s real life pregnancy and the filming schedule, but it still seems to me that the episode time frame is off.
I enjoy having Peter Gallagher as Dodds. He brings the right amount of tension to the story line and keeps Benson on her toes. He is correct when he tells her she doesn’t have a political bone in her body. It’s good that Benson looks out for what is right for the victims, but she does need to be mindful of internal politics and USE them to get what she needs done. It’s interesting that Benson and Dodds both were very quick to tell Fin they weren’t on a date; based on their body language as they left what was likely a work event together, it looked a little more than just a work relationship (or maybe Dodds wishes!). I think they would make an interesting couple; she and Dodds seem to have good chemistry, even though they don’t always agree. It will be interesting to see how the work dynamic changes when Dodd’s son becomes Benson’s #2!
This was a solid story, nicely told!
Here is the recap:
Mariska Hargitay – Sergeant Olivia Benson
Ice-T – Detective Odafin “Fin” Tutuola
Kelli Giddish - Detective Amanda Rollins
Raúl Esparza - ADA Rafael Barba
Peter Scanavino - Detective Dominick “Sonny” Carisi, Jr.
Whoopi Goldberg - Janette Grayson
John Magaro - Keith Musio
Peter Gallagher: Deputy Chief William Dodds
Joseph Lyle Taylor - Counselor Mickey D'Angelo
Josh Pais - Hank Abraham
Yvonna Kopaca-Wright - Dr. Wilder
Josh Mercantel - Matt Sheridan
Scott William Winters – Detective Joe Dumas
Jessica Pimental - Manuela Ozuna
Michael Mastro – Judge Serani
Steve Rosen – Public Defender Guthrie
Caris Vujcec - Detective Campesi
Marissa Matrone – Judge Mariana DeFeceo
Lynne Marie Rosenberg – Counselor Belitta Schwartz
Delius Doherty - Ross
Elijah Rivera – Tito Morales
LaToya Edwards – Denaya
Alexa Butler – Grandma
Jaime Fernandez – Dario
Christopher Roach – Frank
Issam Mikaiki – Bruno Ozuna
A young boy, home alone, manages to get himself out of the apartment, cross a busy street, and into a store to buy some food. The store clerk sees the small boy alone and asks where his mom is at.
Meanwhile, Benson is leaving an evening event with Deputy Chief William Dodds. She comments it was not as horrible as she thought. He tells her she is going to be a Lieutenant and she will need to practice kissing those rings. She asks, “Lieutenant? So I passed? “ He adds and then some, when it is official she can pick any command in the city. She comments she is happy where she is. He says okay and then asks if she is up for a nightcap; they need to talk about finding her a #2. Her phone buzzes and he asks doesn’t she ever turn that thing off? She explains she can’t; they are short staffed. She takes the call and says she is on her way. Dodds asks where to, he will drop her. She gets in his car.
Benson and Dodds arrive at the store where the boy was found. Fin is there and apologizes for breaking up their date. They say in unison that it wasn’t a date. Detective Dumas is also there, saying that he and Detective Campesi took the call from patrol; their Sergeant suggested SVU would be better equipped to handle a lost kid. Dodds comments that the detective is passing the buck, but Det. Campisi says the boy wouldn’t talk and walked in all by himself. Benson, concerned, sees him sitting sadly near the counter and asks where are the parents. Fin comments that is why they are here.
Later, in the hospital waiting area while the boy plays with toys, Benson, changed from her evening attire, tries to make a connection to get the boy to talk, and eventually hears him say his name is Bruno. He does not know his last name or how old he is. She sees Doctor Wilder approach and walks over to tell the doctor she got his name and thinks he is about 3 years old. She asks if he should be talking by now and The doctor comments it is delayed speech, no one is taking care of him. He was filthy and had several cavities and his vitamin D levels were low as he was not getting out much. There are no broken bones or any signs of sexual trauma. She wants to run more tests and would like to talk to the parents. Benson states so would they.
At Conyers Houses on Friday August 7, Rollins speaks to a woman sitting outside with her child, who tells Rollins on how she is carrying her weight that it is a girl. She has also seen Bruno in the courtyard at all hours. She has called 911 and 311 and got nothing. She says the mother is a mess, all hopped up. Carisi speaks to another woman and shows her Bruno’s picture who says the boys. mother's name is Manuela with a last name like a one of those Dominican baseball playing brothers. Fin catches up with another guy who may be running drugs who does not know the kid or the mother. He grabs his phone and says he is Tito Morales and is recording all this. Fin says loudly so the others can hear that if Tito keep snitching they will drop all the charges. Tito says he is no snitch and Fin tells him then start talking.
Back at SVU, Benson gets off a call and says they are all over it and she races into the squad room. She tells the others that was Dodds and he is asking about Bruno and what can she tell him? Fin hears the mom has been copping once a day, Carisi has a list of possible last names, something Dominican, and Rollins says the housing authority is checking but her contact said not to expect much. They have to go through 2,000 leases, Carisi adds not to mention the illegal sublets, etc. Carisi called child services and the guy told him where he could go, so Benson decides to do a drop in. Rollins, looking very pregnant, gets up slowly and says she and Fin have this, but Benson, seeing Rollins' discomfort, says Rollins and Fin should stay there and work the phones, she and Carisi will go.
At the department of Child Services at 108 Fulton Street on Friday, August 7, as Benson and Carisi arrive, they see an officer removing a man who is giving a case worker - Keith Musio - some trouble. Janette Grayson, his boss, comments “Welcome to the jungle.” Janette makes the introductions. Janette moves off to help get rid of the other man. The discuss Bruno and he finds the file for Bruno Ozuna. They explain Bruno’s situation.
Later, Keith is taking Benson and Carisi to Bruno’s home, walking up many flights of stairs as the elevator is broken. He says he last saw Bruno a couple weeks ago and both kids were fine. They get to the apartment and see the door is not even locked, and Benson calls out for Manuela and enters the apartment. The apartment is a mess and the TV is on and the apartment is like a furnace. Manuela is not there. They are shocked to find Keisha locked in a dog cage, with barely a pulse. Keith is stunned. Benson is shocked that Keisha is so tiny and challenges Keith on her age, but he states she is almost nine. Carisi calls for a bus as Benson gets her out of the cage and holds her and consoles her.
Benson and Carisi are at the hospital and Dr. Wilder says that Keisha is starving and is so dehydrated her organs are shutting down. When Carisi asks if she will make it, the doctor says she wishes they found her sooner.
At 3169 Broadway on Friday, August 7, Fin finds Manuela sitting on the sidewalk begging and says he has her kids. They arrest her and as she protests, Fin tells her to shut up.
Back at the hospital, Carisi asks Keith if he is feeling better, and he says yeah. He adds that when he was a rookie he used to puke all the time. The way Keisha looked…Carisi comments that Keith was just there a few weeks ago and asks how did she look then? Keith comments he is trying to remember, he has so many visits in a day – at least 8 or 9 – he never has enough time. Carisi asks that he did see Keisha two weeks ago, and Keith replies he must have, he’d have to check his notes. He adds this isn’t even his family to begin with, his colleague has been on maternity leave so now he has twice the workload. Frustrated, he states he is doing 12-hour turns here, rushing through visits, and all the paperwork and court appearances… Carisi says he gets it, but states that Keith knows where he is going with this, right? Keith looks stunned and Carisi says they just picked up Keisha’s mother and there is going to be more questions.
Meanwhile, Rollins and Fin have Manuela in interrogation who wants Bruno back. Fin explains they are putting Bruno in foster care and Rollins adds they found her daughter in a cage, starving. Manuela blames Keisha, saying if she would shut up and stop crying she would earn some food. Rollins, appalled, looks at Fin. Rollins asks if she starved her to teach her a lesson. Manuela mentions that she used to get whipped with an electrical cord, do they want her to do that? Benson and Carisi are observing and Benson knocks on the window to get Fin and Rollins to come out. When Rollins steps out, she comments the mother is a piece of work. Benson says she is also a murderer; Carisi adds Keisha didn’t make it.
Later, Benson and Rollins arrive at Barba’s office, he is holding a new paper with the headlines “Bodega Boy” and asks if it was as bad as the headlines. Rollins states it is worse; Keisha’s cause of death is child abuse syndrome due to prolonged physical abuse, malnutrition, and dehydration. Barba states that is homicide. He asks where was child services, and Benson informs him Carisi spoke with Keith, the caseworker, who is so slammed he does not remember yesterday. Rollins adds Janette, the supervisor, claims that DCS is launching an internal investigation. Benson calls it a cover up, and when Barba says Keisha is dead, what is there to cover up, Benson responds their complicity, the caseworker botched this. Barba is surprised she wants to prosecute the caseworker, saying Brooklyn tried that and lost. He adds morally responsible, okay; legally…Rollins counters that Keisha did not lose 20 pounds in two weeks and if Keith had been showing up for his visits, he would have noticed. Benson adds Keisha would still be alive. Barba gets it, they are angry and emotional but if they want him to go after this guy he will need more than maternal outrage to make a case. Benson glares at him and nods.
Later, Benson and Carisi are in Janette’s office, who says this is a caseworker’s and supervisor’s worst nightmare. She asks them to tell her Manuela will not get away with this, and Benson explains they are there to document Manuela’s abuse. Keith is also there and when Carisi asks him about the visit Keith said he made two weeks ago, Janette brings out the file stating there was a home visit on July 27 and that all were present and the kids were healthy. Carisi counters when he spoke with Keith that Keith said he wasn’t sure, and Keith said he stated he would have to check his notes. Janette adds they did and they have gone over them with a fine tooth come. But Benson is not buying it. Matt Sheridan, deputy commissioner, enters and tries to assure them the agency is reviewing everything that led up to this, and Benson counters their ADA is doing the same and asks for Keith’s laptop and files. But Matt says because of confidentiality, they will need to get a subpoena.
Back at SVU, they review the case with Barba and despite the two week old home visit report, they believe Keith has not been there in 4 months. Rollins ran a statement analysis of a year of his home visit reports and the detail in his earlier reports to the latest is like night and day. They walk through how Keith inherited his coworkers reports when she went on maternity leave when his cases went from 30 to 47. There are expansive handwritten reports on each field visit and his typed reports are from 1-3 pages and scanned in a timely manner. He is logging in 16-17 hour days and with the court hearings and family business, it is a losing battle. By April, no more handwritten notes and after April, nor reports were scanned in on the Ozunas until after Keisha died. Nine reports were backdated, and the reports are dated for times that he is either in court or with clients miles away. The supervisor signed off on them, even the ones scanned in 8 hours after Keisha’s death. Carisi gets a call and tells them that Benson just got called down to One PP by Dodds for a briefing on all of what they found at DCS. Fin comments that is not good, and Barba concurs it is not, and suggests he walk over and pay his respects.
At the office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information at One Police Plaza on Monday, August 10, Dodds reminds Benson of Child Service protocols and she reminds him the caseworker lied and the supervisor signed off on false reports. Hank Abraham states the city has a department of investigation and if they decide something criminal happened they will get NYPD involved. Benson is skeptical and questions since when does the NYPD kick an investigation back to DOI and asks if this is coming from City Hall? Abraham reminds her no one likes bad headlines, and reminds her he is not just in charge of press for the NYPD, he is the commissioner’s right hand and he works for him, and reminds Benson so does she. Barba states he issued the subpoenas as SVU was investigating at his request. Abraham tersely counters that SVU does not work for Barba. Dodds reminds them they are all friends here and that the commissioner wanted them to convey that as of now, this is not a police matter, but if it becomes one…Barba finished that they will let them know. Benson and Barba get up to leave. Abraham states they are glad they are all on the same page and tells Benson he hears she is on the Lieutenants list, and congratulates her. She turns to leave and says thank you.
Outside as she walks with Barba, Benson comments that is it, they just call them off. But Barba says, smugly, they called HER off, but he doesn’t work for NYPD.
At the office of the District Attorney at One Hogan Place on Tuesday, August 11, Barba holds a press conference outlining what happened to Keisha and that her mother has been charged with homicide. While he outlines the complicity by Child Service in the false reporting, and that the fraud was orchestrated by his supervisor Janette and her boss Matt Sheridan, we see Carisi arresting Keith, and Fin and Rollins arresting Janette and Matt. Evidence is also being collected. Barba states the charges are reckless endangerment of a child, official misconduct, and obstructing governmental administration, as well as a felony charge of manslaughter in the second degree. Hank Abraham watches with a stone face and Barba glares back at him with satisfaction.
At a later date, Matt, Janette, and Keith are being arraigned and their attorney Counselor Mickey D'Angelo pleads them not guilty as Benson and Rollins watch from the gallery. Hank Abraham enters the courtroom. D’Angelo claims this is political overreach and the judge states he can bring that up at trial. Barba asks for $200,000 bail and as D’Angelo makes his arguments, the judge grants bail at $50,000 each. Keith looks stunned.
Outside the courthouse, Abraham stops Benson and Rollins and reminds Benson he told her to drop this case. She says they did but the ADA picked it up. Abraham mentions Barba’s showboating and taunts him when he approaches. He tells him now to do his real job and plead this out. Barba taunts him back, saying Abraham is the NYPD press boy and as Abraham already made clear, he does not work for him. Abraham says as a friend, he would hate to see the tall papi get cut down. He gives him a light smack on the arm and then walks off as they all smirk slightly. As Abraham walks off, Barba comments that was subtle, and Benson says if they applied that much pressure, that means they are scared. Barba says he will plead it out and he will need leverage.
At St. Michael’s Hospital at 715 West 173rd Street on Thursday, August 13, Benson and Rollins speak with Manuela, in a hospital bed, who wants to be let out of Keisha’s funeral. Rollins says they will see about that. Benson asks how did things get so bad, and Manuela said she was clean and sober until her boyfriend got released – Bruno’s dad. She has not seen a caseworker since Easter. They were having fun drinking and barbecuing and the three of them were family. Keisha was not her boyfriend’s son and Keisha mouthed off to him and would not keep her mouth shut so he got a cage. He got shot the 4th of July weekend and bled out. She fell apart after that. She asks what has she done?
Meanwhile, Barba and Carisi speak with Keith with D’Angelo present trying to work out a deal. Despite their attempts, D’Angelo chastises them for using this tragedy to score political points and that if his idea of a deal it to pit co-worker against co-worker, it is a non-starter. Barba glares at him. D’Angelo tells Keith to hang in there and gets up to leave. As they exit, Carisi hangs back, saying he forgot his pen, and then tells Keith he is low man on the totem pole so if anyone is going to take the fall here…
Back at SVU, Benson and the detectives discuss that other reports for other caseworkers were also backdated that day. Dodds walks in and asks, clearly irked, what is going on her. Benson says they are catching up on paperwork and he is skeptical, pointing her to her office to have a word. She says “Absolutely” and storms in that direction.
Inside her office, Dodds, says, “For god’s sake, you don’t have a political bone in your body, do ya?" He explains that Abraham is a hatchet man and if he says back off, you back off. She says the city has blood on their hands and Barba is doing the right thing. Dodds counters he knows she is close to him but if Barba wants to hang himself, let him, don’t get stuck in his noose. He brings up Rollins’ pregnancy and she says she is down a man and they have been looking the other way. He tells her not any more, starting yesterday she is on desk duty. Benson replies, “Got it.”
Meanwhile, Rollins mentions that with Dodds there, she is busted. Fin says he would not mind desk duty. Carisi races up and asks if they are still in there, and Fin says yeah, stay out. Carisi says good point, then says when Dodds leaves to tell Benson he went back to the pen, Keith wants to talk.
At the jail, with Barba, Carisi, and another attorney present, Keith mentions the pressure he was under with Janette, to stop counseling clients and taking their calls, saying this is casework not social work. Janette and Matt said he did not have to make the visits as long as he had a record that he had. Before Keith goes further, his new lawyer tries to cut a deal with Barba but despite not getting the deal he wanted, and the lawyer trying to cut the talk short, Keith still wants to go on. Keith then states Janette called her into the office on Saturday even though they were closed and she and Matt stood over him to make him file false reports about visiting Keisha’s home and she looked fine. No other caseworkers were there. He stayed all day and night filing lies for the whole staff and he will testify to that. Keisha died on his watch and it will haunt him for the rest of his life.
At a later date, they are in court, with Barba and D’Angelo making opening arguments for Janette’s and Matt’s prosecution. D’Angelo tries to place the blame on Keith and Manuela, while Barba calls it a DCS system failure. D’Angelo says Keith failed and betrayed them.
Dr. Wilder testifies about Keisha’s condition and under cross, D’Angelo brings up doctors using triage and implies that doctors can also make mistakes when deciding who to treat first; would she be held responsible for that if a patient died? She admits should would not be charged with manslaughter,
Keith is on the stand and he explains he made the wrong choice and is so sorry. He explains that Janette and Matt ordered him to compose, backdate, and file false reports. They said if he didn’t do it, he would go to prison for Keisha’s death. All the caseworkers were expected to appear on paper more productive then they actually were. He was put on probation for spending too much time with his clients but the probation was lifted when he doubled up on falsifying documents for his clients. Under cross examination, he admits that he chose not to make those visits but says Janette and Matt knew he couldn’t. He did not report their wrongdoing to the officials. He wanted to keep his job. He admits he came forward when he faced manslaughter charges. D’Angelo claims Keith is pinning this on his supervisors to save himself, and when Barba objects, he withdraws the question. Benson, watching in the gallery with Carisi, shakes her head.
Later, Manuela, in jail, has a visit with Bruno and comments she missed Keisha’s funeral, her transportation showed up 3 hours late. Fin says this is why they are letting her see Bruno now. She is doing 8 years and by the time she gets out he will be halfway to a man. Fin tersely states they found a good home for him and if he is lucky, he won’t remember any of this – or her.
Back in Supreme Court on Friday, August 14, Janette testifies that Keith’s reports showed that the home was normal and she relied on his reports as she does not make home visits. She had no idea how badly things had evolved and is heartbroken for Keisha and how she suffered and wishes Keith had come to her sooner. Under cross examination, Barba asks if she got any promotions or raises over the past year, and she said she got two promotions and one raise, and believes it was because of productivity as it relates to case loads. Barba asks about the increase in Keith’s caseload and she interrupts and says they are all overworked. He asks if she honestly thought it was possible for one case worker to make as many home visits as she assigned him. She says according to his reports, he made those visits. But he counters she knows he didn’t, which is why after Keisha’s death she ordered him to backdate and file reports on Keisha. She states when she realized how behind he was in his paperwork, she asked him to come in so they could walk through the chain of events. Only Keith came in that day. He asks how did 130 home visit reports from other case workers get scanned in on August 8th? She states she has no knowledge of that. Barba brings up a specific cases with huge inconsistencies, his voice quivering as he reads the details. He looks at her with disgust as she claims she knew nothing. He challenges her competency and when D’Angelo objects to what he thinks is badgering, the judge allows it. She says she didn’t want any of this to happen, and he thinks she did not want to get caught. She tries to explain she is trying to do what the courts and the cops can’t do but Barba says she is asked to do her job. She gets exasperated and says god himself couldn’t do her job. D’Angelo leaps up and asks for a recess, but Janette continue to argue back, saying Barba would not last an hour in his world and is she doesn't know who would last on the front lines, pointing to others like the judge. She starts railing off about the people she deals with saying these kids are raised by wolves. She continues to fly off at the mouth and when the judge asks her if she wants a break, she gets angry and asks NOW they want to give her a break? She gets more and more upset about quotas, pointing out Matt, and saying it is impossible. She thinks they want to scapegoat her and take her down so they can feel better about themselves because there are broken people out there in the city. She challenges them that they turn away from the homeless and that this is too much. She asks if they want to put her in jail for this, to “look in the mirror, my friend. Look in the damn mirror.” Barba looks at her with an odd expression.
At Rikers Island Correctional Facility on Sunday, August 16, Keith is surprised that Janette had a complete breakdown. Carisi says she is in Bellevue and cannot continue with the trial, and the lawyer is going to plead guilty to manslaughter. Matt will do a year, and while admitting no wrongdoing, the DCS commissioner is also going to step down. The city is appointing an outside administrative board with a mandate to change the culture of the DCS. Keith comments until the cameras go away. He asks what will he do when he gets out, no one will let him work with kids again. Carisi says he will find his way.
Back at SVU, Benson is at her desk when Dodds knocks on the door. She asks him to tell it to her straight, and he says congratulations; her efforts to reform Child Service have not gone unnoticed at One PP or City Hall. She nods and comments that her promotion is not happening. But Dodds replies he had to cut a deal; they want a Sergeant under her they can trust. She counters he means a spy. Dodds says he found someone they like that will work for her: motivated, smart, and he just finished a stint in anti-crime. She asks when can she interview him, and Dodds states there is no need, he is his son. Benson looks shocked and Dodds tells her “Good night Lieutenant” and walks out of the office to leave Benson there to absorb this.
In the squad room, Dodds sees Rollins at her desk and asks how she is feeling. She says she is okay and that was a tough case. He replies “yeah” and adds they can’t save them all. She says she knows. He walks off and Rollins sits back and runs her hands over her very pregnant body, as we fade to black.
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