August 1, 2012

Parents shun court again in 'Baby Dwight' search

His mother couldn't be bothered to show up in court, opting to remain in her jail cell rather than talk about her missing son.

His mother couldn't be bothered to show up in court, opting to remain in her jail cell rather than talk about her missing son.

His father opted to sleep in instead of accepting a ride to court.

The difficulties in the long search for little Dwight Stallings were laid bare Tuesday in a Sacramento courtroom, as testimony and confidential documents revealed the lengths to which officials have gone to locate the boy – despite his parents' unwillingness or inability to help.

The child, who would be 2 now, was last seen in April 2011.

With his parents out of the picture, at least for now, responsibility for finding "Baby Dwight" has fallen to Sacramento County sheriff's detectives and Child Protective Services workers.

The dead ends and detours are many, according to reports from both agencies.

"We don't have any credible evidence one way or another to say, 'Yes, this child is alive,' or 'Yes, this child is dead,'" said homicide Detective Brian Meux.

Investigators used cadaver dogs earlier this summer to search the areas around an apartment complex off Florin Road where Tanisha Edwards, the child's mother, last lived with the baby, according to Meux.

But they also have been chasing down alleged sightings as recently as six weeks ago.

Documents obtained by The Bee show that investigators were handed a tantalizing clue this summer that the child might still be alive.

In mid-June, detectives and CPS workers received a tip from a young woman who said she saw Baby Dwight at City Liquor and Food Store in south Sacramento.

The alleged sighting led investigators to a cinder-block gas station and market along Franklin Boulevard at Brookfield Drive.

"My granddaughter says positively, she knew that was the baby for sure," said Odessa King, the grandmother of Brittany Alexander, the 19-year-old witness who said she saw the child in the company of an older woman at the station on June 9 at 1 p.m.

In an interview with The Bee on Tuesday, King said her granddaughter initially had forgotten to tell anyone about the strange encounter she had at the market. But about a week later, she realized she had heard about a missing baby earlier and went online to read news accounts about the Baby Dwight case.

When she saw the baby's photo, she was certain she had seen him, King said.

Alexander's account of her sighting, contained in Juvenile Court documents released to The Bee, indicate that she saw a woman in her 50s pushing the baby outside the store in an umbrella stroller and remarked to her that he was "cute."

Out of the blue, the woman turned to her and said, "I took this baby from his momma who was on meth because I could not see him going out that way," the court documents state.

Two cousins with Alexander also heard the comment, court documents indicate.

"When asked for a description of the child, Ms. Alexander indicated the child was sitting in a dirty blue cheap umbrella stroller, looked to be (age) 1 going on 2, he was wearing a diaper, short sleeve shirt maybe orange in color, and the child had a full head of hair," the documents state.

The woman, described as being about 50, with a light complexion, standing 5-foot-6 or 5-foot-7 and weighing about 140 pounds, was wearing jeans, a shirt and a scarf over her hair.

Alexander told investigators she last saw her pushing the stroller down Brookfield Drive.

King, who is a friend of Baby Dwight's maternal grandmother, Barbara Edwards, said she went to the Edwards' home around 11 p.m. or midnight after learning of the possible sighting.

"She was so happy," King said. "She said she had prayed that night. She said, 'I just couldn't sleep, I was just sitting here praying.' She really leaped for joy when she heard the news."

Meux said video surveillance reviewed by detectives from that day did not reveal a credible match. He said that detectives believe Alexander's account is "sincere but mistaken."

Barbara Edwards, 64, said she is "still hoping it could be him."

"I don't want to think that something's happened to him," she said.

Meux said authorities are planning to check out a report of a similar sighting at an apartment complex. "We're doing everything we can."

The tips come as authorities continue their efforts to find the little boy, but they are seeing their search stymied by parents who are unwilling or unable to help.

On Tuesday in Sacramento Juvenile Court, Judge Jerilyn L. Borack convened another in a regular series of hearings to study what progress has been made in locating Baby Dwight. The news remained grim, as both parents once again refused to show up for the session.

Dwight's mother, 36-year-old Tanisha Edwards, refused Tuesday morning to leave her cell at the Sacramento County jail, where she is being held for repeated probation violations. She has refused to attend previous hearings or provide new information to detectives.

The baby's father, Hasuan Stallings, declined to appear even after social workers went to his apartment early Tuesday and offered to drive him to the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse on Power Inn Road, according to Deputy County Counsel Michelle Ben-Hur.

Stallings was sleeping when they arrived and, after being awakened, said he would not go to court, Ben-Hur said.

The result was a brief hearing and an agreement for lawyers in the case to return to court Sept. 11 with any updates they may develop in the search for Baby Dwight. "Obviously, if we do locate Dwight and he is alive, we would bring him onto the calendar much sooner," Ben-Hur said.

Such hearings typically are closed to the public and media, but Borack, citing intense public interest in the matter, approved a request from The Bee to be present in court. The judge also released documents in the case to The Bee that describe recent efforts to locate the baby.

Tanisha Edwards has told investigators varying stories about what happened to her son, ranging from a claim that she did not know to one where she described handing the boy over in an umbrella stroller to two burqa-clad women she did not know in a Motel 6 parking lot in Nevada.

Edwards' mother has told investigators that when she spoke to her daughter in early July she "confirmed she has no idea what happened to Dwight, since she was so high on drugs," court records state.

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