Mother was reported to state 3 times before toddler's overdose death; Inspector General investigating
UPDATE: A grand jury formally charged Whitney Ard on Thursday, Sept. 29 with second-degree murder in death of her son.
BATON ROUGE - A mother was reported to state child services at least three times before her 2-year-old son died from an apparent fentanyl overdose.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark reviewed the child's medical records and said the state's inaction appears to have led to his death.
"I think this was preventable," Clark said. "If there was a moment between the second and third overdose where action was taking place and the child was placed in protective custody, then the third overdose would not have occurred."
Instead, nothing happened by the state.
Arrest documents from the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office outlined two previous instances where Whitney Ard, 28, brought her unresponsive toddler to a hospital before the child died on June 26. Ard was booked Tuesday on a charge of negligent homicide after law enforcement investigated her son's death.
On the day of his death, arrest records said the child—identified as Mitchell Robinson III—was rushed to the hospital by ambulance from their Denova Street home.
Ard, who was jailed in May after a drug bust at her home, was released just a day earlier and said her son was behaving normally when she picked him up from her mother on June 25. Ard told deputies she was lying in bed with her son when he asked for food early the next morning.
The mother said she made a bowl of cereal, placed it on the floor next to her bed for the 2-year-old to eat and went back to sleep. Arrest records said she woke up later that morning to find the child back in bed "cold to the touch, unresponsive, with his fingertips, mouth, and tongue blue in color."
Paramedics arrived outside the home to find Ard's friend trying to resuscitate the child on the pavement. First responders tried giving the boy epinephrine, a medicine used to treat allergic reactions. When that didn't work Ard told the paramedics her son responded to Narcan in the past.
Narcan also proved unsuccessful in reviving the toddler, and he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital. On Aug. 2, over a month later, the East Baton Rouge coroner determined the child's death was caused by a fentanyl overdose.
Deputies investigating the family's home said they found the corner of a clear plastic bag "containing white powdery residue" beneath the bed near the bowl of cereal on the floor.
Deputies also noted there had been two other instances in April and June where the mother brought her unresponsive son to a hospital, adding that both incidents were reported to the Department of Children and Family Services prior to the child's death.
On April 12, healthcare workers noted the child was suffering from respiratory failure and seizure-like symptoms, though his brain activity was not consistent with a seizure and "no seizure medications were needed," according to the report. The toddler was ultimately released back to his mother after being treated with Narcan.
The woman once again brought her child to the emergency room on June 4 after she noticed he was having troubled breathing "similar to the event in April." The unresponsive toddler was again treated with Narcan and discharged from the hospital two days later.
East Baton Rouge Coroner Beau Clark called it a "significant" failure and said a third report was sent to DCFS after the toxicology results from one of the hospital visits showed fentanyl in the boy's system. That report was made by a physician who treated the child.
"Her documentation was perfectly laid out in a timeline and appropriate manner of her clinical suspicion, the things she did and the people she talked to," Clark said.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit learned the Department of Children and Family Services did not remove the child from the care of the mother after the two hospital visits where the child had to be resuscitated with Narcan or after the mother's arrest following an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's investigation into her house being used as a drug den.
Ard's bond was set at $50,000 for the negligent homicide charge, but a judge put a hold on the bond Wednesday. Ard will not be able to post bond until the judge lifts the hold.
District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office plans to file a motion Thursday to revoke Ard's bond for the May drug arrest due to the recent homicide arrest.
WBRZ learned late Tuesday, the state Inspector General was investigating how DCFS reacted to multiple incidents involving the child's overdoses and the mother's arrest. DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters released the following statement Wednesday morning, but declined to do an on camera interview.
"When we learned of the tragedy involving this child, we immediately began a comprehensive review of this case and all circumstances surrounding it.
The Department has already taken numerous steps to make changes that range from policy changes to personnel actions. The review is ongoing.
We are also working with the Office of Inspector General to review every step of this case and will not be able to comment further."
Watch Chris Nakamoto reports all day on WBRZ.
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