Monday, October 22, 2018
Public safety

Mother of baby killed by dog in foster care thought family would be reunited soon

CLEARWATER — Shavon Grossman thought she was on the verge of getting her daughter back.

There was a hearing scheduled this week to discuss the future for the mother and 7-month-old Khloe Williams, who had been in foster care since May, according to the agency in charge of her case management. Grossman thought it was a matter of weeks before their reunion.

Instead, on Friday, just an hour after Grossman had seen off Khloe from a visit that morning, a dog attacked the infant at the Clearwater home of her foster father’s parents. She was pronounced dead at Mease Countryside Hospital, leaving Grossman struggling for answers.

"This is something that was preventable," Grossman, 34, said Sunday. "They’re supposed to be protecting her from me, and what happened?"

Clearwater police released few additional details Monday, citing the ongoing investigation. Khloe’s licensed foster parent was Jonathan Maser, who is also a Clearwater police detective.

In a statement, Deputy Chief Eric Gandy said the agency is "committed to conducting a fair and impartial investigation."

"The detectives are collecting evidence and conducting interviews to determine exactly how this horrible dog attack occurred," Gandy said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Dog fatally attacks 7-month-old baby girl.

Maser and his parents could not be reached for comment. The Florida Department of Children and Families will conduct a review of the child’s contact with the child welfare system.

The dog, Lynnie, is sheltered at Pinellas County Animal Services in a quarantined area for rabies observation, said bureau director Doug Brightwell. She is a year and seven months old, 45 to 50 pounds and likely a lab-hound-pitbull mix, although Brightwell said he doesn’t know the specific breeds without conducting a DNA test. Maser’s father, Paul Maser, a former Clearwater police deputy chief, adopted her about seven months ago.

Grossman hired the Law Office of Jocic and Koulianos to investigate the attack at 1125 Fairwood Ave. She told the Tampa Bay Times she had visited with Khloe from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday before a caseworker took her back to the foster family.

Why she was taken to Maser’s parents’ home instead of his home is unclear. Maser’s mother was home at the time with Lynnie. Officers were called to the house at 2:12 p.m.

"The attack was severe to the point where we’re probably going to have a closed casket," said one of Grossman’s lawyers, Nioti Koulianos. "The mother is not going to be able to see her baby’s face ever again."

Lynnie was first taken into Animal Services as a stray and was there for about a month before Paul Maser adopted her, Brightwell said. She did not show aggression toward humans or other dogs during that time. The county wants to euthanize her, Brightwell said, but they’re waiting on direction from the owners, who could decide to keep her.

"I have not seen anyone want to keep a dog that’s been involved in an incident like this," he said.

Fatal dog attacks are rare in Pinellas. The last one Brightwell’s staff could remember was in 2000 or 2001. Bites are more common, with an average of 2,100 reported to Animal Services each year.

Khloe was removed from Grossman’s care on May 15 because Grossman was not following her case plan, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which handles child protective investigations in the county.

Grossman said it was the result of unstable housing. Koulianos said she and Khloe had been living with Grossman’s sister in a home that had been vetted by child welfare workers. It didn’t work out, so they moved to a hotel provided by the state while she found her own housing.

Before the week was up, she asked her sister to take in Khloe again while she got her life in order, Koulianos said. Child welfare workers took Khloe from her sister’s house a couple of days later. A Door of Hope, an organization that connects foster children to Christian homes, placed her in Maser’s home.

"She was removed only because I was working on housing," Grossman said. "Everybody needs a little help."

Grossman added that she voluntarily enrolled in a drug treatment program, she said. Criminal records show she has been convicted for charges including drug possession and sale, prostitution and grand theft. A methamphetamine possession arrest from August is still working through the court system.

Koulianos said the recent arrest had nothing to do with Khloe’s removal and that his firm is defending her.

"She does have a record. She’s not a saint by any means," he said, but "she was getting her life together, and she was voluntarily in treatment, and her daughter was in a safe home."

Grossman kept in touch regularly with the foster parents, she said, although on Sunday, she hadn’t heard from them since the attack. She didn’t know the family had a dog.

Licensed foster homes are subjected to extensive evaluation of both the family and the physical home itself, including pets, said Chris Card, chief of community-based care at Eckerd Connects, the case management organization.

But in this case, the baby wasn’t in a licensed facility when the incident occurred, and that’s acceptable under Florida law. Foster parents have discretion to make decisions about short term babysitting without alerting a case manager or the courts.

Card said his organization will participate in a review by DCF.

"We need to look at it very carefully to make sure things were done correctly," he said. "But right now it just seems like a very horrible accident."

Times staff writers Suhauna Hussain and Kirby Wilson and senior researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.

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