A Baton Rouge woman accused of failing to watch her 4-year-old son before he drowned in an abandoned sewer hole near his home won’t face charges, the District Attorney’s Office said Monday.
Brittni D. Clark, 26, was booked in January on a count of negligent homicide, but East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said prosecutors found no causal connection between her conduct and Jassiah Clark’s untimely death in December.
The boy was left outside without adult supervision for about three hours, something Clark was initially untruthful about, Moore noted, but he said there is not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Clark’s actions caused Jassiah’s death.
“Her inattention to the child that day will haunt her for the rest of her life,” Moore said.
Clark’s attorney, Lewis Unglesby, said the blame for Jassiah’s death rests on those who were hired to fill the deep hole, located at a city-parish sewer pump station.
Unglesby said the hole that Jassiah fell into looked like a typical mud puddle. Moore agreed with that description.
“It was a quicksand environment that was negligently overlooked,” Unglesby said.
Moore said photographs of the scene taken prior to Jassiah’s death establish there were no signs, barricades or fencing around the hole. Photos taken of the scene during the boy’s recovery show the area did not appear to be a hazard, the district attorney added.
Moore noted the water-filled hole was 20 feet deep.
Unglesby said the hole had been reported twice: first by city-parish inspectors in October 2014 and again by project inspectors two weeks before the fatal incident.
Clark is suing the city-parish; Brady Crawford Construction, of Baton Rouge; CH2M Hill Inc., of Englewood, Colorado; and the two companies’ insurers. The suit says the hole was filled improperly.
Her wrongful death lawsuit was filed Jan. 6, the same day she was arrested.
Unglesby said the suit has not been settled. There is no trial date set.
“Everybody is trying to blame everybody,” he said.
Unglesby said he shared with prosecutors the evidence collected during his investigation.
“I credit the DA for doing a good investigation,” he said. “Clearly, there was a bad decision to arrest Brittni. She suffered a terrible loss.”
Moore said a neighbor’s statement to police that Clark habitually let her son roam the streets was never proven.
Unglesby said the decision to not prosecute Clark is a positive development for her suit.
“It certainly puts to rest the background noise,” he said. “This ends that speculation.”
Jassiah was reported missing the night of Dec. 20. His body was recovered Dec. 22.
The boy’s disappearance triggered a search with about 100 officers from several agencies, including the FBI, but those efforts were called off when officers scanning an empty lot on Robertson Avenue shined a flashlight on the puddle that turned out to be much deeper. It was cordoned off by caution tape soon after the boy’s body was taken away.
A contractor filled the opening with “flowable fill and sand” only two months before the boy’s death, Bryan Harmon, city-parish Department of Public Works interim director, said at the time. There are photos attesting to the hole being filled completely, he said, but “sometime between September and now, there was a migration of soils.”