Woman gets 15 to life in Elk Grove slaying of adopted daughter, 3

Relates to:
Date: 2010-09-04

By Andy Furillo
afurillo@sacbee.com

Officials long suspected that Sabrina Albert Banks abused children – burning a kid with a spoon, hitting a niece with a switch cut off a tree. They even arrested her once on suspicion of abusing a foster child who died in her custody.

None of the allegations ever stuck – until last month, when Banks pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in the death of the 3-year-old daughter she adopted from China.

On Friday, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ernest W. Sawtelle closed the books on Banks when he sentenced the 42-year-old defendant to 15 years to life in prison for the girl's death.

According to her probation report, the Elk Grove Fire Department was summoned to Banks' residence in the 9900 block of Sorrentino Drive on May 2, 2008, and found her daughter Lavender unresponsive. The girl bled from the mouth and had suffered bruising to her arms, legs, chest, back and buttocks, the report says.

Paramedics declared Lavender dead at the scene. An autopsy report determined she died of multiple blunt force injuries and "possible asphyxia" by smothering.

The probation report says Banks told authorities she woke her daughter from a nap and found "she had vomited on herself. She picked up the victim and took her into the bathroom to clean her off and noticed she was cold and stiff."

Banks said she removed food from the girl's mouth, called 911 and got instructions on how to perform CPR, the report states.

But investigators said Banks waited eight hours to call 911 and that they found inconsistencies in her story.

They became more suspicious when they found a letter to her mother on the family room table that looked like a suicide note, according to the report.

The report detailed past child abuse allegations against Banks – hitting a niece with a switch in 1998; striking a 9-year-old girl, denying her food and telling her to "shut up" in 2000; hitting one of her three biological children with a switch in 2002 and refusing to allow the child to be interviewed outside her presence by a social worker.

In 2002, child abuse investigators responded to a complaint that Banks heated up a spoon and used it to burn the 1-year-old sister of a foster child in her custody, the report says.

The next year, investigators probed the death of a 4-month-old child put under Banks' care on an emergency placement, according to the probation report.

No cause of death was ever determined. Banks was arrested on suspicion of child cruelty but never charged, nor were any of the other accusations against her ever substantiated, the report states.

The probation report says Banks was unemployed at the time of her arrest that took place more than a year after Lavender died. She lived on Social Security and welfare payments.

It said she had three children of her own, including one minor since put in a permanent placement program.

It listed a Visalia address as Banks' residence. It did not say where any of the previous child abuse reports took place.

Sacramento County spokeswoman Laura McCasland said the local Child Protective Services agency has "no history" on Banks prior to Lavender's death.

A state Department of Social Services spokesman said late Friday afternoon that he was unable to retrieve any records on Banks' case.

Neither Deputy District Attorney Kevin Greene nor Assistant Public Defender Judy Odbert could be reached for comment after the sentencing.

Banks told probation officials she "observed visible signs of health problems" in the little girl before she adopted her, the report states. She said that caring for the girl was "exhausting."

Although she pleaded no contest in the case, she "denied ever harming the child," the report says.

She said in the probation report that her daughter had choked on a piece of bread and that she laid her down for a nap afterward.

When she went to feed the girl dinner, she "realized the victim was non-responsive," the report said.

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Lavender

I wish I knew what really went on with this case. I wish I new that this was a horrible accident and the other children that died in her care were sad accidents as well. I wish I new that the other allegations were hyperbole and only being used in this way to support the charges she faced. Problem is, I was one of the people writing on her behalf when she was denied Lavender for the first time by the China Center for Adoption Affairs. I was appauled that a woman who so desperately wanted to love this little girl as her own was being denied because of the color of her skin. I so wish I knew the "fly on the wall" truth about this case. Had there been any evidence of those other deaths and allegations of abuse at that time, I don't believe I would have supported her petition. Still, in the adoption groups she was devastated and the whole situation felt wrong. I wrote my letter to the CCAA like many other adoptive parents did and now, to some extent, feel guilty that I did. I wonder how things would have turned out if Lavender never became a "Banks". Would she still be sitting in her orphanage? Would she have been adopted by a wonderful family? I don't know. What I do know is that she would not have died in the care of Sabrina Banks.

Sad Accidents? Or Murder?

I would venture to guess that Ms. Bank's past offenses were not accidents as you'd like to believe.

What I want to know is how _exactly_ did this woman:
A) pass the homestudy and home inspection by the state who were to verify income and abuse history, 
B) pass the requirements of USCIS with her income being dependent on assistance
C) pass the DOJ, local and FBI criminal clearances,
D) pass the post placement review by the state
E) pass all of the above requirements with the adoption agency

I'm well aware that it is possible to by-pass all of these requirements. I'd like to know details... the workings of it, to understand where the flaws are.... expose the weak links. Are there consistencies in different abuse/murder cases of adopted kids? Has anyone studied this? I would venture to guess that no state or federal agency has taken the time to dissect how this woman bypassed all of these safeguards, and where the system failed exactly.

This woman must have fabricated a great deal about herself to fool all of the above organizations in order to even get on the radar of the CCAA (and I doubt that the CCAA didn't approve her based on the fact she was African American. What was the red flag they saw?). Which says to me that clearly that none of these organizations are doing their jobs ( * gasp * You don't say!? ). Which is also the reason I suspect no one has dug into how this woman bypassed so many safeguards, too many were complicit. it's like opening a pandora's box.

So.... the SW didn't check references, didn't bother to look into the state files for her history, didn't do an employment verification, didn't interview key persons involved in past abuse allegations. USCIS accepted fabricated financial documents and didn't check state and federal assistance records to see if Banks was collecting. The criminal background check failed to see any past charges of child abuse. The post-placements weren't done, or were done so poorly that it was just a repeat of the bogus Homestudy. And the adoption agency was pushing all of this along....

And, I assume: the SW is still working, the agency is still operational (or under a new name), USCIS never looked into it, state child welfare never looked into it, and it's a closed case.

As far as what would have happened to "Lavender" had she not been adopted by a murderer? No, she wouldn't have been sitting in an orphanage. She was on the sale rack with hundreds and hundreds of families in line for kids with cleft palates from China at that time. Don't buy the agency fear mongering. It's what keeps the willful ignorance alive and well in ICA, allowing them to continue to profit off lies.

I would have been suspicious

I would have been suspicious of her motives from the start. There are plenty of minority kids that need to be adopted. Why would she choose a Chinese baby when adopted children already have enough problems with their identities? Is it because the US wouldn't allow her to adopt a black child? (The only people that believe that race isn’t an issue are people who are naïve enough to believe that racism doesn’t exist.) It seems like she was given a cleft palate baby whom nobody else wanted. Otherwise, there were red flags everywhere. She was a single, unemployed woman with 3 biological kids of her own. How did she even get the money to raise the $20,000 in adoption fees? Does foster care pay that much money?

HOW????

HOW DID SHE PASS A HOME STUDY??? WHAT AGENCY APPROVED PROCESSED THIS??? SOMEONE SURE DROPPED THE BALL AT USCIS....like usual.

Anyone can get a homestudy

Blind eyes + lame investigations = Gross Negligence

There is a significant detail not being mentioned. Banks had a red-flag history, but for some reason no one caught on to it.

Sabrina Banks, 41, formerly known as Sabrina Stafford, was arrested by Bakersfield police in September 2003 after foster child Angelic Clary, 3 months old, was found dead in her home on Castleford Street.

Despite an extensive investigation, no charges were ever filed against her in Angelic's death.

Deputy District Attorney Scott Spielman said there was no conclusive medical evidence that the infant's death was either due to abuse or neglect.

He last reviewed the evidence in March 2004.

The Kern County coroner's office ruled the infant's death was either natural or accidental. The infant likely breathed in something, possibly vomit, and choked, the coroner's office found.

The child's twin sister, Tiffany, was also found in the foster home near Panama Lane and Wible Road with a 104.8-degree fever.

Paramedics took the surviving sister to Memorial Hospital where doctors found her to be hungry, dehydrated, had low sodium in her blood and barbiturates in her systems.

Barbiturates are depressants, normally used as a sleeping aid.

Tiffany was removed from Stafford's care.

The mother of the twins, Ruth Rodriguez, filed a lawsuit against Kern County, but it was dismissed in January 2005.

Stafford, as she was known then, lost her foster license shortly after Angelic's death. She reportedly had ties to Visalia.

The Sacramento County case stems from the May 2, 2008, death of 3-year-old Lavender Banks, the adopted daughter of the woman now known as Sabrina Banks.

Sacramento County coroners determined that Lavender died from asphyxia and several blunt force injuries, the Sacramento Bee reported.

The Elk Grove Police Department reported last month that an investigation showed Banks was responsible for the child's death, and a murder warrant was issued for her.

Banks was arrested Aug. 5 in Visalia.

Banks made news over the adoption of Lavender because Chinese central authorities had refused to approve the adoption on the grounds that Banks was African American.

Many adoptive parents rallied behind Banks and China authorities reversed their stand and approved the adoption, news reports say.
Before the 2003 death of Angelic in Bakersfield, two complaints were filed with Child Protective Services against Stafford.

The first, in January 2002, alleged Stafford hit one of her children on the back and thighs, leaving marks.

Investigators concluded no license violations were committed, CPS documents said.

The second was in May 2002, alleging Stafford burned a 3-year-old child on the hip with a hot spoon.

Stafford denied anything like that ever happened. Her license was voluntarily withdrawn when she went to Visalia, but it was restored in Kern County in early 2003.

[From:  Ex-Bakersfield woman faces murder charge ]

One may need a license to foster in the USA, but one does not need a license to adopt a foreign child.  All one really needs (it seems), is the money, and an approved home-study report, which can come from the agency of the PAP's choosing.  

How did she even get the money to raise the $20,000 in adoption fees?

If I were take a random guess, I would not be surprised if she did what a lot of "desperate to adopt" PAP's do via the Internet or in-person at local community centers, like social clubs or church organizations:  plea for financial assistance, so a poor orphan could be adopted, and saved.

Lotta people out there wanting to assist a "good cause" without looking at all the facts, like who's asking for money so a child could be had.

Empty a large pickle jar...

AND THEN dress-up your little ones (previous adopted, or borrowed ) so you can all go to the nearest WalMart to place your pickle jar (with your written pleas for money) at the entrance doors; then line up and SMILE!  I've seen this very thing...  And then go to the small-town newspaper and volunteer to have them come out and do an article on you and your adopted children.  Small town newspapers LOVE this!  You CAN'T make this stuff up.
Teddy

Almost laughable....

too bad the facts were so sad.

I'll tell you what... I myself am very grateful for the few Amoms who are willing to spill the truth, because if it were just little ol me making these claims, people would say I was crazy/and or insane.

I have been banned enough times from sites to know how vicious the pro-adoption community can be....

No... you CANNOT make this stuff up!

Anyone know who was involved in this case?

After the publicity and notoriety of a case cools, it's back to business as usual with very few if any repercussions for those involved. I'd like to know who the persons involved in this case were (SW, homestudy agency, federal employees, etc) and do a little research to see if they're still in business. My guess is: YES.

Did anyone file a complaint with the COA against the agency, on behalf of the child? Not that it would make a scrap of difference, but the paper trail may be beneficial when/if another abuse case shows up.

Is the SW still working (still licensed)?

One of the many problems in Adoptionland is short term memory. Now is the time to drag a case just like this out into the light.

involvement

So far, all we know about this case is the name of the adoption agency,  International Assistance & Adoption Project (IAAP).

The home study was certainly done by a seperate agency or an independent social worker, since the adoption agency is located in Tennessee, while the adoption of Lavender Banks took place in California.

IAAP is still in business and I wouldn't be surprised if there were no repercussions for the ones responsible for the home study.

Personally I am not too familiar with American authorities, and as a Dutch citizen, I am not even sure if I can actually file complaints with COA or State and Federal governments. Can you make suggestions for a game plan? I would like to see PPL become more actively involved in monitoring cases and filing complaints, but this is one area where we could use a little help.

COA/DOS/State authorities

Anyone can file a complaint with any of these entities against an agency.

File a complaint with ...DOS?

File a complaint ...with DOS? Sigh. If only anyone would read it and act upon the information. Need proof? If you read the news reports, it states that mothers attorneys in other countries have notified US authorities that their children were kidnapped and sold into ICA and nothing has been done. Check the PPL archives about these cases.
If anyone suspects child abuse, contact the police and your local authorities.

BBB Circular Files

Where would these complaints go, to the BBB? 

Ever read how those complaints are handled? 

One of my favorite "complaints" made small-time news a while back:

Central Floridian Melissa Bartley said she is suing partly because she never received a young girl from Russia who she was allegedly promised.

"I felt hurt, betrayed, distraught," Bartley said. "I had my heart set on having a child, and it is just heartbreaking. I don't think I am ever going to be a parent."

Bartley said she wants back the tens of thousands of dollars she claims she has paid for a child.

The woman also said the process of adopting a child was extremely stressful and partly led to her husband's suicide.

"I wish there was a way to warn people; don't go to this agency," Bartley said.

David and Corey Gaynes said their journey to adopt has been a nightmare.

The couple said while they were able to adopt a 2-year-old and 1-year-old, they have spent $80,000 and four years waiting for a set of twins.

They said the adoption agency has let them down every time.

"It's just the most painful experience of my life," Corey Gaynes said.

"We are not sure where our money (has gone) and how much of it has been used," David Gaynes said. "When we call the agency and say we want to find out when you paid the people in Guatemala and how much you paid them, they don't answer our questions."

The HCA agency is run by attorneys Kurt Alexander and Kendall Rigdon.

It's an agency under intense scrutiny by the Department of Children and Family Services, Forbes reported.

DCF received at least five complaints about the agency from different families. The Better Business Bureau has received 11 complaints in the last three years, Forbes reported.

And DCF stripped Homecoming Adoptions of its adoption license in 2006, Forbes said.

"They are basically playing a shell game to get out from under the review of the DCF," DCF attorney Shane DeBoar said. "They didn't want us in there investigating complaints."

At a judicial hearing last week, the attorney representing HCA said it shouldn't have to fall under the same guidelines as a certified adoption agency.

"Homecoming Adoptions Inc. was never a child placing agency," HCA attorney James Taylor said.

Taylor said Homecoming is a group of attorneys who want to help the adoption process along.

[From:  Families Warn Of Orlando Adoption Agency, 2008 ]

The BBB has become somewhat of a lame, unfortunate joke... one that seems to put many complaints into their circular files (garbage cans), never to be seen again. [The ol fox guarding the ol hen house routine frequently seen in Adoptionland.]

Lawyers are running this show, kids... and here's the ugliest part, if the shady lawyers have friends in high places, then who is going to help and protect those stuck in the messiest of adoption messes?   If it's ICA-related, you can bet many shady characters are (and will be) protected from serious harm.

COA

COA does and is investigating agencies. If an agency is accredited and there is evidence of wrongdoing a complaint should be filed. Even if there is not enough evidence to affect their accreditation right now, it can be used when they are up for reaccreditation.

No, I would never file a complaint with the BBB, but COA and DOS are places people should file complaints. It was people complaining that got an investigation opened on a number of facilitators in Cambodia.

Will they always do something? No. Do they usually take action? No. Sometimes if they get a number of complaints, they do.

If no one ever complains about problem agencies it is as if it never happened.

EXCELLENT point!

If no one ever complains about problem agencies it is as if it never happened.

VERY well put!

<happy clap>

The pickle jar goes high-tech

I'm often amazed by the ignorance of people looking to pursue their own adoption-plan.

It's not that the PAP's are stupid or bad people... it's just... they don't THINK before they act and do.  And this is what makes the adoption industry so so bloody horrible.

The pickle-jar scene you offer is the low-tech version of the following money-collecting scheme, done to increase ICA numbers.  [Remember, not all adopters or adoption agencies, or orphanages are putting the needs of each parent and child, FIRST.]

Watch the ripple-effect, and how those who earn  5 to 6-figure salaries for their adoption-related services get to KEEP their good respectable 5-6 digit salaries:

“When I saw Joshua, I thought, ‘I think I’m his mom,’ ” Lisa Warner recalls. “It wasn’t about saving one child. For us, he was ours.”

The road to bringing Joshua home has been marked by plenty of challenges, including a need to pull together about $25,000 to pay adoption costs.

“I thought, ‘We can raise the money,’ but I didn’t realize how hard it was,” Lisa Warner said. “Most of these children have someone who wants to adopt them, but it’s hard to think of raising $25,000 in six months.”

joshua.jpgOne of the few pictures the family has of Joshua, who is waiting in a Ukrainian orphanage.<!-- IE6 HACK --><!-- IE6 HACK -->

The Warners are not wealthy.

They live in a two-story home in Bay City’s South End with two of Lisa’s other children, 18-year-old Cody and 14-year-old Ryan. Her oldest son, 23-year-old Trevor, recently joined the Navy. Jacob, the couple’s son with Down syndrome, is 2.

Lisa Warner is a stay-at-home mom and Dave Warner works as a computer programmer for Hewlett- Packard Co.

“Dave would say, ‘When we win the lottery or have enough money, we’ll do it,’ ” Lisa Warner said. “But when do you just have $25,000?”

Alla Dickson, director of Eastern European programs for Baldwin-based Adoption Associates Inc., said the cost of developing the paperwork, translating it and having someone available to walk a family through the steps of an overseas adoption adds up.

“It’s ongoing, full-time work for several months,” she said. “All those fees come from a number of people involved.”

Many countries also require families to stay in the child’s country of origin for an extended period. In Ukraine, that requirement is five weeks.

The Warners have had some success with their fundraising efforts.

At Christmas, a friend sent them $5,000 to pay for upfront costs such as home study fees, passports and fees required by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. They’ve raised an additional $1,300 from family and other friends.

They also have access to $9,000 in an account controlled by Reece's Rainbow, a Maryland-based nonprofit that works to link families who wish to adopt with overseas children who have special needs.

The agency collects donations designated to help individual children get adopted. Donations can be made at www.reecesrainbow.org/sponsorwarner. Joshua is listed on Reece’s Rainbow’s website as “Cliff,” because the agency gave him a name prior to the Warners’ decision to pursue adoption.

“There’s always a tremendous sense of urgency because these children are facing life in a nontraditional way,” said Andrea Roberts, executive director of Reece’s Rainbow.

The Warners still need to raise about $10,000 to make adopting Joshua possible.

They’ve enlisted Jacob’s help — and assistance from WillowsEdge Counseling and Art Center in Lake Orion — to reach that goal.

WillowsEdge is selling prints of a colorful painting made by Jacob through its website, www.willowsedge.net. Prints start at $15 each and proceeds will benefit the Warners’ adoption effort.

[From: Bay City couple raising funds to adopt Ukrainian boy with Down Syndrome, April 7, 2011 ]

Only a fool thinks a stressed-out overwhelmed Aparent would NEVER abuse an adopted child, with "special needs".  Head injuries, and associated risk-factors, alone should make those choosing appropriate homes more of a home-study headache. [See:  comment, "Abusive head trauma", as it relates to an abused adoptee case, and our blog-piece, The Americans, the Russian boy, and the Russian adoption authorities

Please all you wanna-adopters... PLEASE educate yourself, before you do what you have to do to pay outlandish foreign adoption fees!  AND LEARN ABOUT ASSOCIATED AGENCIES, LIKE REECE'S RAINBOW -- CHECK THEIR ADOPTION RECORDS

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