The family feel let down by the system and want justice for Zoey Chafer


Medical staff announced his death at Hayward Area Memorial Hospital. A grief-stricken father buries his baby girl.

Then, two weeks later, Chafer is even more shocked when authorities tell her she died of an alcohol overdose.

“The coroner did a blood test, which I am very grateful for. Because if it hadn’t happened, we never would have known Zoey had alcohol in her system,” Chafer told us.

The lab said his blood alcohol level was 0.57. For perspective, an adult is considered legally intoxicated at 0.08. Zoey’s was seven times higher.

Since being fed by a feeding tube, suspicion has fallen on her caretakers at the time, her mother, Samantha Smith, and her mother’s boyfriend, Domenic Falkner.

The criminal complaint said Falkner was a caregiver licensed by Sawyer County Social Services and paid by the state for his duties.

Now the two are arrested and charged with homicide, abuse and chronic neglect.

The complaint states that Falkner moved into Smith’s apartment in August 2020. Almost immediately after that, Chafer informed police of the bruises on his daughters, Zoey and Zoey’s sister, after they had been at their mother’s house.

He was able to obtain a temporary injunction. But he told us the judge refused longer-term protection, called an injunction.

“Those were turned down,” he told us. “A child protection services social worker said their investigation was unfounded. We felt let down by this.

The complaint goes on to say that Zoey was admitted to three different hospitals a dozen times between October 2020 and July 2021. The diagnosis was mostly broken bones and bruises.

Once in Mayo, a doctor asked about a bruise on Zoey’s face. Smith reportedly said his knee hit his daughter while she was giving him nebulizer treatment.

Another time, also in Mayo, the complaint stated that a concern about “non-accidental trauma had been raised”. He said Smith provided information, saying Falkner noticed a swollen left leg.

On other visits, the complaint said Smith denied knowledge of any injuries.

At Zoey’s school, an employee took pictures of bruises on Zoey’s neck and at least one of her ears. It was April 8, according to the document.

A day later, on April 9, she was in Hayward Hospital. A photo shows what law enforcement described as a severely blackened eye. Staff say they were told she bruises easily and has broken bones due to the fragility of her bones, known as osteopenia.

The complaint says law enforcement spoke to three doctors, who treated Zoey at different times, and each believed she had been abused. This was despite his fragile bones.

Medical facilities told us they could not comment on the matter. But we do know that doctors and nurses are mandatory reporters in Wisconsin, which means they are required by law to report suspected abuse. School staff too.

Chafer told us he hadn’t heard of any allegations of abuse. He was traveling for work at the time and hadn’t seen much of Zoey or her sister. He said Smith told him that Zoey’s broken bones were due to bone condition.

“It was really heartbreaking to think that someone I had kids with would lie to me about my kids. You know, it didn’t matter how tall or short they were,” he shared.

We wanted more details on the process. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families explained that when someone calls protective services, they are talking to an access professional. This person decides whether the allegation meets the legal definition of suspected child abuse.

If the decision is no and the report is dismissed, there is no requirement under the law or state standard that the parents of the child be notified.

If the report is filtered, the ministry said social workers should interview parents, including those without custody, if possible, during what is called the initial assessment.

WDIO asked several Sawyer County leaders if they could answer questions about the case. Specifically, if any allegations have been filtered. The county administrator and health officer said they could not comment, due to ongoing investigations.

The family thinks something went wrong.

“I feel like CPS let Zoey down,” Chafer repeated.

In the meantime, he tries to stay positive, for his other daughter.

He had a special decal made for his truck, honoring Zoey.

“It’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions. Naturally, sadness follows. But I have a good support system,” Chafer said. “I’m sure the road will be long ahead of us. But we will get there. »

The defendants, Smith and Falkner, have a court hearing next week.


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