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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Police, Florida Blamed for Family Massacre

WEST PALM BEACH (CN) - The brother of a boy whose stepfather massacred his family says police and the Florida Department of Children and Families should have prevented the killings, which were preceded by 34 police calls to the dysfunctional home.

Patrick Dell killed his estranged wife and four of her children in her home, wounded another child and then killed himself in September 2010. Dell did not kill the two children he had with Natasha Whyte-Dell, who were in the home. Dell's wife had obtained a restraining order against him, but he continued to assail her with vicious taunts before he killed her.

Dell, 41, killed Natasha Whyte-Dell, 36, and four of her children: Javon Nelson, 11; Daniel Barnett, 10; Bryan Barnett, 14; and Diane Barnett, 13. Ryan Barnett, 15, was wounded.

Now Javon's half-brother, Leroy Nelson Jr., has sued the Florida Department of Children and Families and the City of Riviera Beach, in Palm Beach County Court.

"Nelson Jr. is the one we felt was the most appropriate to be Javon's personal representative," Nelson's attorney Vincent Miller told Courthouse News in a telephone interview. "It was a family decision and something I didn't ask about."

Before the massacre, "a long, deep history of domestic violence permeated the Dell home," the complaint states.

Police had been called to the home 34 times in the 4 years before the slaughter, and "despite clear evidence of violence taking place within the home, the Riviera Beach Police Department did nothing," the complaint states.

"Out of the thirty four (34) Riviera Beach Police responses to the Dell home, eleven (11) of those police responses were for domestic disturbances. On two (2) of these domestic disturbance calls, Patrick Dell was forcibly and violently breaking into the Dell home. On one (1) of these domestic disturbance responses, Natasha advised the Riviera Beach Police that her child's face had been stomped," according to the complaint.

Dell slashed his wife's tires, "charged at Natasha with a knife," told her "you will be going to the morgue," and Natasha told Riviera Beach police "that the incidents of violence with Patrick Dell have been increasing and that this incident put her in fear for her life."

After Dell was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief, for the knife attack of Dec. 20, 2009, the Department of Children and Families began investigating the conditions in which the children were living.

Leroy Nelson Jr. says: "DCF's investigation, conclusions, and resulting actions were woefully inadequate."

The complaint states: "DCF completed an inadequate initial in-home safety assessment, erroneously stating that there is no pattern of continuing and/or increasing frequency of incidents, either reported or unreported; that both parents have demonstrated a willingness to protect victims from any possible harm; that despite the incident which led to this matter, the parents are working on reconciling their relationship and seem to have a relationship that supports their ability to properly care for the victims; that both parents demonstrated adequate comprehension and problem solving skills; and that Natasha and Patrick Dell have demonstrated a willingness and ability to follow through with current or prior actions, referrals, and/or service.

"DCF failed to implement any safety plan that would or could address the violent and volatile situation existing within the Dell home. DCF did not recommend, suggest, or require any services or actions to address the domestic violence permeating the Dell home.

"DCF's only recommendation was for Natasha and her children to call 911 should any future domestic violence occur."

All this despite that fact that DCF documented "five (5) separate domestic disturbance calls between July 2009 and November 2009" at the home.

The DCF closed its investigation in February 2010, despite the five police calls, and despite Dell's arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, "with 'No Indicators' of Family Violence Threatens Child," the complaint states.

It continues: "DCF erroneously and negligently assessed the risk to the children in the Dell home as low, and indicated that other than Patrick Dell's December 2009 arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal mischief, there are no reliable indicators that either parent has a significant history of violence which would result in the children being in danger of harm and there is no reliable evidence which would lead DCF to believe that the children are in significant danger."

In its "investigation," Nelson says: "DCF failed to contact any third party witnesses who may have had knowledge of the domestic violence occurring in the Dell home. DCF failed to interview neighbors of relatives who knew what was happening within the Dell home.

"DCF even failed to contact the police officer who responded to the December 20, 2009 incident.

"DCF failed to follow up with the State Attorney's Office regarding the December 20, 2009 incident.

"DCF failed to follow up on the outcomes of the numerous domestic disturbance calls concerning the Dell home.

"DCF failed to inquire into the April 2008 injunction obtained by Natasha against Patrick Dell.

"DCF failed to offer domestic violence support services to Natasha and her children.

"Prior to closing the case at the end of February 2010, DCF failed to follow up with the Dell family after the initial contact."

Finally, "On September 27, 2010, despite an active injunction, Patrick Dell entered the Dell home, shot and killed Natasha and four of her children, one of whom was Javon; then fatally shot himself in the head."

Javon's brother adds: "Despite knowing that Natasha and her children were being continuously and unlawfully beaten and terrorized by Patrick Dell, Riviera and its police department provided absolutely no protective services to Natasha or the children residing in the Dell home."

Nelson seeks medical, burial, and funeral expenses, and other foreseeable damages, for wrongful death .

He is represented by Vincent Miller of Delray Beach.

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