A father wonders if he could have done more
In the front row of an Inglewood Municipal court, Donya Steen sat quietly Monday morning, staring down at the floor, his hands sweaty from anxiety.
He wore a pin-striped suit, his hair pulled back in cornrows, as he waited for his estranged wife, Jennine Steen, and her boyfriend, Solomon Walters, to be arraigned on charges that they killed his 5-year-old daughter, Miaamor.
He repeatedly asked his sister, who sat next to him, whether he had done enough to save his daughter. She reassured Donya -- who had alerted county social workers to possible abuse of his daughter -- that he did all he could do.
On Sept. 16, Inglewood police were called to the Airport Parkview Hotel, an extended stay hotel, about 2 p.m. regarding “a baby not breathing,” according to a department news release.
When authorities arrived, they found Miaamor in a bathtub, unconscious and not breathing, police said. Paramedics performed CPR on the girl and rushed her to Centinela Hospital where she was pronounced dead.
Several hours after her death, Walters was questioned by investigators and arrested after a preliminary investigation by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office determined Miaamor died of blunt-force trauma to the head, police said.
Jennine Steen, who told family that she was at work during the time of the incident, was arrested 12 days later.
Walters has been charged with one count of murder and one count of assault on a child causing death. Jennine Steen has also been charged with one count of murder and one count of child abuse, according to a felony complaint by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
In court Monday, Jennine Steen refused to come out of the holding cell. She trembled and had difficulty breathing as her attorney told her to calm down and come out. With hesitation, she walked forward and stood next to Walters who showed no emotion as their public defenders asked the commissioner for a continuance for the defendants’ pleas. Their next court appearance was scheduled for Nov. 3.
As bailiffs escorted the pair to holding cells, Donya Steen, visibly overcome with anger and grief, walked out of the court.
He and Jennine were not married when Miaamor was born in July 2005. They stayed together during his incarceration on weapons charges in 2007, marrying at the prison during his 32-month sentence.
Donya said Jennine would visit often with their daughter. Shortly before he was released, he said his wife’s demeanor changed. At the time, he thought it had to do with conflicts she had had with her family over their relationship and financial troubles. Within weeks of his release from prison in September 2009, Donya said he and Jennine had filed for divorce and she began dating Walters.
At one point, Donya said Jennine dropped off Miaamor at his house and said she was unable to take care of their child, who he cared for until his mother-in-law came to pick her up weeks later.
"Mia was only supposed to be gone for an hour, but she never brought her back," Donya said.
After that, Donya said making contact with his daughter proved difficult; Jennine refused to take his calls and he was blocked by the staff at his daughter’s day care center. "I used to be on the "pick-up" list, but [Jennine] took me off," he said. "They wouldn't even let Miaamor come to the window so I could see her."
Donya had no communication with his daughter and had no idea of her whereabouts.
In June he said he got an unexpected phone call from Miaamor. During their conversation, Donya said his daughter had told him her mother had been hitting her. "I told her let me speak to mommy. I got on the phone with Jennine and I told her to stop hitting her. I told her she was going to kill her,” Donya said. “But she said she was just playing around."
Concerned, Donya said he made a call to the Department of Children and Family services to report possible abuse. According to sources familiar with the case, records indicate two separate hotline calls about Miaamor. The most recent investigation was closed about a month before her death, with no finding of abuse.
"The worker said she met with Mia and she wasn't being abused, neglected, tortured and the case was closed," Donya said. He said he pleaded with the social worker to continue investigating but was told this was not something they could handle. He said the social worker told him to take up his complaints in family court.
He learned of his daughter’s death Sept. 17. Jennine's mother called his mother to tell her that something had happened to Miaamor.
Donya called Jennine’s family, who told him that his daughter was gone.
"I asked, where did she go? And they told me she was dead."
-- Sarah Ardalani
Photo: Miaamor Steen, 5. Credit: Sarah Ardalani / Los Angeles Times