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“Inside the bathroom of the modest two-story home in north Merced, a tiny, 55-pound body lay decomposing in a tub. The roaring exhaust fan and burned incense failed to mask the putrid smell.”

Pause and reread that paragraph again. Let the horror of the scene sink in.

It’s the description of an 8-year-old girl found dead in March.

As journalist Maggie Angst reported last Sunday, Sophia Mason had been repeatedly physically and sexually abused.

Sophia’s mother, Samantha Johnson, charged with child abuse and murder, is in custody in Merced County. Johnson’s boyfriend, Dhante Jackson, who is suspected of murdering and sexually abusing the girl, is at large.

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But Merced is only where little Sophia was found dead. She had lived most of her life in Alameda County. And that’s where county Department of Children and Family Services workers had received at least eight separate reports of abuse or neglect involving Sophia in the 15 months before her body was found.

Yet they failed to act.

This was a preventable death. It didn’t happen under the radar. County social workers had been warned and repeatedly dismissed concerns, according to the crumbs of records the county has released. And since Angst’s report last week on the bureaucratic bungling of Sophia’s case, county officials have stonewalled, refusing to even answer questions.

Legislators should press for the state auditor to review the case. District Attorney Nancy O’Malley should probe whether there was criminal misconduct by county workers. And county supervisors, if they care about getting at the truth more than protecting their staff, should be commissioning an independent outside investigation.

Instead, of the five county supervisors, there’s been silence from Keith Carson, Richard Valle and David Brown. Nate Miley has said, “it’s really effed up what happened to this young Sophia.” And David Haubert promises, “I’m going to ask questions internally.”

It’s political lip service. None of them seems to get it. Asking for answers internally isn’t the answer. Asking for answers from the same administration that let this happen won’t get at the root of the problem.

Michelle Love, head of Alameda County’s Department of Children and Family Services, County Counsel Donna Ziegler and County Administrator Susan Muranishi have refused to respond to inquiries from this news organization. Muranishi, the most highly compensated county administrator in the state in 2020, went so far Tuesday as to physically dodge a reporter who sought her comment.

At some point, top county administrators and county supervisors should ask themselves whether they’re serving the public or hiding from it. If they care about protecting the most vulnerable among us, then they should welcome an independent outside review of what happened.

For this is not the first time Alameda County child welfare workers have dropped the ball and a child has died.

In 2015, a 3-year-old girl, Mariah Sultana Mustafa, placed in a foster home by Alameda County, died after overdosing on methamphetamine for the second time in 13 days. Two Alameda County social workers had allowed the child to remain at the foster care home after the first overdose. Litigation in that case is still pending with a trial scheduled for November.

In that case, county officials circled the wagons, refusing to release documents about Mariah’s death — documents that should be made public under state law designed to cast sunshine on cases of neglect or abuse.

They’re doing it again, this time blocking release of key public documents about Sophia. Alameda County officials seem hellbent on keeping secret how these innocent children died. What’s needed is an independent investigation and a dose of transparency.

Otherwise, more children are likely to die.

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Scioto Gives keeps giving

Scioto Gives is an annual charity event run by the Scioto Foundation. They have been providing aid to local 501(C)3 nonprofits (NPOs) throughout the area. Thursday, October 20th from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. marks year 10 of this marathon of charity donations. For every dollar donated to a non-profit, the Scioto Foundation will match a given percentage. Last year, Scioto Gives matched 43 cents for every dollar received. This year brings not only more NPOs, but more funds to be matched by the Scioto Foundation.

Donations come from members of the community as well as local businesses. If one wishes to donate to an institution of their choice, they may bring a check to 303 Chillicothe Street in Portsmouth. Alternatively, one may visit www.sciotogives.org to provide aid via credit or debit card. A search page is provided for ease of access, as well as explaining additional details regarding the organizations participating.

This year, 46 local establishments will be attending Scioto Gives. This breaks the previous year’s number of 40. With an increase of nonprofits taking part, the Scioto Foundation raised their matching amount from $50,00 to $55,000 to accommodate the year’s influx of NPOs.

Between now and the 20th, The Portsmouth Daily Times will run articles showcasing the local nonprofit organizations that are accepting donations, as well as a summary of information about them. In no particular order, the organizations are as follows.

1810 House

Located at 1926 Waller St, Portsmouth, the 1810 House stands today as a museum of three generations of the Kinney family. Visitors can schedule a guided tour through the home and property. The house is maintained by the Scioto County Historical Society. Volunteers are working tirelessly on the upkeep of this historical building. Efforts have been made to sort through donated artifacts to keep things relevant. Joist replacements, wall repairs, brick work, and electrical work are current projects the endowment will help fund. Tours are given Sundays by appointment and will run until the first weekend of December.

Paul E Johnson Fund (Main Street Portsmouth)

The Paul Johnson Fund is a beautification fund established to benefit the beautification efforts of Main Street Portsmouth. Opened by partner Kevin W Johnson, the fund assists the organization in investing in the future by building this wonderful endowment. The group is responsible for the downtown hanging flower baskets, pots, urns, seasonal decorations, park development, upkeep, and more.

Portsmouth Little Theater

The PLT is one of the region’s only community theaters for performing arts. It serves a large area and strives to keep prices affordable for people of all financial leanings. The group produces 5 shows a year and often throws out a few other events as well. The fund is established to assist in maintaining the property and affording amazing programing. The theater has no staff. All donations will go to completing the mission of the organization.

Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund

Steven A. Hunter Hope Fund was established in January of 2006. The main focus of this nonprofit is fighting childhood hunger in Scioto, Pike, and Adams counties. The group fights food insecurity and child hunger through a program known as Stevens Power Packs. The Power Packs are bundles of nutritious foods given on Fridays to school-aged children facing financial issues to ensure they have enough to eat over the weekend. The NPO has provided a countless number of meals to the children of this area. Their endowment will further their mission to fight child hunger in Scioto county and surrounding areas.

Boy Scouts of America Simon Kenton Council

BSA has existed in this country for over 100 years. Founded by Robert Baden Powell in England in 1908, scouting quickly caught wind to the states. The BSA mission statement is “to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” The Simon Kenton Council (SKC) is one of the largest in the country, and serves over 18 counties through Ohio and Kentucky. With programs for people aged 6 to 20, scouting makes a positive, lasting impression on those who participate.

Connex, inc.

Portsmouth’s Connex, inc. aims to keep people active, moving, and healthy through play, exercise, and socializing. Founded in 2006 as Shawnee Recreational Trail, inc., the group has made some progress in scioto county. The activity trail located at Mound Park was made possible by Connex volunteers who raised over $100,000 to complete the project. More recently, the group has completed a bike path along the Portsmouth Floodwall Murals. Going East from Alexandria Point, the path takes riders and walkers up close and personal with the murals. From Front Street, the path continues behind Shawnee State University to the East End of Portsmouth. The group has been working with the Ohio Valley Region Development Center to create an increase in bike lanes and bike trails in the area.

Friends of Portsmouth

Friends of Portsmouth was founded to catalyze progress and positive change in the area. The group aids countless local events and helps makes them possible. They promote community pride and a sense of volunteerism and togetherness. Winterfest, River Days, and Plant Portsmouth are all examples of their success. FOP aims to keep Portsmouth and Boneyfiddle in pristine conditions, and preserve their status as local landmarks. Possible future projects consist of lighted arches along Second Street, benches, trash cans, and much more to come.

Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Foundation

Since 2017, Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Foundation has worked to restore, enhance, and maintain Greenlawn’s 40 acre plot in Portsmouth. Founded in 1829, the cemetery marks the resting place of over 85,000 individuals. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the Chapel constructed in 1884, is in need of repair. Immeasurable man hours have been spent by volunteers, school children, churches and many others to beautify the cemetery. The group hope to continue their progress and keep Greenlawn a beautiful, quiet place for all to enjoy.

Scioto Gives is an annual charity event run by the Scioto Foundation.

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