That information is included in a report that was finalized this year by the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) and obtained by the Times Union last week through an open records request. It states that county Child Protective Services (CPS) investigators in the Hudson Valley failed to make adequate efforts to interview Kevin Cox, the live-in boyfriend of Davonte’s mother, in violation of required protocols.
In February, Davonte was found unresponsive in a bathtub of the Troy home where he'd been living with his mother, Nicole Bauer, and Cox. Though Bauer claimed...to a 911 dispatcher that Davonte had drowned, the child had no water in his lungs, showed extensive bruising on his body, and was in hypothermic shock.
Cox has been indicted for second-degree murder for allegedly exposing the boy to "extremely cold temperatures for a prolonged time." The murder count alleges "depraved indifference" — an accusation that Cox acted recklessly and caused a grave risk of death, though the killing might not have been intentional.
She and Davonte’s father, Freeston Paul, separated about five years ago; Bauer began dating Cox a year later.
Earlier: Children died despite warnings in New York's Family Courts
Earlier: Children died despite warnings in New York's Family Courts After children die, counties find a way to avoid scrutiny
After children die, counties find a way to avoid scrutiny Death of 6-year-old in Troy followed years of warnings
Death of 6-year-old in Troy followed years of warnings The OCFS report – which the agency was required to issue – reviews how two county-based social welfare agencies responded to allegations Paul and Bauer had made against one another.
In New York, when a member of the public calls in an abuse complaint, investigators are required to follow certain protocols in examining whether the allegations are credible, including making exhaustive efforts to interview the person accused of abuse. But CPS officials in Ulster County did not follow up on information that might have allowed them to locate Cox. Instead, they closed their abuse investigations as unfounded without speaking to him, the OCFS report found.
According to the report, Ulster County CPS in January 2018 investigated a complaint that Cox would “often get angry and violent,” and that Cox had a history of waking up Davonte “by pouring a cup of cold water on the child’s face.”
Ulster County determined there was “no credible evidence” to substantiate the allegations, even though the CPS caseworkers were “unable to locate and interview” Cox. Bauer denied the allegations and denied being in a relationship with Cox, according to the report.
“Upon receiving potential locating information for the parent substitute, (Ulster County) did not follow through with exhausting efforts to utilize the information provided to locate him,” the OCFS review found.
Freeston Paul said he told Ulster CPS that Bauer was living at Cox's apartment in Ballston Spa, where Cox resided until about two and a half years ago.
Yet there is no indication that CPS officials tried to arrange a home visit at Cox's residence, which Paul believes made it easy for Cox to avoid being interviewed. Bauer denied being in a relationship with Cox despite Cox's name being tattooed on her neck.
There were other abuse complaints, though none resulted in Cox being interviewed. In June 2017, Ulster County received a complaint that Cox was “forcefully hitting” Davonte in the head and “hitting him with a belt.” His mother was allegedly present and did not intervene.
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In that instance – despite the fact that Cox was again never interviewed – OCFS found that Ulster County “completed all casework and objectives in a timely and adequate manner” simply because caseworkers had "attempted to gather information" regarding Cox.
By early 2019, Bauer was maintaining an address in Dutchess County, where Davonte attended kindergarten. But in the summer of 2019, she disappeared and quietly relocated to a 5th Avenue residence in Troy. In the fall, Dutchess County CPS received a complaint that Davonte had been absent from school for 20 straight days.
The OCFS review found that in response, Dutchess County “exhausted efforts” to find Bauer and Davonte, including enlisting multiple law enforcement agencies and two other counties.
Before Davonte disappeared with his mother, the OCFS review found that Dutchess County had failed to interview Cox in response to a December 2018 complaint that Davonte had “sustained suspicious bruising.” (In that instance, Dutchess County CPS had determined that there was “no credible evidence” that the bruising came from Davonte’s father, who was originally suspected. The OCFS review notes certain allegations that were sustained against Paul, such as inadequate guardianship.)
The actions of Ulster County Family Court Judge Marianne Mizel have also been criticized by Paul and others.
Bauer's disappearance to Rensselaer County violated a Family Court order Mizel issued in 2019, which granted Davonte's father regular parenting time and required that Bauer live in Dutchess County. But according to Freeston Paul, Judge Mizel repeatedly said he — not Family Court — was responsible for tracking down the missing mother and serving her with notice of the legal violation.
Family Court judges have discretion to issue bench warrants for someone's arrest if they violate a court order. But Paul said the judge overseeing his son's case never mentioned invoking that authority in at least five appearances he made in her courtroom after the disappearance. When Paul argued with Mizel to take what he saw as his son's kidnapping more seriously, he said, she threatened him with contempt of court.
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Children died despite warnings in New York Family Courts
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Before children died, investigations skirted state rules