7Investigates: Whitman mom charged in death of 2-year-old daughter has long criminal history

Two-year-old Lyric Farrell was declared brain dead in late December, two days after doctors say she was brought into the hospital with a “non-accidental traumatic head injury.”

Her mother, Shaniqua Leonard, appeared in court Friday to face charges including reckless endangerment of a child. Now, Lyric’s other family members want to know why Leonard had custody of the young girl.

Lyric spent most of her life in foster care. Five weeks before her death, Lyric’s grandmother says the Department of Children and Families put her back in the custody of her mother.

“I wish I could say I’m shocked but I’m not,” former child abuse prosecutor Wendy Murphy said.

Murphy also says DCF doesn’t always look at the full picture.

“DCF too often prioritizes keeping the family together, at the expense of the well being of children,” Murphy said. “There has to be a philosophy where the child’s best interest comes first, even if it means tearing the family apart. Period. Like no discussion to be had.”

DCF would not say why Lyric, or her six siblings, were first removed from their mother’s custody.

“In a case like this, even though we don’t know the details, we know that the children were removed from her care, that means the children were at risk of harm,” Murphy said.

Lyric’s father, Christopher Farrell told 7NEWS that he believes it’s because of Leonard’s history with the law.

Leonard was found guilty of domestic assault against Christopher Farrell, just days before Lyric’s death.

In April 2018, Leonard was charged with intimidation of a witness, but those charges were dismissed.

Also dismissed were charges of assault in 2017, violating a harassment prevention order in 2018, and destruction of property. They were all in different courts throughout the state.

Leonard was put on pre-trial probation for assault and battery, as well as threatening to abuse and violate a harassment prevention order in 2015.

Police calls to her home in Whitman showed she was served with a harassment protection order, but also filed orders against Lyric’s father and his girlfriend in the past.

“It’s not that complicated, and it’s not Monday morning quarterbacking for us to say this. It’s not that complicated to say, with a history of violence in the family, and we know that all seven children at one point had been removed, you don’t just return the children to a family like that,” Murphy said.

Murphy says there are more questions to be asked.

“What were the grounds that DCF relied on, to decide to return the child? Had the mother gone through some kind of treatment plan? Had she cooperated with everything DCF put in place.  I think questions need to be asked and DCF has to answer them, and not hide behind the shield of its all confidential,” Murphy said.

7NEWS asked DCF those questions and more. They would only say “law enforcement is conducting a criminal investigation of this tragic situation in collaboration with the department of children and families.”

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