By Isabel Ranney
As we head back into the school year, it is an unfortunate truth that there will be an influx of child abuse and neglect allegations. Although summertime for children brings the promise of lazy afternoons at home, it also means that children are stuck at home with parents who might be abusing them without the relief and oversight school can provide. Often, we discuss what the process may look like for when a child is the victim of physical and/or sexual abuse, but we rarely discuss the consequences of child abuse in the form of neglect. A recent case of extreme neglect from Flagstaff, Arizona, provides a horrific example of when neglect turns to murder.
What does it mean to neglect a child?
Neglect is often described as inaction. You neglect your dog when you don’t walk them after work, or you neglect yourself when you forget to put on sunscreen. It is the absence of doing an affirmative act that creates the neglect. The same is true for child neglect, which is defined as “the inability or unwillingness of a parent, guardian, or custodian of a child to provide that child with supervision, food, clothing, shelter or medical care if that unwillingness substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare.” A.R.S. § 8-201(25)(a). The law provides an exception where the responsible adult has failed to provide services for a child with a disability or chronic illness only because of the unavailability of reasonable services. In laymen’s terms, parents who fail to adequately feed their children (potentially resulting in the child being malnourished) or to timely seek medical attention when a child is injured, are guilty of neglect.
What happened in Flagstaff, Arizona?
When the police received a call reporting a child was unresponsive on March 2, 2020, they certainly did not expect to find two male children, aged 6 and 7, who were severely malnourished. They had been confined to a 21×25 inch bedroom closet for sixteen hours a day over the course of a month, with limited access to food and other basic needs. Id. Deshaun Martinez, the unresponsive child, weighed only 18 pounds – the expected weight of a one-year-old. He was six years old. Despite the best efforts of first responders, Deshaun passed away due to “severe starvation.” His parents, Elizabeth Archibeque and Anthony Martinez, as well as the paternal grandmother, Ann Martinez, were each charged with first degree felony murder and child abuse. On July 27, 2023, Elizabeth was sentenced to life in prison. Anthony and Ann Martinez’s cases are pending trial.
As is the case with many instances of child abuse, this was not the first time the Archibeque/Martinez household had come to the attention of the authorities for possible child abuse. On at least one occasion, in 2013, the Department of Child Safety (DCS) was dispatched to investigate reported abuse of one of the boy’s siblings (the parties had two other children, both female, who appeared well and were not subjected to the same abuse). Id. The allegation was unsubstantiated after the parents agreed to participate in voluntary in-home services.
What is the takeaway from this tragedy?
Instances like these of child neglect are less likely to become large news stories than allegations of physical or sexual abuse, but it is important to recognize that child neglect is just as, if not more, rampant. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, “more children suffer from neglect than from physical and sexual abuse combined. Yet neglect received substantially less attention than other forms of abuse.” This could be because signs of neglect can be harder to spot as they tend to be less obvious to a passerby. This further accentuates the importance of mandatory reporters, like teachers, who have a duty to report suspected child abuse and neglect. Because teachers have daily contact with children, they may be in a better position to identify when a child is being neglected. A child may show up to school in unwashed clothes from the day before, have bad hygiene, or may return from summer break looking malnourished/underfed (for a full list of warning signs, see https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/signs.pdf).
Isabel Ranney received her Juris Doctorate from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University in May 2023. She is a former associate editor for the Law Journal for Social Justice and has been a law clerk at Woodnick Law since May 2021.