Ella Vitalis was hospitalized with a blunt-force injury to her head on Sept. 15
A 1-year-old infant died in Brooklyn, N.Y., last month, days after a judge ruled her and her brother to be returned to her parents, whom city officials alleged were abusive, according to court documents obtained by The New York Times.
According to the Times, Ella Vitalis was hospitalized with a blunt-force injury to her head on Sept. 15. The infant allegedly also had other injuries that included a swollen eyelid, bruising and cuts on her forehead, and "what appeared to be" a broken jaw, and bite marks, per the court papers obtained by the Times.
Her mother, Lafayette Browne, 29, allegedly told authorities that Ella began choking while her father, Johnson Vitalis, 28, was feeding her and attributed the injuries to drinking too much milk. After suffering a brain bleed from the incident, Ella was placed on life support and died on Sept. 20, the Times reports.
"The safety and well-being of New York City's children is our top priority," a spokesperson from the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) shared with PEOPLE in a statement Tuesday evening. "We are investigating this tragedy with the NYPD."
Ella's death occurred a day after she and her older brother Liam, 2, were ordered to remain under the care of their parents' care by Judge Erik S. Pitchal in Kings County Court. The children had been in foster care with family members until June due to a "substantiated finding of abuse last year" by the ACS.
After returning to their care, the parents allegedly failed to bring Ella to at least five follow-up appointments with specialists and allegedly did not allow either child to be evaluated for early care intervention.
During a hearing on Sept. 14, the judge could have removed the children from their parents' custody, the Times reports. Instead, Pitchal let the children stay with Browne and Vitalis, and ordered the parents to plan a visitation arrangement with the children's maternal grandmother.
The Times reports that the alleged abuse was first discovered when Ella was three weeks old, according to the court documents. At the time, the children's parents are said to have gotten into an argument, causing Ella to sustain a fractured skull, small brain hemorrhage, and two broken ankles. During the incident, Browne allegedly pushed Vitalis into a wall while he carried Liam in his arms. Liam did not sustain any injuries.
In another incident in September 2022, Ella was allegedly found “with a moderate amount of blood in her mouth” after being hospitalized with a tongue laceration. The discovery was made after she was left alone with her father, and a doctor "determined a sharp object must have been used to cause that level of harm," according to the records the Times obtained.
PEOPLE has not been able to reach Pitchal. The Kings County Family Court did not immediately return PEOPLE's inquiries on Wednesday, and The New York State Office of Court Administration referred inquiries to the family court.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
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