Calling it a "tragic case," Sacramento County sheriff's and Child Protective Services officials insisted late Tuesday that they are taking aggressive action to find a 22-month-old boy who has been missing for nearly a year.
But they were less interested in discussing how little Dwight Stallings could have disappeared last April without a missing person's report being filed until last week.
"I absolutely understand the public outcry, and we are very concerned about this baby," said Michelle Callejas, the recently installed chief of Sacramento County CPS. "It is a tragic situation, and we will do our best to locate this child."
The baby Dwight case is a fiery start for Callejas, who took over the agency in December after a series of scandals and investigative reports in The Bee led to overhaul of agency leadership and its policies.
The latest case will likely renew questions about how CPS evaluates risky home situations and how thoroughly its front-line workers document their findings.
In a news conference county officials called Tuesday with sheriff's spokesman Jason Ramos, Callejas declined repeatedly to answer questions, citing confidentiality laws.
Ramos said officials wanted to refute the perception that agencies "either have not been cooperative or have not had a cooperative relationship."
Callejas would not say who she thought was responsible for the situation, but Ramos said the blame ultimately lies with the child's mother.
"The buck stops there to a certain extent," he said.
Tanisha Edwards, 35, is in custody and has been unwilling or unable to provide information on Dwight's whereabouts.
"There's been a certain degree of contradiction in her statements," Ramos said.
At the news conference, Callejas was repeatedly asked whether it was CPS' responsibility to notify law enforcement about a missing child. Without being specific, she said CPS' procedure is to ask the Juvenile Court for warrants and then the matter goes "into the law enforcement system."
Despite the recalcitrance of officials to discuss this case, this much is known:
Dwight was most recently seen by family members last April, but no missing persons report was issued by law enforcement until last week.
During that period, Edwards came into contact with law enforcement at least three times. Sacramento sheriff's officials had contact with her in July and again in August. Those calls "had nothing to do" with the missing child, said Ramos, who provided no further details.
He also confirmed that Edwards had been in the county jail for a few days last June after being picked up by another agency.
Callejas said that, at a minimum, a social worker dealing with a troubled family under CPS supervision should see a child once a month. In more serious cases, a child would be seen several times a week, she said.
Callejas emphasized that she could not discuss whether Dwight was under the agency's watch, despite the fact that other officials have confirmed that.
One source told The Bee that two warrants were issued by the Juvenile Court for Edwards' arrest in May and August of last year, both on violations of the Welfare and Institutions Code. The two warrants alleged that Edwards had failed to produce a dependent child when ordered to do so, according to the source.
Despite those warrants, law enforcement apparently did not learn a child was missing until last week.
"Suffice it to say, it is not the usual starting point for a missing person's investigation," Ramos said.
Sheriff's detectives are combing through old addresses and contacting former acquaintances in a search for the toddler. They have created a DNA profile for Dwight for a statewide database that conceivably could be matched to a deceased "Baby Doe" in another jurisdiction.
Ramos said the mother's "somewhat nomadic lifestyle" has complicated the probe. Detectives have been told contradictory stories that Dwight either was given to someone else or was dead.
Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla on Tuesday offered a $3,000 reward for information leading to his whereabouts. Padilla asked that informants call his office at (916) 558-6915.
The Sheriff's Department is asking that tips about the case by called in to (916) 874-5115.