Foster mother who fatally
beat 2-year-old gets 25 to life
By Matt Stevens and Garrett Therolf -
February 21, 2014
A foster mother convicted of second-degree
murder in the beating death of a 2-year-old girl was sentenced
Friday to 25-years-to-life in state prison.
Kiana Barker, 34, who had been trying to adopt
Viola Vanclief in 2010, severely beat the toddler and later called
911 to report that the girl had stopped breathing, prosecutors
In October, a jury found Barker guilty of
second-degree murder, assault on a child causing death and child
The case was the latest in a years-long series
of problems for United Care, a nonprofit foster agency that
contracted with Los Angeles County at the time of Viola’s death,
and had placed the girl with Barker.
After the child's death, the county terminated
its contract with United Care.
Witnesses said that Baker burst into Viola's
room after hours of heavy drinking and beat her. When Barker was
pulled away, the little girl was on the floor, struggling to
breathe, the witness said.
Though doctors at a hospital attempted to
revive the girl, prosecutors said the child was "dead on arrival."
The girl had suffered “extensive blunt-force
trauma,” the district attorney's office said in a statement.
A motion filed with the court at sentencing
said the trauma was caused by “multiple repeated blows by an
adult, exerting maximum force."
Ultimately, it was determined that the child --
who was placed in child care because her biological mother was a
crack addict and prostitute -- had died from massive bleeding in
her chest cavity, prosecutors said.
Authorities said that Barker eventually told
investigators that Viola had become jammed in a bed frame and that
she might have accidentally hit the girl with a hammer as she
tried to free her.
The child’s death focused attention on the
Department of Children and Family Services, whose officials could
not initially explain how the child came into the care of Barker,
and her then-boyfriend, James Dewitt Julian.
Shortly after Viola’s death, The Times reported
that Barker had been the subject of five previous child-abuse
complaints, including one substantiated allegation that she had
severely neglected her own biological child in 2002.
Julian had been convicted in 1992 of armed
robbery -- a fact that should have disqualified him from living in
a home certified for foster care.
Los Angeles County supervisors later voted to
develop an investigations unit and subsequently terminated their
relationship with United Care.
In December, The Times also reported that at
least four children in Los Angeles County had died as a result of
abuse or neglect over the past five years in homes overseen by
private agencies, such as United Care.
Responding to the report, Los Angeles County
officials launched a review of the criminal clearance process for
foster parents selected by private agencies.
Viola’s remains have been buried in an unmarked
grave in Carson.
Foster mother convicted of 2nd-degree
murder in girl's beating death
By Jill Cowan - Latimes.com
October 18, 2013
A foster mother was convicted of second-degree
murder Friday in the beating death of a 2-year-old girl she had
been trying to adopt.
Kiana Barker, 33, faces 25 years to life in
prison for the 2010 death of Viola Vanclief, a toddler in her
care. A jury also convicted Barker of assault on a child causing
death and child abuse.
"Justice was served," Deputy Dist. Atty. Pak
Kouch said after proceedings in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The case was the latest in a long series of
troubles for United Care, a nonprofit foster agency that
contracted with the county at the time and had placed Viola with
Barker. After the girl’s death, the county terminated that
Prosecutors alleged that Barker severely beat
"Vicki" with a belt on March 3, 2010 -- about a day before Barker
called 911, saying the girl had stopped breathing. Though doctors
at a hospital attempted to revive her, a prosecutor said in her
closing statement the child was "dead on arrival."
Later, authorities said, Barker told
investigators Viola had gotten stuck in a bed frame and that she
might have accidentally hit the girl with a hammer as she tried to
In her closing statement Thursday, Kouch showed
graphic images of the toddler, battered and prostrate on a
"It's hard to imagine a mother beating her
child to death," she said, but "the evidence in this case is not
only simple, it's overwhelming."
She described Barker as a violent woman who
beat her biological daughter with a belt and who ultimately
"whooped and whooped and whooped on Viola," killing her.
Barker, she alleged, was the only person home
to deliver a final blow to Viola's upper side, which led to severe
internal bleeding in her chest area. She died of blunt force
trauma, authorities said.
But Barker's attorney, Robert Haberer, said it
was Barker's then-boyfriend, James Julian, who beat the girl.
Julian pleaded no contest to an accessory charge in 2011 and was
sentenced to three years in jail for his role. He and Barker
married less than a month after Viola's death.
Haberer said Barker had lied to investigators,
telling them Julian wasn't at the South Los Angeles house when she
found Viola unconscious.
He said Barker knew that by allowing Julian, a
convicted felon, to live at her house, she was violating the
county's foster care rules.
Haberer said his client had sought more, not
less, responsibility over Viola's care. She tried to adopt the
girl, which would have negated the prosecution's contention that
Barker fostered her to earn a stipend, he said.
Foster mother, boyfriend rearrested in alleged beating death of
The action followed investigators' meticulous
re-creation of the hours before the girl's March 4 death in South
Los Angeles, police say.
By Garrett Therolf, Los Angeles Times
July 21, 2010
More than four months after a 2-year-old foster
child was allegedly beaten to death, Los Angeles police have
rearrested the foster mother and her boyfriend in connection with
Kiana Barker, 30, was arrested Thursday and
faces charges of murder, child abuse and dissuading a witness,
according to the felony complaint issued in the case. Barker's
bail was set at $1.1 million.
Two days later her boyfriend, James Julian, 38,
surrendered to police. He faces charges of accessory to murder
after the fact and dissuading a witness, according to court
records. He is being held in lieu of $1.6-million bail.
Both had been under suspicion since Viola
Vanclief's death March 4. At that time, according to coroner's
records, Barker told authorities that Viola had been caught in a
bed frame and was accidentally hit with a hammer while Barker
tried to free her. No immediate medical care was sought for the
girl, according to the coroner's initial information.
Barker and Julian were initially arrested March
9 on suspicion of murder but were released two days later, with no
charges filed. At the time, police said they were continuing to
Since then, investigators have worked to
meticulously re-create the hours before the toddler's death,
according to Lt. Vincent Neglia of the LAPD's Juvenile Division.
Detectives worked with medical experts to
pinpoint Viola's injuries, and they used interviews and other
techniques to determine Barker's whereabouts at the time the
injuries occurred. "It was very difficult to put together a
timeline," Neglia said.
Before Viola's death, Barker was in the final
stages of being approved by the county Department of Children and
Family Services to adopt the girl despite being the subject of
five previous child-abuse complaints, including one substantiated
allegation that she had severely neglected her own biological
child in 2002, according to confidential records.
Julian, who is known as "Big Bird," was
convicted in 1992 of armed robbery, according to court records.
The couple's troubled history raised questions
about how Barker could have been approved as a foster parent by
child-welfare authorities. Under state rules, both adults should
have been disqualified from caring for or living with foster
In response to Viola's death, Los Angeles
County has since terminated its contract with United Care, the
foster-family agency that certified Barker and ran state
background checks on her.
United Care, which oversaw 88 homes with 216
foster children, had been repeatedly cited in recent years after
caregivers choked, hit or whipped their charges with a belt.
Additionally, county auditors found financial
irregularities at the agency in 2007. According to the report,
United Care was paid $3.95 million for the care of 232 children,
but $274,608 in expenditures was determined to be "questionable,"
and it was ordered to be repaid to taxpayers. Much of the money
Foster mother had 5 abuse
Inquiries are focusing on her role in the death
of a 2-year-old girl and how she got licensed in the first place.
One of the abuse reports about her was substantiated.
By Garrett Therolf - Latimes.com
March 18, 2010
The South Los Angeles foster mother under
investigation in the fatal beating of a 2-year-old child had been
the subject of five previous child-abuse complaints, including one
substantiated allegation that she had severely neglected her own
biological child in 2002, confidential records show.
Kiana Barker's troubled history, coming in the
wake of disclosures about her live-in boyfriend's criminal record,
has raised questions about how she could have been approved last
year as a foster parent by child-welfare authorities. Under state
rules, both adults should have been disqualified from caring for
or living with foster children.
Barker's home was supposed to have been a
refuge for Viola Vanclief, born in 2007 to a schizophrenic mother
who proved dangerously neglectful when off her medications.
Instead, confidential child-welfare records reviewed by The Times
show, Viola was moved from one high-risk home to another.
After Viola's March 4 death, Barker told
investigators that the toddler had been trapped in a bed frame and
that she accidentally struck the child with a hammer while trying
to free her, according to coroner's records. Viola had multiple
bruises on her body, the records say. The death was deemed a
homicide caused by blunt-force trauma.
Barker and James Julian were arrested on
suspicion of murder, then released after prosecutors sent the case
back to the police and coroner for further investigation.
Neither Barker nor Julian could be reached for
Two weeks after Viola's death, child-welfare
officials still are unable to say why Barker's past had not ruled
her out as a foster parent.
"I'm still in the information-gathering phase,"
said Trish Ploehn, Los Angeles County Department of Children and
Family Services director. "I'm still pulling the state regs to
determine who was responsible to assess the history and who was
responsible to follow up following the subsequent hotline calls.
It's a complicated and complex analysis."
Jeff Hiratsuka, head of the state Community
Care Licensing Division, which is responsible for licensing foster
parents, was unable to explain why the 2002 substantiated-neglect
probe did not lead his workers to disqualify Barker when she
applied in 2005 for a child-care license and in 2009 for
Hiratsuka said it was unclear whether Barker's
history had not been reported to the state database by county
workers, or if it had been reported and overlooked by his staff.
"We need to gather more information," said
Lizelda Lopez, a spokeswoman for the state agency.
Reached Wednesday, Viola's sister, 23-year-old
Sonja Vanclief of Columbus, Ohio, said the family regretted that
Viola had ever been taken away from her mother, Olivia. "These
people should go and do whatever time," she said, referring to
Barker and Julian. "Viola was a baby and she was defenseless, and
they were supposed to protect her."
As for the county, "they are sloppy," said
Sonja Vanclief, who was herself placed in foster care as a child.
Viola first came to the attention of Ploehn's
department shortly after her birth when child-welfare
investigators determined that her schizophrenic mother was not
taking her medication, according to the records. Viola was briefly
removed from the biological mother's care and then, as is common
practice, reunified with her as the county tried to help the woman
care for her infant.
But seven months later, the investigators
determined that the mother was still not taking her medication,
was using cocaine and had violently attacked another person. The
county initiated court proceedings to terminate the mother's
parental rights, the records show.
The infant was later placed with Barker, 30,
who has two children of her own. It is unclear whether county
social workers at that time were aware of the five previous
complaints against Barker.
The records show, however, that county Children
and Family Services investigators substantiated the severe neglect
charge in 2002 -- a finding that should have placed Barker on the
California attorney general’s database consulted by employers and
regulators to vet foster parents and other child-care providers.
Details of the 2002 case and others were not
contained in the records reviewed by The Times.
Over subsequent years, callers continued to
report abuse or neglect by Barker but social workers were unable
to substantiate the complaints, the records show. In 2005, someone
accused Barker of emotionally abusing a child and investigators
deemed the allegation unfounded. In July 2008, a caller alleged
neglect of two foster children -- a charge deemed inconclusive.
One month later, Barker was accused of general neglect and sexual
abuse of foster children. Investigators determined the neglect
charge to be inconclusive and the sexual-abuse charge unfounded.
Three months later, investigators concluded another complaint of
sexual abuse of a foster child was unfounded.
Under state rules, the inconclusive cases
should have been entered into the state database and might have
precluded a state license.
In addition, the records show, Barker's
boyfriend went undetected in Barker's home over the course of the
couple's three-year relationship. Julian, who is known as "Big
Bird," is also under investigation in Viola's death, and was
convicted in 1992 of armed robbery -- a fact that should have
disqualified him from living in a home certified for foster care.
South L.A. foster mother,
boyfriend are under investigation in child's death
Kiana Barker and James Julian were arrested in
the death of 2-year-old Viola Vanclief, who was struck with a
By Garrett Therolf and Anna Gorman -
March 15, 2010
A foster mother and her boyfriend are under
investigation in the death of a 2-year-old child in their care who
was beaten with a hammer, according to authorities and coroner's
Viola Vanclief's death March 4 is the latest in
a series of troubles linked to United Care Inc , a nonprofit
foster care agency that contracts with Los Angeles County to
provide shelter for abused and neglected children.
Records show that United Care, which oversees
88 homes with 216 foster children, has been repeatedly cited in
recent years after caregivers choked, hit and whipped their
charges with a belt. In 2007, a foster child drowned while
swimming unsupervised in a pool.
South Los Angeles residents Kiana Barker, 30,
and her boyfriend, James Julian, 38 were arrested last week on
suspicion of murder in connection with Viola's death, according to
Los Angeles police records. They were released two days later,
with no charges filed. Police are continuing to investigate the
Barker was decertified as a foster parent last
week, and state regulators posted a notice near one of the no
trespassing signs outside her house saying that a child-care
center license there had been suspended.
Barker told investigators that Viola was
trapped in a bed frame when she accidentally struck the child with
a hammer while trying to free her, according to coroner's records.
Viola had multiple bruises on her body, the records say. The death
was deemed a homicide.
It is unclear how the child came to be in the
couple's care. Julian had been convicted in 1998 for felony
robbery using a firearm -- a fact that should have barred him from
living in a home with foster children, according to state records.
Trish Ploehn, director of the Department of
Children and Family Services, declined to comment on details of
the case, but said: "This child's death is extremely saddening for
In a prepared statement, Craig J. Woods, the
executive director of United Care, also said he could not comment
because the facts aren't fully known. "The entire United Care
Foster Family Agency family . . . are all mourning the tragic and
unfortunate loss of Baby Viola; and our thoughts, prayers and
support remain focused on the families involved."
While the death is being investigated by
Ploehn's department and the Los Angeles Police Department, all
county social workers involved in the case have been placed on
desk duty, and United Care is not receiving new placements.
The death comes as Ploehn's department is
facing scrutiny in the deaths of children under its watch. All but
two of the more than 30 cases to come to light in the last two
years have involved children killed while in the custody of their
On Monday, Barker's grandmother, who lives next
door, said that the day Viola died, she had been at a doctor's
appointment. She returned to find Barker screaming.
"Grandma, she's not breathing," Claudia Barker
recalled Kiana saying of Viola. "She was hysterical that the baby
was not breathing."
Kiana Barker didn't say anything about a
hammer, Claudia Barker said, but said the baby was diabetic and
had low blood sugar. She said Julian tried to revive the infant
while Kiana called 911.
Claudia Barker said her granddaughter has two
biological children, a 6-month-old daughter and a 9-year-old
daughter. Kiana also had two foster children, including Viola.
She said Kiana Barker and her boyfriend have
been together about three years. Early in the relationship, she
ran a child-care facility out of the house but stopped doing it
because business was slow. She was licensed as a foster parent a
year ago, records show.
"She has many children come through there until
the mammas take their children back," Claudia Barker said.
Family friend Phillip Brown was standing
nearby. He said he has known Kiana Barker for eight years. "She
was more of a spiritual lady, not a violent lady," he said. "I
don't know what happened."
According to records on file with the state's
division of Community Care Licensing, Barker was a foster parent
for United Care, an agency whose caregivers sometimes left
children in dirty clothes or placed them in rooms without a single
working light bulb. In the 2007 drowning, the foster mother was
distracted during a family reunion, the records showed.
In addition, county auditors issued a 2007
report that uncovered financial irregularities at the agency.
According to the report, United Care was paid $3,954,796 for the
care of 232 children, but $274,608 in expenditures were determined
"questionable" and was ordered to be repaid to taxpayers.
Ploehn said her department hadn't been able to
begin collecting the money until late last year. But Woods, the
executive director of United Care, said the delay was not his
United Care was "a good faith partner" trying
to resolve the discrepancies, he said, but was delayed by the
county's inability to offer timely appeals.