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Police called CPS about slain boy's 911 plea; Domestic incident report also was filed last year

After speaking with 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud who called 911 two times on the same day a year ago to report his stepfather was harming him, Ferry-Fillmore District police officers immediately called Erie County Child Protective Services.

The officers also complied with a state law requiring them to write a domestic incident report on the April 2011 child abuse complaint that they were investigating and then forwarded it to CPS, authorities told The Buffalo News late Wednesday.

CPS declined to say anything about the police report and the allegations the child made against Ali Mohamed Mohamud, who last week was arrested and accused of killing his stepson.

In June 2011, CPS officials also investigated after the boy showed up severely bruised at school with his parents, who complained a schoolmate attacked him.

Though the outcome of that probe and the boy's earlier complaint are shrouded in the secrecy of state confidentiality laws, child protection workers never saw fit to remove him from the family's home.

According to the police report filed last April with CPS, Mohamud explained to the investigating officers that his stepson was accusing him of child abuse because of issues over the boy doing his homework.

That was the explanation Mohamud offered homicide investigators when he confessed to killing the boy April 17. He said that while he was attempting to discipline his stepson, the boy began kicking him.

Mohamud, 40, admits he tied up the boy's hands, stuck a sock in his mouth, duct-taped it shut and struck him with a baker's rolling pin. An autopsy found the boy had been hit 70 times.

The stepfather has denied ever harming the boy before last week.

A year ago, almost to the day on April 18, 2011, police officers were dispatched to 30 Guilford St. shortly past 4 p.m. after Abdifatah told a 911 complaint operator, "I'm being abused."

The operator said police were on the way, but the boy called back shortly afterward to ask them to hurry, law enforcement officials have told The News.

Officers reported they did not see any physical signs of abuse on the child, though they did not ask him to disrobe for a closer examination, authorities said.

Mohamud, authorities said, apparently downplayed the boy's claims of abuse by saying he and his stepson were at odds over him doing homework. School administrators and teachers have told The News that Abdifatah was a good student who always submitted his homework on time.

April 18, 2011, fell on a Monday during spring break.

On spring break this year, Abdifatah spent the week at the home of another family member and had only been back home for two days when he was killed, relatives said.

Also present last April as police officers answered the boy's call for help were Shukri Bile, Abdifatah's mother, along with the two younger children she had with Mohamud, in addition to another adult relative who recently alerted The News to the 911 calls.

Peter Anderson, spokesman for Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, said confidentiality laws prevent him from commenting on any response by the county's Child Protective Services Division regarding Abdifatah.

"Personally speaking, I have children of my own, and as a father, this tears at my heart," Anderson said. "However, because of state law, we can't comment on this case."

The brutality of the fatal beating has prompted members of the child psychiatric treatment community to level criticisms against Child Protective Services.

Mental health professional say that the wrong message is sometimes sent to children and their abusers by child protection workers.

"If this little boy had told a child protection worker that he was being beaten, they would have asked him if he had bruises, and if not, they would not have done anything," said Dr. Dori R. Marshall, medical director of Erie County Medical Center's Adolescent Psychiatric Unit.

She said she and her colleagues are outraged by the homicide and what CPS workers, in the past, have sometimes told abused children about the rights of their parents when it comes to corporal punishment.

Most recently, Marshall said she learned from a young teenager whose father had struck her with a belt that a CPS worker had informed the teen the father was within his rights.

"The CPS worker and her supervisor reiterated to me that in New York State it is not illegal for a parent to hit his child with a belt as long as he doesn't leave marks," she said.

Such statements by individuals hired to protect children, the psychiatrist said, not only are horrifying but also send a message that will further endanger abused children.

"What does that message tell a child -- that it is OK for a father to hit a child with a belt as long as he doesn't leave marks? It tells the child to keep quiet, and it tells the abuser to make the signs of abuse invisible to others," Marshall said.

State law allows for corporal punishment, but it cannot be excessive, CPS Administrative Director Robert Deisz said.

"The law says corporal punishment must be excessive in order for it to be regarded as abuse or neglect," he said. "The more important message is our primary concern is to keep children safe and to preserve families, even when we do uncover situations that are concerning."

So when does physical discipline of a child become a crime?

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said state law recognizes parental rights to discipline children.

"However, state law does not recognize a parental right to assault a child. In fact, state law criminalizes assault. When do we prosecute? When the evidence establishes endangering the welfare of a child or assault, or in the most extreme circumstances, homicide," Sedita said.

What about whipping a child with a belt?

"That could be prosecuted as endangering and/or assault, depending on the extent of the injuries and the intent," Sedita said.

Marshall said, "My repeated experience with CPS is that they do not have the funding to adequately take care of all the abused children in Erie County. This leads to cynicism on the front lines "

"It is sort of a perverse tendency to discredit children who are being abused in favor of supporting their abusers," said Marshall, who has treated hundreds of children who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused.

Deisz said children's claims are never minimized.

"It is truly a gross inaccuracy that we don't trust children," he said, adding that his workers are required to inform people of exactly what their authority is and what the limit of that authority is.

"There are times when we have to explain the limits of our authority to other professionals," he said. "We cannot always control how they interpret what we say."

Marshall said she and fellow mental health officials at ECMC are planning to reach out to county and state officials in the next couple of weeks to discuss implementing better approaches in responding to cases of child abuse.

Mohamud, meanwhile, remains incarcerated without bail at the Erie County Holding Center on a charge of second-degree murder, awaiting a review of the homicide allegation by an Erie County grand jury.