Marchella Piercemarchella pierce

Marchella twin of Miracle were both born early to a drug addicted mother. Miracle died at birth. Premature Marchella was born weighing 1 pound 4 ounces. She would lived with doctors and nurses and be transferred from at least 6 different Health Care Facilities. She would have to be placed on a tracheal tube to help her breath. In 2009 Marchella would be transferred to Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility. The facility had been faulted for myriad violations that include medication errors and neglect. The facility would be put on federal watch. It went into bankruptcy. It would be bought by a new owner.
Marchella’s story doesn’t end there. When Marchella’s mother gave birth to a baby boy she tested positive for drugs. Her mother would be enrolled in drug treatment but did not comply. A month after Marchella was released to her mother she had to be taken back in to check her breathing tube. When the doctors tried to show her mother how to properly care for the tube she refused. A second call to child abuse registry was made at this time.
After an initial investigation it was reported the mother was hostile and needed an evaluation. A case worker assigned to the family’s case was supposed to be making frequent trips to see the children but didn’t. Even though there had only been one visit to the home and the drug treatment program confirmed the mother was still using drugs and had even threatened an employee, the agency recommended that the case be closed and that the children were safe. The case would remain open in light of the mother testing positive for marijuana.
When Marchella was 4 years old she would only weigh 18 pounds. Marchella mother called 911 saying she unresponsive and cold. When the ambulance arrived  Marchella The coroner ruled the death a homicide and ascribed it to child abuse syndrome involving drug poisoning, blunt impact injuries and malnutrition.
Prosecutors said Ms. Brett-Pierce had starved Marchella, force-fed her antihistamines and beaten her with the video case and a belt. Ms. Brett-Pierce told an officer she had tied Marchella to the bed because she was “wild” and would wake up at night to get food.

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Published: May 8, 2011

She died in September by the ugliest means, weighing an unthinkable 18 pounds, half what a 4-year-old ought to. She withered in poverty in a home in Brooklyn where the authorities said she had been drugged and often bound to a toddler bed by her mother, having realized a bare thimble’s worth of living.

Marchella Pierce
The horrid nature of Marchella Pierce’s death produced four arrests. This week, Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, is convening a grand jury to explore what he called “evidence of alleged systemic failures” in New York City’s child welfare agency, which had monitored the girl’s family.

An examination of Marchella’s bleak, fleeting life, drawn from interviews with relatives, neighbors and law enforcement authorities, as well as from legal documents, shows that almost nothing went right for her. She entered the world prematurely with underdeveloped lungs. When she was not in a hospital, she was being raised in the uproar of a helter-skelter, combative family struggling with drugs. And when she came under the watch of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, an agency remade a number of times after child deaths, her well-being fell to caseworkers who, prosecutors say, essentially ignored the family.

Marchella’s household was brought to the agency’s attention in late 2009, yet for several months after that it appears no one there knew that the girl, hospitalized for most of her life, even existed. After she was taken home from a nursing home, she was supposed to be looked after by not one but two sets of caseworkers, one set from the city and one from a private agency under contract to the city.

Although Children’s Services ended that contract last year, records make clear that it had known for years that the private agency had troubles, including making insufficient visits to families.

Marchella’s mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, 31, is charged with murder, and her grandmother, Loretta Brett, 56, with manslaughter. Both are in jail awaiting trial. Damon Adams, 37, a Children’s Services caseworker, and his supervisor, Chereece Bell, 34, are charged with criminally negligent homicide; it is thought to be the first time that city child welfare workers have been incriminated in a death. Prosecutors said that Mr. Adams had not made required visits to the family and lied about it, and that Ms. Bell had failed to supervise him. Both have left the agency.

All four have said they are innocent. None would comment for this article.

Other relatives of Marchella are dismayed about what happened to her. “It’s wrong,” the child’s great-aunt, Levonnia Parnell, said. “That’s not a child that asked to be here. No child deserves what she got. She got a nightmare.”

The Marcy Houses public housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, is where Marchella’s parents grew up and where their futures seemed to freeze.

Her great-grandmother Leola Brown lived in a jampacked apartment with her daughters, Loretta and Martha, and eventually Martha’s two children and Loretta’s daughter, Carlotta. Martha, a nurse, died young of cancer. Husbands and fathers were absent.

Loretta Brett and Carlotta, both wafer-thin, were known as truculent people with fiery tempers. Neighbors said they regularly smoked marijuana and crack. The police arrested Carlotta twice for criminal possession of marijuana and once for assault.

“Carlotta was a troublemaker,” a neighbor, Evelyn Rizzo, said of Marchella’s mother. “You’d look at her and that was enough to make trouble.” She said Ms. Brett-Pierce once threw a padlock at her, hitting her in the face. Another neighbor said in a police report that Ms. Brett had punched her while Ms. Brett-Pierce smashed her with a bat.

“They were just evil,” said Elizabeth Soto, who also lived in the building. Ms. Brett cut her in the head with a razor blade, she said. When Ms. Soto was pregnant, she said, Ms. Brett-Pierce threatened “to give me an abortion.”

The police were called several times, and Ms. Soto said she got an order of protection against the two women.

Ms. Brett-Pierce listed herself on her MySpace page as a model and an entrepreneur, but relatives said she never worked. Years ago, she began dating Tyrone Pierce, who lived in a companion building. In 1996, at 16, he was arrested twice on drug charges.

Antagonized neighbors finally began a petition to have the Bretts kicked out. And the Bretts had another problem: The lease was in Leola Brown’s name, and she died in 2001.

Court papers say Ms. Brett and Ms. Brett-Pierce forged Leola’s name on documents after she was dead, to try to claim the apartment. In 2005, the New York City Housing Authority evicted them. They moved nearby, and then to a third-floor apartment on Madison Street, also in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Mr. Pierce, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to robbery in 1998 after being accused of a string of thefts as well as drug possession. In June 2004, he was released from prison on parole, which he violated several months later by going to South Carolina for his mother’s funeral without permission. Returned to prison, he was in a cell when his son was born. He got out in September 2005. Soon, Ms. Brett-Pierce was again pregnant, with twins.

Marchella weighed 1 pound 4 ounces when she was born, prematurely, on April 3, 2006. A relative recalls thinking she was about the size of a one-liter Pepsi bottle. A twin sister, born first, died. Her name was Miracle.

Marchella had a fluty whisper of a voice. Too fragile for the outside world, she lived amid a swirl of doctors and nurses, shuffled among at least six health care facilities. To help her breathe, she had a tracheal tube, which required regular cleaning.

In mid-2009, in final preparation for family life, she entered the Northwoods Rehabilitation and Extended Care Facility at Hilltop, near Schenectady, N.Y., about 170 miles from Brooklyn. For years, the State Health Department had faulted it for myriad violations, including neglect and medication errors. In 2007, regulators put Northwoods on a federal watch list of homes with persistent serious problems. It was in bankruptcy until a new owner bought it last summer.

Marchella’s parents visited her and told relatives they got training at Northwoods to care for her. Ms. Brett-Pierce would take a cab, for $130 each way. “She took cabs everywhere,” Shaquanna Parnell, her sister-in-law, said. “That was her.”

By then, the parents had separated. Ms. Brett-Pierce was also pregnant with her third child.

The household was anything but peaceful. “They fought a lot,” Ms. Parnell, a school crossing guard, said. Ms. Brett-Pierce, furious that Mr. Pierce did not help financially, would refuse to let him see his son, Ms. Parnell said.

“She would call me and leave messages on my machine, ‘I’m going to hurt him,’ ” Ms. Parnell said, adding, “Carlotta talked a lot of mouth.”

On Feb. 9, 2009, Mr. Pierce called the police, saying his wife would not let him get his clothes. When they arrived he was gone. That October, the authorities said, she called the police about him, saying he had slapped her. The police said she had a cut inside her lip. He was gone when they arrived. They returned several times but did not find him.

Mr. Pierce, 31, would not comment for this article. After Marchella’s death, he said he knew nothing of her being abused.

In November 2009, the family came to the attention of the child protection agency. Ms. Brett-Pierce gave birth to another son and tested positive for drugs. The case was assigned to the Child Development Support Corporation; since 1987, it had had a contract to furnish preventive services to at-risk Brooklyn families. Ms. Brett-Pierce was enrolled in drug treatment but was far from compliant. And according to Children’s Services, the private agency never made anything near the specified number of visits to the home.

On Dec. 7, the police stopped by Madison Street again, following up on the October assault complaint. Ms. Brett-Pierce would not let them in, but they found Mr. Pierce outside and arrested him. It is unclear what happened to the case, but he served no jail time.

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Police protocol is to notify the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment when domestic abuse occurs and children are in the home. The police did not do so, because, they said, they were unaware there were children in the home.

Two months later, on Feb. 9, 2010, after 10 months at Northwoods, Marchella was discharged. It is not clear if the nursing home knew that the parents were feuding and that the mother was a drug user being monitored by Children’s Services. Both Children’s Services and the private agency said they doubted they knew then that Marchella even existed; she was still in the nursing home when the complaint about her mother’s drug use came in, and it is not known whether caseworkers had compiled a full family history.

And so a girl weighing a slight 26 pounds entered the chaotic world of her mother to begin the final sequence in a life that had had no good ones.


The Madison Street apartment was cramped. One bedroom was used for storage. Ms. Brett-Pierce shared another with her two sons. Marchella slept with her grandmother in the third. Ms. Brett-Pierce’s cousins took the living room.


Things quickly fell apart. A month after Marchella came home, Ms. Brett-Pierce took her to the hospital because the breathing tube had malfunctioned. Doctors found the mother oddly insouciant, and she refused to be taught how to tend the tube. A call was made to the child abuse registry.

Children’s Services sent an investigator to the home, about the only action it found appropriate in a blistering post-mortem investigation of its actions in the case. The mother was reported to be hostile and in need of evaluation.

The agency assigned the family to one of its own caseworkers, Mr. Adams, who had joined it in 2006. He was a graduate of Tufts University, where he studied psychology and childhood development and was a star athlete. For the next three months, both he and the Child Development Support Corporation were supposed to be looking out for Marchella.

In 2005, the city had put the support corporation on a watch list for poor performance, and the next year the city gave it a “needs improvement” rating. In March 2008, an audit by the city comptroller found it made insufficient visits to families and did not test parents in substance abuse treatment.

The corporation’s contract expired at the end of 2008. Despite the negative audit, Children’s Services renewed the contract to June 30, 2010.

According to Children’s Services, the private agency recommended in May that the Pierce case be closed, saying the home was stable and the children were safe. Yet there was only one visit in which Marchella was reported seen. Moreover, the drug treatment program had told the private agency that Ms. Brett-Pierce continued to abuse drugs and had threatened an employee.

When Ms. Brett-Pierce tested positive again for marijuana, Children’s Services decided to keep the case open.

Marcia Rowe-Riddick, the executive director of the support corporation, said it felt its work was improving. But in April 2010, when the city announced new contracts, it was not allowed to bid because of “performance issues.”

Ms. Rowe-Riddick said that Children’s Services had the records from the Brett-Pierce case and that she did not know whether her agency had done anything wrong. Those assigned to the case, she said, are gone, laid off after the city contract ended.

John B. Mattingly, the Children’s Services commissioner, declined to be interviewed for this article, saying it was inappropriate with the pending grand jury inquiry.

In the Madison Street home, drugs remained common. In June, Loretta Brett was arrested for possession of marijuana; she had four prior arrests, including ones for robbery and assault.

By July 1, Mr. Adams was the only caseworker for Marchella’s family. Colleagues said that he was diligent and that caseworkers juggled impossible workloads. They said they were forced to assign their own priorities and decide which households to visit and which to skip. “You ask yourself, if I don’t do a visit, will this child die?” said Kelly Mares, a city caseworker supportive of Mr. Adams and his supervisor, Ms. Bell. “That’s horrible. But that’s what we have to do. The truth is any child can die if you don’t make a visit.”

The arrests have made things worse, she said. “I don’t know how to do this job,” she said. “We’re terrified.”

Children’s Services, in its own investigation, said it was “questionable” that Mr. Adams had ever seen the family. After the child’s death, the agency said, Mr. Adams documented visits he supposedly had made, and Ms. Bell documented meetings she said she had had with Mr. Adams. Ms. Bell had been with the agency 12 years, a married mother of two young children who was working on a double graduate degree.

Her lawyer said Ms. Bell had wanted Mr. Adams transferred because his work was substandard. Mr. Adams, his lawyer said, knew of no transfer plans.

Relatives of Marchella said the girl had spent much of the time with her grandmother, Ms. Brett. As for Ms. Brett-Pierce, “she would shop, shop, shop,” Shaquanna Parnell said

Marchella kept losing weight. “She was thin but she didn’t seem like a difficult child,” said Keyba Wright, a sister of Mr. Pierce. She had trouble with solids, and Ms. Brett-Pierce sometimes fed her liquid nutrition products.


Levonnia Parnell, the great-aunt, invited Ms. Brett-Pierce and her children to a party in Harlem last July for her own son’s high school graduation. It was the last time she saw Marchella. She wrapped the child in her arms. She said Marchella’s bones were visible through her flesh. She recalled, “People said, What happened to her?”

Twine on the Bedposts

Carlotta Brett-Pierce called 911 a little after 7 a.m. last Sept. 2 to say her daughter was unresponsive, her hands cold.

When an ambulance arrived, Marchella was dead. The police found marijuana and crack in the apartment, and signs of a horrifying existence.

Twine was knotted to the child’s bedposts. Ligature marks scarred her ankles. The authorities said Loretta Brett, the grandmother, told them Marchella had been tied up for part of each day for months, though Ms. Brett’s lawyer denied she had said this. The girl had multiple bruises suggesting beatings, which prosecutors say both mother and grandmother inflicted. Blood speckled the wall and a video case the police fished out of the trash.

Prosecutors said Ms. Brett-Pierce had starved Marchella, force-fed her antihistamines and beaten her with the video case and a belt. Ms. Brett-Pierce told an officer she had tied Marchella to the bed because she was “wild” and would wake up at night to get food.

The coroner ruled the death a homicide and ascribed it to child abuse syndrome involving drug poisoning, blunt impact injuries and malnutrition.

Marchella’s brothers, who were in good health, were taken by the authorities. Before her arrest, Ms. Brett, the grandmother, tried to gain custody, but she tested positive for marijuana.

Mr. Pierce is not working. Relatives say he never did. Since leaving prison in 2005, he has had 10 more arrests, including one in February for driving without a license and one in March for marijuana possession. He lives in Brooklyn with a girlfriend, a home health care aide who has several children.

Despite his instability and persistent arrests, he hopes to get custody of Marchella’s brothers, now 6 and 1. They are with a foster family. He sees them one hour a week. At a recent hearing, his lawyer told the judge that Mr. Pierce wanted more time with them. A representative for the boys said that the older son had been asked and did not want to see his father longer — that an hour a week was enough.

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