Less than a month before Aqueline Talamantes was arrested for the murder of her 5-year-old daughter, Tatiana, Sacramento County Child Protective Services received a report questioning her mental health and her ability to take care of Tatiana and her son.
On Aug. 29, 2013, the CPS hotline received a call saying Talamantes went to Sutter Medical Center upset about her mental condition, saying she had become increasingly agitated since she stopped taking her medication for schizophrenia. The person making the report described her as “extremely paranoid” and having “no connection” to her children, who had accompanied her to the hospital.
A CPS social worker went to Talamantes’ apartment to interview her seven days later, even though she was told that Talamantes was going to be evicted from the apartment the day before, according to records in Tatiana’s juvenile court file.
No one answered when the case worker showed up, so she left a business card on the door and did not pursue the case until Talamantes was charged with murder, records show. The case was not pursued even though Tatiana had been the subject of two previous neglect reports in neighboring counties.
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A Yolo County jury in May convicted Talamantes of murdering her daughter. She was accused of drowning Tatiana in a tub and is serving a sentence of 25 years to life at the state women’s prison in Chowchilla.
The report detailing the tip to CPS about Talamantes’ visit to Sutter is contained in a 145-page juvenile court file for Tatiana. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Paul Seave granted The Sacramento Bee’s request to open the file, citing an appellate court decision that states such records “are particularly relevant to determining how and whether an agency has performed its duties whenever a particular minor suspected of coming within jurisdiction of the juvenile court ... dies.”
The name of the person who reported Talamentes’ visit to Sutter was blacked out in the file. But medical professionals are required by state law to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, said CPS did not meet its responsibilities in the case. He reviewed some of the case files for The Bee.
“One way to look at what happened is this is death by caseload,” he said. “Here, a medical professional said on Aug. 29 that the mother was extremely paranoid and disturbed. A CPS social worker visited the house on Sept. 6, and left a card at the home. But, likely owing in part to the huge caseloads of Sacramento CPS social workers, there was never any follow-up at all and, 20 days later, the little girl was horribly murdered by her mother.”
CPS Deputy Director Michelle Callejas said a Sacramento police officer determined the children were safe before CPS intervened, around the same time that Talamantes made her visit to Sutter. But she agreed with Howard that the agency should have taken greater steps to assess the children’s safety.
“The social worker was obligated to make specific continuing efforts to contact the family, and she did not make those efforts,” she said. “The failure to follow county procedural requirements was not acceptable.”
Talamantes and her two children moved from Sacramento to Yolo County shortly before Tatiana was killed. Talamantes moved often, and was often involved with police and child welfare agencies, continuing a pattern from her childhood. Her mother was murdered when Talamantes was 11, and Talamantes was a childhood victim of abuse, according to court records.
In 2009, Solano County CPS received a report about domestic abuse involving Talamantes and the father of her children, Oracio Garcia. The report said the parents fought a lot in the presence of Tatiana. The case was deemed unfounded.
The following year, Stanislaus County CPS received another complaint alleging that Garcia hit Talamantes and Tatiana. Garcia denied the allegations. Officials decided the evidence was inconclusive.
Two years ago, a Yolo Superior Court judge awarded sole custody of the children to Talamantes. Garcia, who was allowed supervised visits of the children, protested the decision, saying he had never hurt Talamantes or the children.
“She’s making up things because she’s angry and she even told she would do whatever it takes to take the children out of my life,” he said in a written statement to the court. “She gets mad and takes it out on everyone ... She has a big attitude problem.”
In court records, Talamantes says she was diagnosed at Sacramento Mental Health Treatment Center as having several mental illnesses and was prescribed three medications. She said she stopped taking the medications last year because she could no longer afford them.
A CPS employee compiled Talamantes’ history of abuse allegations when the agency was contacted about her visit to Sutter Medical Center, records show. The person making the report said Talamantes was crying in the emergency room and ignoring her children as they climbed all over the place.
Talamantes said she was moving her children to a shelter because she didn’t like her neighbors talking about her. She said she had given her landlord notice that she was moving out. She ended up moving to her sister’s apartment.
Based on the report from the hospital, CPS recommended a visit by a social worker within 10 days. The agency didn’t consider the case an emergency because Talamantes had reported her condition to the hospital and because a Sacramento police officer had interviewed her and found her “fully capable of taking care of her children,” CPS worker Carmen Mercado wrote in a court filing.