'The only thing I care about is saying goodbye to my brother'
Yuba County authorities announced Friday that no criminal charges will be filed in the death of Tyler Trammell-Huston, a 9-year-old boy who was mauled to death after being left in a mobile home with his older sister’s three pit bull terriers.
Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath said he won’t bring charges against Tyler’s sister Alexandria Griffin-Heady, in whose mobile home Tyler died Jan. 3. He said there was no evidence the dogs had any history of aggression to conclude that she “could have reasonably foreseen the attack.”
In a seven-page news release explaining his decision, McGrath said the sister’s leaving the child with the dogs didn’t constitute behavior “incompatible with a proper regard for human life” under the law or indicated that she had a “willing indifference to the consequences” of her behavior.
McGrath said two of the dogs were placed in a wire kennel when Griffin-Heady left at 6:30 a.m. for her job working as a security guard. He said she returned at 9:55 a.m. to find Tyler lying wounded on the ground and moved him to a bed and began performing CPR.
He said she then called 911 and hysterically greeted arriving deputies, imploring them to shoot “one or more of the dogs when they arrived.” Authorities said two of the dogs – an older female and younger male – had “bloodied facial and body fur.” The younger male was one of two dogs that escaped through the wire top of the cage.
In January, the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department recommended after its investigation that Griffin-Heady be charged with felony child endangerment.
“I think it was a profoundly emotional case for everyone involved, particularly the first responders on the case,” McGrath said in an interview Friday. “The important thing on our part was not to let the emotions cloud our judgment or influence the way we would legally evaluate the case.”
Tyler’s tragic saga had included foster care and a troubled life in chaotic family circumstances marked by crime, drug abuse and homelessness. Griffin-Heady, 24, had said she pledged to “rescue” her brother, adopt him out of foster care, raise him “and shape him into an amazing man.”
In an interview Friday, Griffin-Heady said she is only now beginning to stop blaming herself for Tyler’s death. She described having lovingly helped care for him over the last six months of his life and making plans to move him into a permanent home. She said she remains overcome with sorrow, even with no charges filed.
“The grief is absolutely still there,” she said. “I say he is my brother. But he became my son. I miss everything about him. I miss his jokes. I miss making him write his sentences. I miss all of it. I don’t think relief has set in. I was certain I was going to go to jail. And the grief and guilt made me feel that I deserved to.”
Griffin-Heady now lives in a house in Olivehurst she had rented to move to with Tyler if she got permission from child welfare authorities. “Every day when I walk past his room it is haunting,” she said. “Tyler and I would hug the walls and talk about how we were going to decorate it. It was our home. Being here makes me sad.”
After Tyler’s death, Laura Badeker, the boy’s aunt, said Griffin-Heady had been trying to get her brother out of the foster care system, which he had been a part of on and off since his mother’s death. But she said Griffin-Heady was incapable of caring for him, and that her living circumstances and dogs put the boy at risk.
Tyler had been living in a foster home under the supervision of Sacramento County Child Protective Services. However, his sister was granted unsupervised overnight visits with the boy after she moved from Florida several months before his death.
“She was trying to rescue him from the system,” Badeker said. “But I told everyone on the team that was supposed to be protecting Tyler that Ali was not prepared to take care of him on any level.”
Badeker said Tyler’s mother, Natalie Griffin-Trammell, spent years homeless and addicted to drugs. The mother’s criminal record included an arrest for felony child abuse in 1999. She died on the streets of Sacramento in 2011 at age 44. Loaves & Fishes, a Sacramento homeless services agency, held a memorial service for her shortly after her death.
Tyler was the youngest of the five children she left behind; his siblings range in age from 17 to 27. Two of his siblings lived with their adoptive parents on property adjacent to where Griffin-Heady was living, Badeker said. Tyler’s father, she said, is mentally disabled and was unable to care for his son.
Griffin-Heady’s dogs were a huge part of her life. She posted dozens of videos on YouTube showing her interacting with the animals as they licked her face and playfully romped with her.
On her Facebook account, Griffin-Heady listed her motto as “live fast, die young, be wild and have fun.” Meanwhile, she had posted comments about wanting to take care of Tyler. “Life hits you sometimes in ways you cannot describe,” she wrote. “I never thought at 24 I’d be adopting my 9-year-old brother, but you roll with the punches.”
She added that she felt grateful that “I get to raise him . … God wouldn’t have made such an amazing boy just to be ordinary. In my life during all the bad I always wondered why I was here . … I know now it was to care for him.”
While CPS approved of Tyler’s overnight visits with his sister, the case has raised questions about the responsibility for Tyler’s death and whether his sister was capable of caring for him. John Huston, Tyler’s father, has filed a wrongful death claim against CPS.
“I loved my son very much,” Huston said at Tyler’s Jan. 12 memorial service.
His wrongful death claim alleged that CPS “refused and failed to perform mandatory legal duties” to protect the child by allowing Tyler to spend time with Griffin-Heady.
At Tyler’s funeral service, another sister, Emilee Griffin-Trammel, eulogized him as an upbeat child who made her feel “like a superhero” as “his smile lit up every dark place. ... He was so beautiful and so perfect.”
A video montage shown at the service showed Tyler playing in a yard with his foster sister, swimming in a backyard pool and clutching stuffed animals at a carnival. Most of the images were taken over the previous six months when Tyler was living with his foster mother, Gloria Hudson, and her family in Elk Grove.
“Tyler was so patient, obedient, caring and giving,” Hudson said in an interview after his death, adding: “He was like a little angel who came into our lives, and then he went to God.”