When Mickhal Garrett arrived in the courtroom he had a heavy heart. He had just gone through an unimaginable loss, and his pain was obvious. Then it was time for the court officials to bring out the people responsible. His anger began to boil over as the charges were read to the court. There was no way to tell how he was going to react.
Aniya Day-Garret was a four-year-old little girl from Euclid, Ohio. Aniya lived with her mother, Sierra Day, and her mother’s boyfriend, Deonte Lewis. Even though her parents weren’t together, Aniya still saw her father regularly. Actually, Aniya always looked forward to spending time with him.
“He always made her smile,” said Mickhal’s sister, Brittany Hill, about his relationship with his daughter. “Anytime you would see him near her, she was smiling. She loved her daddy.” Mickhal was devoted to his “sugar”, the nickname he had for Aniya. Unfortunately, in the past few months, Mickhal began thinking Aniya was in danger.
Mickhal, along with other members of his family, began noticing that Aniya had signs of abuse. When she’d come home with them, Aniya would have bruises, black eyes, and rug burns. She also looked like she wasn’t getting enough food. They began to suspect that Aniya’s mother was hurting her. And they weren’t the only ones that thought that.
Aniya’s daycare teacher noticed suspicious injuries, as well. Aniya had even told her that her mom had hit her. The teacher filed several reports of abuse with the Cuyahoga County Children and Family Services. Since the agency had received reports from Aniya’s family and the teacher, they had no choice but to look into it.
Throughout 2017, Children and Family Services conducted three different investigations. But, according to Cuyahoga County spokeswoman Mary Louise Madigan, they didn’t have enough evidence to take Aniya from her mother’s care. Even though it was a huge setback for Mickhal, he refused to give up.
Mickhal filed a petition for emergency custody in December of 2017. “I did everything in my power to let them know that I was a stand-up dad and that my daughter was being harmed and abused at home and this was an emergency,” he explained. A social worker was supposed to meet up with Aniya’s mother on Monday, March 12 to talk about things. Unfortunately, on that Sunday something horrifying would happen.
The Euclid Fire Department arrived at the Cultural Garden Apartments with a report of a child who was burned and unresponsive. “I know the fire department brought the baby down around 3:30 yesterday afternoon, and I knew right then and there the baby must have been dead, because of the way they were running,” said neighbor Bernard Taylor. Aniya’s future looked grim.
Aniya was immediately brought to Euclid hospital, where she had a stroke and died. The medical examiner later reported that the stroke was caused by repeated hits to the head. He also reported scald marks on her legs and feet, a cut on her face, and signs of starvation. Aniya’s death was ruled a homicide. Lewis and Day were arrested, and their bond hearing was the following day. In shock, Mickhal decided to attend the hearing.
Mickhal and members of his family sat in the courtroom in the Euclid Municipal Court as Lewis and Day were brought in front of the judge. They were both charged with aggravated murder. Even though Day’s attorney asked for a reasonable bond because she had never been in trouble before, the judge gave them both a bond of $1 million. As they were leaving the courtroom, Mickhal couldn’t contain himself.
“You killed my [expletive] daughter!” Mickhal screamed, with anguish spread across his face. “You hurt my baby.” He fell to the ground, crying, with his mother’s arms wrapped around him. As the rest of his family huddled around him, they left the courtroom. Needless to say, it was a sad day for the Garretts.
“This beautiful 4-year-old daughter’s life was cut down, senselessly,” said Aniya’s paternal grandmother, Rachael Garrett. “Beaten, abused, battered, starved … you have to be heartless.” The family is now questioning why Children and Family Services didn’t do more to protect her. The agency says that have opened an investigation.
The county spokeswoman, Madigan, said that Children and Family Services were conducting an internal investigation, which is apparently a standard procedure in the cases where children have died. But considering that there were so many red flags throughout the year, it’s pretty hard to see why this wasn’t prevented. Maybe the agency’s administration has something to do with it.
A few days after Aniya’s death, Mickhal led two dozen activists on a march down Euclid Avenue to the Department of Children and Family Services. He believes the agency needs to be investigated. “We want [the agency] held accountable,” Mickhal told reporters. “They failed me. They failed all of us. Nobody should have to go through what we went through.” Apparently, Aniya wasn’t the first child to die under these circumstances.
Black Lives Matter Cleveland, the group responsible for organizing the rally, believe the agency is purposely failing children in their community. They refer to the deaths of Alexandria Hamilton, Jordan Rodriguez, and Ta’Naejah McCloud, whos families were also being investigated just like Aniya’s. But, just like in Aniya’s case, no action was taken until it was too late. The activists believe this needs to change.
“Something is wrong here. How is a system that is supposed to protect children letting them die under their supervision?” said Latonya Goldsby, the co-founder of BLM CLeveland. The agency has promised the public that if wrongdoing is found, the proper measures will be taken. “If the internal investigation determines we did something wrong there will be discipline,” said Madigan.