State records show extensive DCFS involvement with family of dead 8-year-old Navin Jones
The Department of Children & Family Services had extensive involvement in the life of 8-year-old homicide victim Navin Jones — up until the very day he died, records show.
According to state records obtained by WCBU, DCFS was in the process of facilitating a transfer of guardianship for Jones in the weeks before he was found unresponsive inside his parents' Center Bluff home.
Jones' paternal grandmother — who is not named in the records — obtained legal custody of Jones and his 12-year-old older sibling in April of 2017.
Despite being in their grandmother's legal custody, however, both children were most recently residing with their parents — Stephanie Jones and Brandon Walker.
Throughout February and March, DCFS was helping the children's parents gain temporary guardianship; the latest record entry on March 14 stated officials were "waiting for [signed] paperwork to arrive."
Just two weeks later, Jones was found unresponsive inside his parents' home, 1717 N. Gale Ave., on Tuesday. He was pronounced dead at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center that night.
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Hardwood ruled the death a homicide, and Peoria police arrested Walker, 40, and Jones, 35.
Both parents were charged with one count of first-degree murder and could face life in prison. Bond was set at $1 million each.
Police reports said Navin Jones was "extremely malnourished with a skeletal appearance." Authorities said he had numerous bruises, scrapes, abrasions, and scars spread across his body. He also had what appeared to be ligature injuries to both wrists.
Harwood called it one of the worst cases of abuse he'd ever seen.
Bond set at $1M for parents charged with murder of 8-year-old Navin Jones
During a bond hearing on Thursday, prosecutor Dave Kenny said it seemed the neglect had been ongoing, and the last time anyone saw the boy in some semblance of health was in late October.
Records obtained by WCBU detail a long timeline of DCFS involvement in Jones' eight years of life ... including the recent attempts to grant his parents short-term guardianship.
Navin Jones' first encounter with DCFS was on the day he was born.
Born with narcotics in his system in December 2013, Jones was placed into state care following birth, records show.
DCFS was familiar with Stephanie Jones before both children were born, records show.
Jones gave birth to a child in 2006 who died at 3 months of age. Walker was not the father of this child.
The cause of death for the 3-month-old was ruled SIDS. However, a DCFS report determined the death to be "indicated due to the circumstances surrounding evidence of unsafe sleep." (In DCFS cases, "indicated" cases mean there was credible evidence that abuse exists.) Harwood reopened an investigation into the 3-month-old's death this week.
In January of 2010, Jones gave birth to Navin Jones' older sibling. Walker is the father of this child.
The older sibling was born premature. Due to "noted concerns of prior child death," and a suspicion that Stephanie Jones "may be living with individuals who were found unfit," the court granted custody of this child to DCFS.
In January 2012, however, the court returned the child back to the care of Jones and Walker. This child lived with Jones and Walker until Navin Jones was born, at which point both children were transferred to DCFS care.
The children were in the care of the state until 2017, when the Tazewell County court appointed their paternal grandmother their legal guardian.
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The DCFS hotline received "several reports" regarding the children's wellbeing in 2017, and one report in 2020.
A report from December 2017 — when Navin Jones was 4 — stated Stephanie Jones had "spanked" the boy, causing bruises to his buttocks.
From July 10, 2021 to Aug. 1, 2021, the children's paternal grandmother left both children with Stephanie Jones and Brandon Walker while traveling to Florida for a "family emergency." When the grandmother returned to Illinois in August, Jones and Walker "refused to return" the children.
The grandmother contacted the Peoria Police Department to assist with the return of the children. She also contacted the DCFS hotline to report concerns about the home environment at Jones' and Walker's residence.
She also filed a police report in Washington, stating the children were due to start school there in the fall of 2021.
On Aug. 17, 2021, DCFS opened an investigation into environmental neglect following the paternal grandmother's report.
According to a Peoria Police report dated Aug. 17, the grandmother told police she was "done dealing with this and was just going to go back to court and have the children put in foster care."
Two days later on Aug. 19, however, she filed a report with the Washington Police Department attempting to get the children back. She also requested a "complete welfare check."
Following several attempts to to locate the children, Washington police reported them missing. On Aug. 24, the next day, an "acquaintance" of Walker stated the family was in Kissimmee, Florida.
According to records, DCFS made numerous attempts to locate the children from August to October. On Aug. 24, Walker told CPS he was out of town and "had no plans of returning to Illinois ... [or] turning the children over to DCFS."
Records show police visited Walker's business in Peoria Heights, where officers talked with Walker's brother, who indicated he was out of town.
On Oct. 14, Walker told DCFS the family had moved to Florida and would not return to Illinois. On Nov. 3, the case was closed.
On Feb. 14, 2022, DCFS received an anonymous hotline tip alleging Navin Jones and his older sibling were in Peoria but not attending school and "often dirty." The tip also alleged the following:
- Jones' older sibling went to work with Walker every day
- Jones' eyes were "black and blue"
- Jones got in trouble for "getting up in the middle of the night and eating chicken that Stephanie had cooked for their dogs"
- Walker "talks down" to the older sibling and "calls him names"
- Stephanie Jones will lock Navin Jones in the basement with a physical lock when she "wants to take a nap or doesn't want to deal with him"
DCFS opened an investigation and contacted local schools to learn neither Navin Jones nor the older sibling were enrolled in the Peoria Public Schools district.
On Feb. 15, CPS requested police records and attempted an in-person contact with both children at their parents' home. No one answered.
Later that day, Walker called CPS back and "denied any harm to the children." He said the children do not attend school because he and Stephanie Jones did not have legal guardianship — that the family returned from Florida in January and "has not been able to re-establish guardianship."
Walker said he takes the older child to work with him because it gives the child "something to do during the day." He said the child did hurt his finger at work.
CPS made an appointment to see the children on Feb. 18. No one answered the door. Walker asked if the appointment could be rescheduled to Feb. 22. After investigators returned on Feb. 22, both Navin Jones and his older sibling were observed and interviewed inside the home.
Both children reported feeling safe and "denied anyone was hurting them" and "that anyone locks up or hurts" them.
CPS noted Navin Jones appeared "sickly" in appearance, thin and small in stature. He did not have black eyes, but he did have "pick marks" on his hands.
The investigator told Stephanie Jones and Walker of her concerns regarding Navin Jones' being thin and "not appearing healthy."
Stephanie Jones said her son "eats all the time but does not gain weight." Walker said he can "eat a whole pizza on his own."
CPS suggested Jones may have a medical issue. Walker said he would like to take his son to the doctor, but because the parents lack legal guardianship, they cannot.
Both parents asked CPS for help getting legal guardianship of both children, stating this would remove barriers to getting the kids medical care and school enrollment. The investigator told the parents she would assist them with obtaining "short-term guardianship" of both children, "to remove any barriers" for medical care.
Jones and his sibling were assessed as safe.
On Feb. 23, a case worker with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois informed CPS that they had spoken with Stephanie Jones about concerns related to Navin Jones playing with feces.
On Feb. 24, CPS spoke with the Peoria Police Department regarding allegations of human trafficking, and advised both children "denied any abuse" by either parent.
On March 2, child services spoke with Jones' paternal grandmother, who "expressed frustration" at police officers' inability to get her grandchildren back in the fall of 2021.
She said she wanted no relationship with Walker. DCFS asked her to sign the short-term guardianship paperwork so her son could attempt guardianship. The grandmother said she would sign the paperwork.
On March 3, CPS spoke with Walker regarding the paperwork. He said his children were "doing well." CPS asked if Walker would participate in "Intact Family Services" — a program that includes counseling services for children and assistance to parents seeking to re-establish guardianship. Walker said he would speak to Jones and "let CPS know if they are interested."
On March 14, the parental grandmother signed short-term guardianship and sent paperwork; DCFS was "waiting for paperwork to arrive."
On March 29 — Tuesday, the day Navin Jones died — the grandmother signed and sent paperwork again; the paperwork awaited signatures from Jones and Walker.
That day, Stephanie Jones found Navin Jones unresponsive. He was declared dead shortly before 8 p.m.
Police noted Jones' body had ligature marks bed sores, and that piles of urine-soaked sheets were in his bedroom. He weighed 38 pounds and was 72 degrees upon arrival to the hospital.
Walker and Jones are due back in Peoria County court for an April 28 arraignment. Both were represented by public defender Chris Frericks during Thursday's hearing, although Walker indicated he hopes to hire a defense attorney.
The investigation opened Feb. 14 is still ongoing, records show.