Berkshire County couple charged in foster child death
Fatality like to raise more questions about DCF
THE BERKSHIRE DISTRICT Attorney’s office has filed charges against two foster parents in Adams for failing to get medical attention for their 10-month-old foster child, who died of complications from an illness.
A Berkshire County grand jury indicted Matthew Tucker and Cassandra Barlow-Tucker, both 37, on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment of a child. They were arraigned Thursday and released on personal recognizance.
Kristoff Zenopolous’ death occurred more than a year ago, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office said it took this long to file charges because it was a significant investigation, involving extensive testing by the medical examiner’s office, and because of COVID-19-related delays.
The charges filed against the foster parents are likely to raise renewed questions about the role of the Department of Children and Families in screening foster families and protecting vulnerable children. The Office of the Child Advocate recently released a scathing report detailing DCF’s failures in the death of David Almond, a Fall River teenager, allegedly due to abuse and neglect by his father and father’s girlfriend.
“The child’s death is a tragedy that resulted in the immediate closure of the foster home, which had been licensed and in good standing since 2017,” said DCF spokesperson Andrea Grossman. “The Department of Children and Families does not tolerate neglect or abuse of any child and will collaborate with the ongoing criminal proceedings.”
Jill Sheldon, an attorney for the Tuckers, could not be reached Friday afternoon. But she told the Berkshire Eagle that an unnamed outside organization was responsible for giving the Tuckers the child’s medical records, which never happened, and taking him to the doctor. Sheldon said the Tuckers had fostered 20 high-needs children before Zenopolous, and they were being “scapegoated” in the case.
According to the Berkshire District Attorney, Zenopolous was found dead in his crib on February 18, 2020. The Office of the Medical Examiner determined that he died of complications from strep throat, pneumonia, and the resulting build-up of pus in his lungs.
According to the district attorney’s office, investigators determined that Kristoff had been showing visible signs of illness for two weeks before his death. Antibiotics are typically used to treat these illnesses, and prosecutors said the Tuckers’ failure to obtain medical care for Zenopolous caused the child to develop a widespread infection leading to the significant buildup of fluid and a collapsed lung.
“His death was preventable and I thank the grand jury for their careful deliberation and returning these indictments so that my office may obtain justice for Kristoff,” District Attorney Andrea Harrington said in a statement. “We should never see another child in Massachusetts die because a caregiver failed to provide basic medical care.”
Information that DCF is required to provide under federal law lists the cause of death as “supported allegations of neglect of the child due to concerns of medical neglect.”
According to DCF, the Tuckers were licensed as foster parents in 2017 and were in good standing with the agency. They had expressed interest in being considered as pre-adoptive parents for Zenopolous. There was no prior history of abuse and neglect of the child by the Tuckers.
The Office of the Child Advocate typically investigates any child fatalities reported by DCF. The Berkshire District Attorney’s office has received court approval to share a copy of its investigation with the Office of the Child Advocate.