Restraints on girl, 5, needed to avert harm Pastor relays parents' account

Date: 2005-01-01

Author: KATHLEEN HOPKINS and JOSEPH SAPIA/TOMS RIVER BUREAUSTAFF

BEACHWOOD - The borough couple charged with abusing a mentally disabled 5-year-old girl placed in their care told investigators they had restrained the child to prevent her from harming herself and other children in the household, the couple's pastor said Friday.

But Cynthia Davison also told her pastor that the foster child - who weighed only 21 pounds - hadn't been to a doctor since March, said the pastor, the Rev. Roger Brotherton of Ocean Christian Community Church in Dover Township.

The child was malnourished and had bruises on her ankles and wrists indicating she had been restrained "for long periods of time," said Lt. Robert Urie of the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. She was removed from the Davison home Wednesday by the state Division of Youth and Family Services.

Cynthia Joan Davison, 48, and her husband, Ernest, 51, were charged Thursday with aggravated assault and child endangerment.

Brotherton said the Davisons called him Thursday from Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, where DYFS workers took the 5-year-old and three other children with various disabilities in the family. Brotherton said he went to see the couple at the hospital when they told him they were in trouble.

The clergyman said the child has Down's syndrome and suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.

"One of the things she was prone to was scratching herself and pulling at herself and damaging herself, and that's part of that (fetal alcohol) syndrome," he said. "I understand she could reach out and do damage to the other children. If there was a restriction, it was isolation in another room so she wouldn't hurt the other children. If there were physical restraints, it was so she wouldn't hurt herself. This is what (the Davisons) explained to me (Thursday) that they told DYFS."

Neighbor felt concern

Lynn Martin, whose has lived with her family across Spruce Street from the Davisons for about 10 years, said Friday she had suspicions things were awry at the Davisons.

Generally, she said, the Davison children - either adopted or foster - were never out and about.

Based on the description of a 5-year-old, 21-pound child being the subject of the charges, Martin said it was a girl with Down's syndrome - `'the one you never get to see."

"She's strapped down in her room, the majority of the time, because Cindy says she's out of control," Martin said. "From what I saw, she's a very sweet child. The child's always in seclusion in a room."

Brotherton, who said he has known the Davisons more than seven years, said he hadn't himself witnessed any destructive behavior on the part of the 5-year-old.

Another neighbor, Arline Backus, while not questioning the Davisons as parents, raised concerns about their treatment of animals.

"They leave dogs in the back, they tie them up, the dogs bark," said Backus, who has been the Davisons' next-door neighbor for about 20 years."

When asked if the child's condition could have been a result of her medical condition and not child abuse, Urie responded, "It may come into play at some point, but it does not equate with what happened at the house.

"The child's weight of 21 pounds does not indicate they sought other medical assistance," Urie said.

$300,000 in bail posted

Cash bail totaling $300,000 - $150,000 each for Cynthia and Ernest Davison - was posted Thursday night in the form of a cashier's check, said Cpl. Pete Remondelli of the Ocean County Jail. He said he was not authorized to reveal who posted the couple's bail.

The Davisons could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Brotherton said the church did not post the couple's bail. He did say he inquired of one of the elders if the church had the means to bail out the Davisons and learned it did not.

Meanwhile, DYFS spokesman Andy Williams said the four children were in DYFS custody at the Neptune hospital. Authorities said the 5-year-old's condition was stable. Williams said the three others were being evaluated, and would likely stay until they could either be placed with a willing relative or a special foster home equipped to handle their medical needs.

According to a story in the Asbury Park Press in January 2003, the Davisons were raising three children: a girl with Down's syndrome, then 11, a boy with a developmental and eating disorder called Prader-Willi syndrome, then 4, and a girl, then 16 months, who required a feeding tube and had a host of disabilities.

The malnourished 5-year-old had been placed with the Davisons in October 2003 by Lutheran Adoption Services, according to Ocean County prosecutors. Yet New Jersey officials for the national private adoption agency disputed that on Friday.

Susan Arnold, vice president of Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey, said the agency facilitated placement of two children with the Davisons, who they subsequently adopted, and of a third child whose adoption was almost complete.

"The adoption of the fourth child, the 5-year-old in question, was being facilitated by a private attorney," Arnold said, adding that the agency had no involvement or knowledge of the status of the adoption, and that she could not personally answer questions about the Davisons.

The Prosecutor's Office said adoption of the 5-year-old had not been completed.

The Davisons also raised five of their own children, who ranged in age from 15 to 26 in January 2003. Their first natural child died at age 3 of kidney failure, they told the newspaper then.

Urie said he knew of no prior child-abuse or neglect allegations against the Davisons. Aside from the 5-year-old, the other children in their care appeared well cared for, he said.

Exhaustion a factor?

Brotherton also said the three other children had been doing remarkably well living with the Davisons, considering their physical limitations. On Friday, he questioned what would happen to those children.

For instance, the youngest child has so many physical disabilities, "you would throw up your hands, and the Davisons took her," Brotherton said. "Now, she's doing very, very well. She's a happy, contented human being."

But, the pastor said, difficulties raising the disabled children, particularly the youngest, who suffered frequent seizures, may have led to exhaustion and lack of judgment on Cynthia Davison's part.

"If there was any hindsight, this was just too much to handle for Cindy Davison," Brotherton said. "I think they (the Davisons) saw it as their ministry, something they could do to make a difference to love little children that no one else would love, and it's a tragedy that comes back to bite you."

But, according to Martin, Cynthia Davison made what seemed was a strange comment about one of the children - a now-13-year-old Down's syndrome girl with a colostomy. The colostomy - an artificial anal opening - apparently would not be necessary if the child had another operation, but the procedure was not being done, Martin said.

According to Martin, Cynthia Davison said, "Ernie and I feel God made her this way and this is the way she should stay."

"All we ever had was suspicions," Martin said. "It's just little peculiar things that happened over the years."

But with Thursday's charges against the Davisons, Martin said she and her husband, Erik, 44, talked things over and decided to speak out.

"All of them are sweet kids, (but) they have no voices," Martin said. "Even if they did, they are not allowed out in public. She home-schools them, they don't go anywhere unless it's to a family function or church."

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