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City Blamed for Not Preventing Toddler Death

BROOKLYN (CN) - Child welfare officials turned a blind eye to repeated complaints of abuse filed by the father of a toddler beaten to death by her mother and step-father, a lawsuit claims.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in New York Supreme Court, the Kings County Public Administrator says New York City's Administration for Children's Services ignored at least 18 warnings from Terrel Smith, the father of Thaiya Princetta Spruil-Smith, after he noticed bruises, cuts and other signs of possible child abuse.

The 2-year-old died on Nov. 19, 2014, after her stepfather, David Adams admitted to shaking and hitting her when she wouldn't stop crying while in his care.

In March 2015, the city medical examiner determined Thaiya died from abusive head trauma and her death was ruled a homicide. Ironically, the finding was announced the same day Adams, who had been held on assault charges since the child died, was released on $200,000 bail.

He was charged with the murder of the child the following day.

His attorney, Peter Guadagnino, later said his client "maintains his innocence 100 percent completely."

"He was not the one who caused this child to die," Guadagnino told the New York Daily News.

Smith contends that both Adams and the girl's mother, Teoka Spruill-Adam, caused his daughter's death, but that the city's child welfare officials "did nothing meaningfully to investigate these blatant and glaring warning signs."

According to the lawsuit, caseworkers failed to act on reports the girl was subjected to repeated abuse. "These well documented facts made Thaiya's death not just foreseeable, but virtually inevitable," the complaint says.

"Thaiya certainly deserved far better than the abuse to which was subject, and which culminated in her brutal murder," the lawsuit continues.

Caseworkers were "grossly negligent and reckless" in failing to prevent the death of a "defenseless two-year-old girl," it continues.

"Their derelictions of duties is the reason the sun set on Thiaya's life so prematurely - they should be held accountable for the consequences of their indefensible failure to act," the complaint says.

The girl's father filed a petition in Queens County Family Court in May 2012 for custody. The baby's grandmother, Diane Howard, then filed a complaint with Administration for Children's Services against her own daughter.

But the court gave custody to the woman in August 2012.

After Adams moved in with his ex-girlfriend, Smith started to notice bruises on the girl's face when he'd come to pick her up, the complaint says.

Smith claims when pressed the girl's mother about the injuries, she claimed the girl had "fallen over and slammed her face to the ground."

Smith says his daughter threw herself on the floor when she knew it was time to return to her mother, and outright refused to go home after weekend visits with him.

That behavior prompted him to contact Administration for Children's Services to report his suspicions of abuse.

But after an "inexplicably and inexcusably negligent, reckless and untimely investigation," Administration for Children's Services didn't tell the family court of the "deplorable conditions" the girl was living in, the complaint says.

Smith filed a number of petitions with the Kings County Family Court for full custody for full custody of his daughter, and the Thaiya Spruil-Smith was allowed to live with her maternal grandmother for a time in the fall of 2014.

But the arrangement "was short-lived" and the girl was sent back to her mother, the lawsuit says.

After Thaiya Spruil-Smith was rushed to the hospital and was pronounced brain dead on Nov. 12, 2014, she remained on life support for a week while her parents battled bitterly over donating her organs.

It was ultimately decided her organs would not be donated, and she was removed from life support Nov. 19, 2014. She died the following morning.

The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages for negligence and wrongful death.

They are represented by David Hernandez in Brooklyn.

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