12 dead children.
All had families with CPS history.
Could more have been done to save them?
By Cheryl Mercedes, Tina Macias, Matt Keyser
Oct. 17, 2019
Editor's note: The following story contains details of child abuse that some readers might find disturbing.
IN THE EARLY WEEKS OF HER LIFE, Jazmine Rose Robin lived in an incubator with wires and tubes taped to her fragile body as nurses provided around-the-clock care. Impatient to enter the world, Jazmine was born 11 weeks premature with a body the size of a football and a full head of black hair. At 2 pounds, 15 ounces, she was too frail to leave the safety of the enclosure.
She had spells where she stopped breathing, so she relied on a ventilator. Nurses fed her through a feeding tube because she couldn’t eat on her own. Doctors warned her parents that she had a fight ahead if she was ever going to leave the neonatal intensive care unit.
A video posted on her father’s Facebook page showed Jazmine in the hospital room two days after she was born. For a moment in her short life, all was peaceful. She slept under the warmth of a blacklight with a mask to shield her eyes from the violet rays. Her pencil-thin arms rested by her side and a purple pacifier that nurses used to calm her feeble cries sat at her feet.
“That’s my little girl, tiny little girl. My daughter came out kind of tan—and early,” her father, Jason Robin Jr., joked from behind the camera.
Jazmine’s mother, Katharine White, smiled and waved at the camera from a nearby couch still wearing her blue hospital gown. From the video, her parents seemed attentive and caring, but behind those smiles was a troubling past.
Both Robin Jr. and White have a history of drug and child abuse allegations.
Both had open investigations with child protective services when Jazmine was born.
Jazmin Robin stretches her arms in the NICU. (Photo: Robin family)
In March 2018, CPS received a tip that they abused their 2-year-old son, but the agency didn’t follow up because case workers couldn’t find them. Jazmine was born just a month later, on April 30.
And after nine weeks in the NICU, she was cleared to go home with her parents.
But her homecoming only lasted 11 days.
On July 14, 2018, she was taken to an emergency room with “clearly inflicted head trauma,” according to court records. Doctors noted Jazmine’s broken bones, bite marks, bruising around her eyes and brain hemorrhage. She was cold to the touch, but doctors revived her.
For the next three days, she underwent scans that test for brain activity. All revealed the same results: there was none. She was pronounced dead July 18, 2018, at 4:42 p.m.
Jazmine suffered 96 fractures: two cracks to her skull, 71 on her ribs and 23 others throughout the rest of her body. Her autopsy noted her brain was “markedly liquefied.”
Jazmine’s story is not unique.
In the last year alone, at least 12 children from the Greater Houston area died violently, despite CPS investigating their families, KHOU 11 uncovered after a months-long investigation and analysis of hundreds of pages of closed CPS child fatality reports.
Those 12 children do not include 4-year-old Maleah Davis, whose disappearance and death earlier this year highlighted the issue. Her case is still open.
But it does include children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 9 years old who couldn’t defend themselves against their beating deaths, a shooting and an intentional drowning. Most, like Jazmine, were from Harris County.
'I wanted to hold her'
Jazmine’s grandparents, Jason Robin Sr. and Myka Robin, were smitten by their granddaughter. They wonder if her life could have been saved if CPS had stepped in sooner.
“This could have been avoided if certain people would have done their job,” Myka said.
She and her husband visited her in the NICU nearly every weekend: Robin Sr. was always taking pictures and videos, Myka couldn’t wait to hold her.
But she never got the chance.
“I saw her that day. I gave her a kiss and that’s all I could do, I had to leave,” Myka said recently as tears filled her red eyes. “I wanted to hold her, and I didn’t get the chance to do that.”
Myka (left) and Jason Robin Sr. (right) couldn't wait to hold their granddaughter, Jazmine, but said they never got the chance before she died. (Photo: John Gibson / KHOU)
After Jazmine’s release from the NICU, Myka said she called White every day to check on Jazmine. Myka wanted to see her, but said White and Robin Jr. were always moving around. Myka and Robin Sr. began to worry there was something wrong when they saw a picture of Jazmine on Facebook with two black eyes and a swollen head.
“I was outraged, I was mad, because something was going on,” Robin Sr. said. “We’d try to call and neither one of them would answer the phone or they’d go straight to voicemail.”
Myka said she reported the alleged abuse, but officials didn’t act fast enough. CPS wouldn’t comment on whether it received that report.
But both CPS and police reports detailed signs of mistreatment during Jazmine’s short life. Her parents told police she stopped breathing several times to the point where they had to give her CPR for up to 45 minutes. But they decided not to take her to the hospital because they didn’t want the hospital to call CPS, according to the report.
Even their roommate urged them to seek medical care for a week after Jazmine suffered a choking and coughing fit and she stopped eating and drinking, according to a police report. But White told the roommate she was too tired and decided to take a nap instead.
The roommate also told police that after Jazmine’s death, White asked that all of Jazmine’s belongings be removed from the house “or she will be sad when she comes back from the hospital.”
While White may have struggled with remembering Jazmine, Robin Jr. did not. Nine months after her death, he remembered her in a public Facebook post.
Jason Robin Jr. (left) and Katharine White (right) both are facing criminal charges for the death of their 11-week-old daughter, Jazmine. (Photo: Courtesy Harris Count Jail)
“Yesterday was mine and (Katharine White’s) daughter, Jazmine Rose Robins, birthday and yes she would’ve been One year old God and the Heavens needed her back home, for she had fulfilled her purpose and it was just her time,” he wrote. “Today was down right the hardest day to try to make it through without just wanting to crawl in the fetal position and just balling my eyes out. It was bad enough that I was mostly silent through the whole day. Daddy loves you and misses you soooo much baby Jazmine Rose Robin.”
Despite his doting, Robin Jr. told police he had an uncontrollable temper around Jazmine’s “compulsively crying.” He said it would make his ears “ring all the way to kingdom come and it got to my anger points.” Sometimes, he said, his anger would get the best of him and he would slam a door or punch the grass. He told police that he was reading psychology books to learn to control his temper.
“I would never, for the record, never wanted to hit her. But if even for a second I wanted to, she is too beautiful to hit,” he told an investigator, according to a police report.
This month, nearly a year and a half later, a Harris County grand jury indicted Robin Jr. and White for her death. Robin Jr. is facing capital murder charges and is currently in jail. White is charged with felony murder and is currently free on $40,000 bond.
“The evidence shows Baby Jazmine fell victim to the very people who were supposed to protect her the most,” said Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg when she announced the arrests.
A history of red flags
In a court-ordered drug test after Jazmine’s death, Robin Jr. tested positive for amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana. White also tested positive for marijuana on a court-ordered test. A CPS report noted both parents admitted to historic drug use.
Robin Jr.’s problem extends beyond drug use with a lengthy rap sheet with theft, evading arrest and felony drug possession convictions. He’s also had dealings with CPS dating back to when he was 13 years old. A public CPS report outlines a troubled teen with accusations of abusing family members that lead to a stint in juvenile detention. His troubles continued to follow him into adulthood.
In March 2018, police received an anonymous call accusing Robin Jr. of hitting and kicking his 2-year-old son and alleging White pinched him under his shirt. The tipster said the boy had bruising on his “stomach, legs, arms and buttocks,” according to a CPS report.
But CPS failed to follow up on those allegations because it couldn’t find White or Robin Jr. “Neither of the child’s parents cooperated with the CPS Investigator, or advised the local CPS Investigator of their new address out of town,” a report read.
Robin Jr. had at least one run-in with police at the time CPS said he couldn’t be located. He was arrested and booked on a felony evading arrest charge in April. He bonded out of jail and days later he was placed on deferred adjudication, court records show.
A week later, Jazmine was born.
It wasn’t until Jazmine died that CPS finally followed up on her brother’s case, according to CPS records. He was placed in foster care.
“There’s so many kids that could have been saved if CPS and everybody else would have stepped in and cared, did their job, but they didn’t,” Jazmine’s grandmother Myka said.
A broken system?
An average of 78 Texas children die from physical abuse every year, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ statistics.
At least 12 children died violently in the Greater Houston area since 2018, despite their families being on CPS' radar.
There’s the case of 3-year-old A’lona “Halo” Williams, whose parents were under investigation for three abuse complaints when she died; Jiadong Xu, 5, whose mother attempted suicide in front of him and allegedly decapitated him a couple years later; and Ahmad Samuel, whose mother kept custody even after she was convicted of stabbing his father.
One of the biggest issues when investigating child fatalities is complex family situations, said Kathryn Sibley with DFPS.
“Families are dealing with other issues, such as mental health, domestic violence, substance abuse or other things going on in the home and it often leads to child mistreatment in the home or unfortunately a child fatality,” said Sibley, the agency’s lead child abuse fatalities analyst.
She admitted some fault in Jazmine’s case, and questioned if one more call would have made a difference.
“I think in this situation while efforts are made that hindsight’s always there where you wish you could have done just one different thing,” Sibley said.
Sibley wouldn’t go into specifics about Jazmine’s case, citing an ongoing criminal investigation, but said a child can’t be removed if allegations aren’t investigated and a family can’t be found. She pointed out that Jazmine’s parents admitted to avoiding CPS by not taking Jazmine to the hospital early on.
“Until we have an intake that we can investigate, we cannot automatically pick up a child from a hospital once they’re born,” she said.
Sibley said her agency has a renewed connection with law enforcement to ensure all agencies are collaborating. But that didn’t help in Jazmine’s case when Robin Jr. was arrested during CPS’ investigation.
“We maybe have law enforcement come in contact with parents (but) when we maybe try and locate that family, they may not be responsive or open that door for us,” Sibley said. “That is the difficult part in trying to engage and locate families that they may want to be avoiding CPS action.”
Even after CPS locates a family, Sibley said, a lengthy court process may stand between them and removing the children.
In half the state’s cases, the family had a history with CPS, but only a small number had open cases. More, like Xu and Samuel, had cases that were closed years earlier after the agency determined the children could stay with their families.
After Samuel’s mom stabbed his dad, CPS couldn’t locate the family, so the case was closed. Samuel later died from blunt force trauma. He was found with multiple scars, severe bruising on his chest and a bruised scalp.
After Xu’s mother attempted suicide, CPS offered her parenting classes and therapy, which Sibley said are often presented before children are removed. Months later, Xu’s mother allegedly drowned him and tried to cover up his death by running him over and decapitating him.
In those cases where a child dies years after an investigation, Sibley said “we really have to rely on the family, the community to be vigilant and look out for those kids’ interest.”
“I don’t know if sympathy is enough for those families that have experienced a great loss; you can’t undo that,” Sibley said. “I can’t give you enough to make up for that, but what I can say is that every day there are dedicated folks at this agency who are trying to leave a legacy for that child.”
Justice for Jazmine
A year later, Jazmine’s grandparents Myka and Robin Sr. agree they want new protocols put in place at CPS. The way they see it, the current system isn’t working. It might be time, Robin Sr. said, to pass new legislation or get Gov. Greg Abbott involved—whatever it takes to better protect children.
“I don’t want what happened to our granddaughter to happen to somebody else, some other little child that’s innocent to the world have their life taken from them because of somebody’s ignorance,” he said.
A year later, they’re still grappling with Jazmine’s death and who’s responsible. They both believe Robin Jr. didn’t kill her.
“Did he hurt her? Quite possibly. Did he kill her? I don’t see it. Because he’s the only one that ever showed any kind of compassion towards the kids,” Myka said.
Regardless of who’s responsible, Robin Sr. wants justice for Jazmine served, even if it means against his own son.
“If he did it or she did it, if they implemented the death penalty it wouldn’t hurt my feelings,” Robin Sr. said. “I love my son, but he took away something that I never got a chance to love.”
Myka and Jason Robin Sr. kept Jazmine's purple butterfly blanket and have two pendants that hold her ashes. (Photo: Matt Keyser / KHOU)
They’re now caring for White and Robin Jr.’s youngest daughter. She was born this April, weeks before what would have been Jazmine’s first birthday. (KHOU isn’t naming Jazmine’s siblings because they are minors.)
Like Jazmine, she was born premature and spent weeks in the NICU. Both were born while their parents were under CPS investigation, but unlike Jazmine, she wasn’t allowed to go home with her parents because of the charges against them. White and Robin Jr. were arrested two months after she was born.
Instead, she went home with Myka and Robin Sr. Both worry what will happen if her parents beat their charges. So, they’re in the process of adopting her and hope to have it finalized in December.
“I’ll protect this little girl with my dying breath. I mean nothing will happen to her, that’s guaranteed,” Robin Sr. said. “The only thing that will happen is she will be cared for and nurtured and loved and given everything I can give.”
They still hold Jazmine close. They keep the lavender blanket with the purple, green and blue butterflies she died in. They have two silver necklaces that hold Jazmine’s ashes. An inscription in Myka’s heart-shaped pendant reads: “God has you in his arms. I have you in my heart.” It’s a small part of their granddaughter who they never got to hold.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Keyser is an award-winning reporter whose narrative non-fiction work largely focuses on the Texas criminal justice system. In 2017, Keyser was part of an investigative team that won the prestigious Alfred I duPont-Columbia University Award for “TRANSPARENCY,” an investigation into the failures of the Houston Police Department’s body camera program. His work has appeared in publications across the country, including USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News, and KHOU.com. Keyser lives in Houston with his wife, daughter, and their two dogs.