TAMPA — Fredreda Scott had not seen her year-old son for more than a month. She worried about the environment at his father's home, and on Tuesday afternoon called the child abuse hotline to check on him.
Ninety minutes later, she was summoned to a hospital.
Her son, Ronderique Anderson, was struggling for life with a fractured skull and bleeding brain.
The father, Dwayne Poole, told authorities his 16-month-old son had fallen down the stairs. But when the child's injuries did not match the story, police said they confronted him again.
Tuesday night, Poole, 23, admitted hitting his son with an open fist and a belt and throwing him on a bed, causing his head to hit a wall or dresser, police said.
Poole was punishing his son for playing near an electrical socket, police said.
He was charged with aggravated child abuse and held without bail at a Hillsborough County jail.
At St. Joseph's Hospital on Wednesday, family of both parents gathered, awaiting word on the child.
Scott's stepmother, Tashia Nunn-Scott, said doctors told her family Wednesday the child had been downgraded from a 50 percent chance of survival, and that "if he does live, he'll be in a vegetative state."
In a statement, police said he "appears to be brain dead with a minimal chance of survival."
Outside the hospital, a group of Scott's family and friends criticized the state Department of Children and Families for how it handled the child's custody case.
In September, as the 18-year-old Scott was without a home or job, the court opened an investigation and awarded Poole temporary custody of the boy, whose last name of Anderson stems from confusion over his biological father when he was born.
Scott and her family had to give up the child, who moved in with Poole, his girlfriend and their infant daughter in Temple Crest.
Scott had visitation rights, family and friends said, but they were seldom honored, and when they were, Ronderique seemed poorly cared for.
"We never could get him," said Nunn-Scott. "And when we did, he had on like a shirt, some socks, no diapers, no milk, no cup."
In November, Nunn-Scott said she told the caseworker she would take Ronderique but never heard back. When she called a month later, the worker told her the court had granted Poole formal custody.
Records show Poole was arrested three times in 2005 and 2006 on battery charges, but never brought to court.
In 2008, adjudication was withheld for Scott when she pleaded no contest to resisting arrest and unlawful assembly charges, according to records. She violated probation twice after that, records show. Scott declined to comment.
Jeff Rainey, a spokesman for Hillsborough Kids Inc., DCF's contractor in charge of child support services, said Poole's and Scott's records would have been considered in the custody decision, and at least up until December, there were no allegations Poole abused Ronderique.
After the decision, Scott's family said visits became infrequent, and with them came evidence of abuse: bruises and two missing front teeth.
Scott "called DCF and said my baby is being abused in that house, y'all need to do something," Nunn-Scott said, "and they didn't do anything."
DCF spokesman Terry Field said there is no record of reports of abuse. Rainey said there are no reports before December, but his agency needs to look into subsequent weeks.
Poole's sister, Celica Craft, said she does not believe her brother hit his son.
"He seemed like a good, good father, always working just to take care of his two kids," she said, noting that she did not know what he did for work.
But Scott's family and friends told a different story, one of hostility between Poole and Scott that caught their child in between.
"There was just so much hatred and anger," Nunn-Scott said. "That's what ultimately led to this."
Jack Nicas can be reached at (813) 226-3401 or firstname.lastname@example.org.