Police investigate baby’s death
By Don Lehman
GLENS FALLS — Police and Warren County officials are investigating the death of an 8-month-old baby in a Montcalm Street apartment, a death that happened weeks after the county Department of Social Services removed the baby from the home because of conditions there but then allowed him to return.
A union official said Thursday that he believed “Social Services failed that baby,” at least in part because of job cuts and an agency restructuring that occurred in recent months. The official, labor relations specialist Jon Premo of the Civil Service Employees Association, said Social Services employees had been expressing concern since the summer about being able to do their jobs amid budget cuts.
It has not been determined how the child, Hayden M. Jones, died, Glens Falls Police said. The child was sleeping on a couch with his mother, Amber LaBarge, on the morning of Oct. 11, and when LaBarge awoke, the baby was dead.
An autopsy performed on the child could not pinpoint a cause of death, but the investigation is continuing, said Glens Falls Police Detective Sgt. Paul Frettoloso.
No natural causes for the death were found, but there was no trauma or any other indication of foul play, and no charges were filed, he said. Police have theorized the baby suffocated.
Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said authorities are awaiting a final autopsy report.
Hayden had been removed from the home over the summer after the Department of Social Services received a complaint about conditions in the 12 Montcalm St. apartment where he had been staying with LaBarge and at least six other people. Hayden’s father was not among those living there, officials said.
The home was littered with garbage and considered unfit for the baby, authorities said. So the child was given to his father, Joshua Jones of Hudson Falls, until conditions at the Montcalm Street apartment improved.
Glens Falls Police Officer John Norton, who was one of the first officers to arrive at the home Oct. 11, said the apartment had no electricity or hot water, maggots in the kitchen and bathroom, and garbage strewn throughout. He said the conditions were bad enough for officers to notify the city Building and Codes office about apparent code violations.
John Ward, the city’s code enforcement officer, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
It was unclear whether workers with the Department of Social Services checked the home after Hayden was allowed to return to LaBarge’s care.
“I think if they had gone back there they would have removed the kid again, definitely,” Frettoloso said.
“It obviously passed the standard to put the child back in the home, but it didn’t stay that way,” said Glens Falls Police Detective Sgt. Peter Casertino.
Hayden did have a crib and clean clothes, and seemed in good health overall before his death, Frettoloso said. LaBarge did not have her own room or bed, and slept on the couch.
It was unclear when Hayden was returned to the Glens Falls home.
In a phone interview this week, LaBarge, 19, said the baby was returned to the home a few weeks before his death, but she could not pinpoint the date.
She said she had asked the Department of Social Services for help earlier this fall because she wanted to get out of the apartment, which is where her mother lives, because she knew the conditions were bad for the child. She said she was told there was a waiting list for “temporary assistance.”
“I told them I needed to get out of there,” she said. “I did everything I could to get out of that place for my baby.”
Labarge, who works at a local fast food restaurant, said she slept with Hayden on the couch the night of his death because he had been “screaming his head off.” She said she thought he was teething.
She said she understood police were continuing to investigate the death, but said, “I’d never hurt my son. That was my baby. I would have done anything for him.”
Premo, a labor relations specialist for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents 480 Warren County workers, including employees of the Department of Social Services, said workers in the department have expressed concerns to him about their ability to do their jobs in light of cuts and changes to the department in recent months.
He said five caseworkers quit over the summer after a restructuring that changed the on-call caseworker system.
An agency restructuring last month eliminated six jobs, and some were “direct supervisors” that, Premo said, oversaw and assisted caseworkers. Additional layoffs happened during a round of cuts during the spring.
In e-mails to a reporter dating back to late August, Premo relayed concerns that the apparent problems at the Department of Social Services could hurt the services the agency provides and result in a tragedy.
“I do think this is related to the cuts and restructuring,” he said Thursday. “Everybody has been moved from their chairs. It’s a difficult situation. There seems to be blame all-around.”
He said he had discussed the baby death situation with employees of the department, but was not at liberty to say what he believed happened.
Sheila Weaver, the county’s commissioner of social services, said Wednesday she “could not confirm or deny anything to do with” the Hayden Jones case.
Fred Monroe, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said Weaver briefed him and County Attorney Paul Dusek about the case recently.
He said it is standard practice for the chairman of the board and county attorney to be notified when a child who had been subject to Department of Social Services action died, though it hadn’t happened before during his two-year tenure at the helm of the board.
“They both cautioned me that we couldn’t say much because there are privacy aspects,” Monroe said.
Dusek did not return a phone call about the matter Thursday.