The death of an 11-month-old girl in 2018 has resulted in a wrongful death suit against The State of Alabama Department of Human Resources, DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner, and two Monroe County Department of Human Resources employees, Latisha Young and Pamela Knight.
The baby’s mother, Bonita Cunningham, and her boyfriend, Dennis Richardson, have both been indicted on a murder charge. In March 2019, a Monroe County Circuit Judge ordered that Bonita Cunningham undergo a mental evaluation.
The suit alleges that in October of 2017 11-month-old Catalaya Jordan Kyles was taken to the Monroe County Hospital for injuries she was reported have gotten form “head butting her mother.”
Later that day Catalaya was transferred to USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Mobile where she was diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome, a condition that results in bruising, swelling and bleeding of the brain. Catalaya was hospitalized for three days for treatment of her injuries and DHR removed her from the home.
According to the court filing, Catalaya was returned to the home still shared by Cunningham and Dennis in March 2018 after Cunningham completed treatment for drug addiction.
On March 29, 2018, Catalaya was rushed by ambulance to Monroe County Hospital because she was “cold and unresponsive”. Doctors at the hospital reported that “Catalaya had died and that she had been dead for hours before she arrived at the hospital,” according to the lawsuit.
Autopsy results showed that Catalaya died from blunt force trauma and had suffered broken ribs, a broken arm, internal bleeding and blunt force trauma to her abdomen.
The suit states that DHR was aware of the prior abuse and returned the infant to live with the perpetrators who had inflicted the abuse upon her.
Birmingham attorneys Tommy James and Jeremy Knowles filed the suit on behalf of Catalaya's maternal grandmother.
“Catalaya should never have been placed back in that home. It is incomprehensible that she was returned to where she had already suffered such horrific abuse,” said James. “This infant is dead because the people at DHR did not do their jobs and it is appalling that this was allowed to happen. The system completely broke down and failed this child.”
The suit seeks an unspecified amount in punitive damages and seeks to compel the defendants to perform their legal duties.
Both Cunningham and Dennis are currently awaiting trial on the murder charge.