Police: CPS didn’t call back on baby in car weeks before death

Noah Johnson (Photo via WOOD)
Noah Johnson (Photo via WOOD)

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — A report obtained by Target 8 shows Children’s Protective Services failed to call Wyoming police back immediately after officers discovered a baby left unattended in a vehicle.

According to the police report obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the Wyoming Department of Public Safety turned the 5-month-old back over to his mom after the incident outside a Family Video store.

Sixteen days later, Noah Johnson was dead, allegedly due to his mom’s intentional neglect. His mother, Lovily Johnson, is now charged with murder and child abuse.

Shortly before 11 p.m. July 3, a caller reported a crying baby left alone in a vehicle for “over” 30 minutes. When police responded to the parking lot of Family Video at 3556 Byron Center Ave. SW, they “discovered a baby in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle in a rear-facing car seat.”

“The vehicle’s driver and passenger side windows were rolled down a few inches and the vehicle was unlocked. The keys were not in the vehicle and the vehicle was not running,” Officer Jake Terpstra wrote in his report.

Police also found suspected marijuana and various pot paraphernalia in the vehicle.

When Noah’s mom came out of the store with her boyfriend, police reported that “she did not appear to care that the child was in the vehicle alone and unsupervised and she kept defending why she needed to rent multiple DVDs.”

A sergeant on scene called CPS and advised the agency of the situation. He reported that CPS told him it would “contact [police] back shortly with their recommendation.”

“After nearly an hour of waiting, CPS did not call us back,” Terpstra wrote.

Police had cuffed Johnson because Kentwood had a warrant out for her arrest on a probation violation connected to an embezzlement case.

“Since CPS never re-contacted us and we had nobody to come pick up the child, Kentwood PD advised us to … release Lovily on the warrant,” continued the report.

Wyoming police told Johnson they would seek charges for child neglect against her.

“[Noah] was turned back over to his mother,” Terpstra wrote.

When Target 8 reached out to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees CPS, Monday, the agency said that it couldn’t discuss the specifics of the case. However, a spokesperson did say that whenever CPS gets a call, it assigns a case worker — but a case worker may not always available to respond immediately. CPS also said it relies on law enforcement to remove children from dangerous situations, which police can do under Michigan law.

Wyoming police stated Noah didn’t appear to have been harmed in the incident and that officers would not have allowed him to remain in his mother’s care if he was in immediate danger.

Statement from Wyoming DPS Lt. Mark Easterly:

Like so many in our community, members of Wyoming Department of Public Safety were deeply saddened by the tragic death of Noah Johnson. Our responding officers, who are all parents, followed long-established child safety protocols in responding to the July 3 incident, including considering the time of day (10:30 p.m.), the ambient air temperature at that point of the evening and that the child did not appear to have been harmed during those minutes. Following protocol, our officers then contacted Child Protective Services.

“Our officers responded to the situation at hand with the best available information available to them at the time. Had the child been in immediate danger, he would not have been released to his mother. The only person responsible for Noah’s death is the person who did not feed the child, who failed to give him any liquids, and who left the child sitting unattended and strapped in a car seat in a sweltering room for close to 48 hours. That person was the child’s mother, Lovily Johnson, which has (sic) confirmed by the medical examiner’s report. She is currently awaiting trial for his murder.”

Statements from DHHS:

The Michigan Child Protection Law prohibits MDHHS from releasing details about any specific CPS investigations. However, we can speak in general about how the department works with the court system to address the safety and well-being of children involved in CPS cases.

“When we receive a report of abuse or neglect from a private citizen, or law enforcement, a CPS worker is assigned to investigate.

“In the event that the CPS worker is unable to respond to the report while law enforcement is on the scene of the incident, CPS would then follow up with the report by visiting the home of the reported individual(s) to conduct their investigation.

“In conducting the investigation, MDHHS determines if the child is abused or neglected. If it is determined that the child cannot remain in the home safely, MDHHS petitions the local court for removal of the child.

“There are many factors and varying circumstances that determine our response time. However, our Centralized Intake unit responds to reports of abuse or neglect any time, day or night.

“If it is reported that a child’s safety is at risk, a CPS worker is assigned to investigate the situation immediately.

“In the event a child’s safety is in danger, we do rely on law enforcement to take the child into custody. Michigan Child Protection Law does give them the right to do so.”

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