Widespread failures by Sacramento County child welfare workers, housing managers and health providers to flag the killer in their midst led to the sexual assault and murder of 6-year-old Jadianna Larsen at her south Sacramento Mercy Housing apartment, according to new allegations filed in a wrongful death suit in the child’s death.
The new filing focuses in part on child welfare workers who spotted Juan Rivera in Tanecia Clark’s Martin Luther King Village apartment two weeks before Jadianna was killed but failed to investigate despite knowing Clark’s developmental disability and history of leaving her daughter alone or in the company of men with criminal histories. Rivera, 28, is being held without bail on a murder charge in Sacramento County Main Jail accused of sexually assaulting and bludgeoning the kindergartner to death before dumping and burning her body in rural Glenn County.
Rivera was Clark’s boyfriend and was supposed to be taking care of Jadianna while Clark sought mental health treatment, though he reportedly was not authorized to be on the MLK Village property, according to the suit. Rivera reported Jadianna missing the night of May 27, 2015, telling authorities he had blacked out during a string of seizures earlier that day and awakened to find the girl had disappeared. Jadianna’s body was recovered in Glenn County, 90 miles north of Sacramento, the next day.
Pathologists at the January preliminary hearing for Rivera and his mother, Lisa Suzanne Burton, said DNA found on Jadianna’s clothes and other items matched Rivera’s and that Jadianna was struck on the head as many as four times with a blunt force instrument. Detectives at the same hearing testified that cellular phone tower pings and surveillance cameras tracked what they believed was Rivera’s journey from south Sacramento to Glenn County.
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Rivera returned Friday to a Sacramento courtroom ahead of his scheduled murder trial next year. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Russell Hom on Friday set a September 2018 trial date in the killing.
Burton, a potential witness in her son’s murder trial, was missing from Friday’s witness recognition hearing. Hom issued a warrant for Burton’s arrest but stayed it on the condition that she appear at trial. Burton, 47, had been held in Sacramento County custody for nearly two years awaiting trial on charges she helped her son flee after the killing by stealing the keys to her boyfriend’s sport-utility vehicle, but was freed earlier this year with time served.
The original suit filed in January names Sacramento County, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, Sacramento County Child Protective Services and Mercy Housing California XXVI LP, managers of Martin Luther King Village – the “permanent, supportive housing community” where Tanecia Clark and daughter Jadianna lived.
Deborah Barron’s amended Nov. 9 filing adds Wellspace Health, the group the suit alleges partnered with Mercy Housing and Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency to “provide supportive and case management services to chronically homeless and disabled residents” at MLK; as well as a trio of CPS field social workers.
“(T)his is a blatant failure by CPS to protect Jadianna by entirely dismissing the presence of an unidentified man in Tanecia Clark’s apartment,” the lawsuit read.
Wellspace officials did not return calls Friday seeking comment. Sacramento County Department of Health and Human Services officials in a statement Friday said the agency “wants residents to be aware of the efforts that are made to enhance the safety of children,” but declined further comment citing the civil and criminal cases tied to Jadianna’s death.
“Had the CPS conducted any kind of investigation into Rivera, it would have uncovered Rivera’s criminal history and, therefore, would have been required to take immediate action to protect Jadianna,” Clark’s attorney Deborah Barron alleges in the searing 50-page civil complaint filed in Sacramento Superior Court. Instead, the lawsuit alleges that CPS officials determined that the home was safe and and that no children were “likely to be in immediate danger or serious harm.”
But Jadianna’s short life was rife with warning signs that the people and agencies duty-bound to protect her ignored, Barron alleged.
Clark had “significant developmental delays” that demanded “significant social resources and support to safely care for and raise her child,” from the county agencies, Mercy Housing and others, Barron argues in her suit.
Instead, Barron alleged, Clark and her daughter were betrayed by the very agencies charged with their aid. The suit cites a child welfare file opened on Jadianna at her birth in 2008 that quickly filled with child welfare visits, risk assessments and a string of 10 CPS reports of abuse or neglect ranging from leaving the child unattended in the middle of the night to unsanitary living conditions to reports of sex offenders’ interactions with mother and child.
Each, the suit alleges, “ultimately failed in their most fundamental objective: to keep Jadianna safe from harm.”