BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The 9-month-old boy had a broken thighbone and apparent burns to the soles of his feet. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
The baby also suffered a traumatic brain injury and injuries to his eyes that left him permanently blind, according to court documents. Another child in the home, 4 at the time, had bleeding on the brain, a burn mark to his left hand and was blind in one eye, the reports say.
These injuries occurred within three months of the boys and their sister being removed from the care of their biological mother and placed in the custody of others, according to a lawsuit filed in the case.
The children’s current guardian is suing the county Department of Human Services for negligence in allowing them to be placed with Julio Jose Martinez and Destanee Bennett.
“Any proper investigation into Mr. Martinez’s fitness to have custody of children would have revealed that Mr. Martinez was dangerous and otherwise incapable of caring for children,” says the suit.
It goes on to say, “There was little or no investigation or inquiry made into the fitness of Ms. Bennett to care for children prior to the placement. It appears that the Department violated its own policies through its lack of investigation and by its placement of the children with Mr. Martinez and Ms. Bennett.”
The suit seeks an amount “well in excess of $25,000,” according to court filings. A hearing was held Tuesday, with another scheduled late next month at which the guardian will argue for the suit to proceed despite failing to file a claim against the county within six months of the injuries.
Timeline of the case
On Feb. 28, 2021, the three children were removed from their mother’s care and placed in juvenile protective custody. The lawsuit doesn’t say what prompted their removal.
Following several hearings, they ended up in the custody of Martinez — the biological father of one of the children — on March 23, 2021, according to the suit. Martinez lived with Bennett and a daughter they shared in common.
The suit says Bennett at the time of the hearings said he only wanted the child he fathered, not the other two, but agreed to take them in order to get custody of his son.
What happened next should have come as no surprise, the suit says.
“While in the care of Mr. Martinez and Ms. Bennett, all three children suffered horrible abuse,” according to the suit.
In May 2021, the boys were taken to Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera for specialized care. The girl, who the documents say was under 5, didn’t have physical injuries but showed signs of neglect and emotional abuse, according to the suit.
The following month, Martinez and Bennett were charged with aggravate mayhem and torture, among other charges. In early 2022, all charges were dismissed after prosecutors said a witness essential to the case was unavailable.
The case was expected to be refiled, but the Superior Court website shows no new charges against the couple. Martinez pleaded no contest to spousal abuse in 2015, a fact noted in the suit.