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Child death report: Mom backed boyfriend

Erie County social workers responded six times to a West Side home after reports that the man in the house was abusing a young boy.

But each time a social worker arrived and inquired, Nora D. Brooks defended her boyfriend, Matthew W. Kuzdzal, and said he was not abusing her son, Eain Clayton Brooks. She also denied harming him herself. If the boy got hurt, it was accidental, she said.

Eventually, though, Kuzdzal killed Eain, and now Brooks’ actions are coming to light in a state inquiry into how the 5-year-old boy died.

Brooks repeatedly defended Kuzdzal, saying that he was “good” with Eain and that he “loved” the child. She told a social worker that she had questioned Eain to find out whether Kuzdzal was hitting him and that the child said no.

When Kuzdzal spanked the boy and left a bruise on his buttocks, Brooks said, she forbade him from spanking Eain again. He was, after all, not the boy’s father.

Brooks’ actions are outlined in the child fatality report by the state Office of Children and Family Services. The report describes a mother who decided not to question why her son often ended up injured when he was alone with Kuzdzal, although she eventually acknowledged to a caseworker that it seemed “strange” that Eain’s injuries occurred whenever she was away from their home.

But the report also provides statements that Brooks, 25, was present at times when her son was beaten by Kuzdzal, who last fall was convicted in Erie County Court of second-degree murder and predatory sexual conduct in Eain’s death. Kuzdzal, 27, was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

In part, the report cites incidents that occurred while Brooks, Kuzdzal and Eain were living temporarily with a friend of Brooks in the spring of 2013, before they moved into the West Side apartment where Kuzdzal fatally fractured Eain’s skull after becoming angry at the boy for wetting his pants.

“The friend confirmed drug use by the mother and boyfriend and indicated seeing bruises on the child and the child reporting the boyfriend picked him up and slammed his head into a wall,” the report states. “This friend witnessed the boyfriend, in front of the mother, scream and yell at the child, hit the child in the head hard, grab him by the throat, leaving red marks on his neck, and spank his bare bottom.”

Another incident highlights an apparent attempt by Brooks and Kuzdzal to raise questions about how Eain suffered a black eye.

The report says an official at Gateway-Longview, where Eain had attended a preschool program for developmentally challenged children, became suspicious when Brooks said Eain suffered the black eye at school.

“The staff said no one saw the child get hurt at school. They learned about it when the mother called, asking what happened. The school indicated hearing the mother’s boyfriend in the background telling the mother what to say,” the report states, adding that Brooks later denied that Kuzdzal had coached her.

Gateway-Longview staff members and relatives of the boy had filed several complaints of child abuse and neglect on Eain’s behalf, but the allegations against Brooks and Kuzdzal were never substantiated and the boy remained in their custody.

At one point, Robin Hart, the maternal grandmother, had asked an Erie County Child Protective Services caseworker whether Eain would have to die before action was taken. After Eain was killed, two caseworkers were fired, two supervisors were suspended and the administrator in charge of CPS was reassigned.

The fatality report also cites an interview between a caseworker and Brooks in the days after Eain was taken off life support and died in Women & Children’s Hospital on Sept. 17, 2013. The caseworker challenged Brooks on her statements that she was unaware of Kuzdzal harming Eain.

“(T)he caseworker believed the mother knew her boyfriend was hurting the subject child,” the report states. “The mother denied that she knew. The caseworker asked about her boyfriend hitting the subject child in the head. The mother said that her boyfriend would tap the subject child open handed in the head.

“The caseworker asked about her boyfriend grabbing the subject child by the throat, leaving marks. The mother said that her boyfriend would grab the subject child by the shoulders, but didn’t leave marks,” the report says.

Brooks, who was pregnant at the time of Eain’s death, was not allowed to keep the newborn daughter after the birth Oct. 3, 2013, because of her actions regarding Eain, according to the fatality report. The baby is in long-term foster care with relatives, and Brooks is allowed to visit. Kuzdzal is the baby’s father.

Brooks could not be reached to comment Tuesday.

The fatality report’s findings require Erie County CPS to implement a number of measures to require more thorough investigations of child abuse complaints. State laws also were passed to strengthen protection of children who end up in the CPS system.