First reported 10/26/2009 1:30 p.m.
As Oak Park police investigators await the results of an autopsy on an 18-month-old boy found dead Saturday morning at an apartment on the 700 block of S. Scoville, tensions are becoming apparent with some property owners in the neighborhood about purported misbehavior by renters in that building.
And the building’s owner is cautioning that matters aren’t as simple as they may appear.
Paramedics called to the Scoville address just after 9 a.m. Saturday found that Joshua Clayton had no vital signs. The boy was pronounced dead at 9:32 a.m. Saturday and taken to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
The emergency call had come from his mother, Rosalyn A. Hall-Clayton. That name is known to Oak Park police because of another call to the same address three weeks ago. Just before midnight Oct. 5, according to a police report, officers arrived to find Hall-Clayton threatening a 9-year-old son with a knife. Hall-Clayton, 29, was charged in that incident with aggravated assault and with battery for elbowing a police officer.
Commander Len Jorgensen said Monday morning that police have finished their preliminary investigation into the toddler’s death, but would not comment on that investigation. An autopsy was conducted Sunday. “It’s pending further studies,” Jorgensen said, referring to the autopsy. “There is still no cause of manner of death.” He would not speculate about when that report would be issued.
Hall-Clayton has a Nov. 12 court date on the charges filed against her Oct. 6. As part of her $7,500 bond, she was ordered to stay away from her 9-year-old son for 72 hours and to surrender any firearms. Hall-Clayton has a felony conviction for possession of a firearm, to which she pleaded guilty in 1999 and was sentenced to eight days in jail and 12 months probation.
The 18-month-old’s death is also being investigated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, which after the Oct. 5 incident took four children living with Hall-Clayton, including Joshua, and placed them with relatives. It’s unclear why the 18-month-old boy was returned to Hall-Clayton.
“We had contact with the family on Oct. 6,” Whitelow said Monday. “The other four children in the family are currently living with relatives.” He said he could not comment further.
Christine Portnoff, who lives across the street from the apartment building, said she can’t understand why Joshua was allowed back with his mother.
“He looked emaciated,” she said of seeing the toddler during the Oct. 5 incident. “Little, little legs. Little arms. It broke my heart seeking him. I cried all night.”
Was there a day care center?
In checking records on the apartment’s address, Wednesday Journal found listings for Shanan Day Care, a business operated by Shanan D. Hall, 40, who appears to have lived in the same unit as Hall-Clayton since 2006. Though the day care center appears on several Web sites, it is not licensed by the state. “We have no record of licensing a Shanan Day Care,” Whitelow said, referring to the state department of Child and Family Services. Oak Park Village Clerk Teresa Powell said the same.
It’s not known what the relationship is between Rosalyn A. Hall-Clayton and Shanan Hall.
The phone number listed for the day care center, a nonpublished landline in Oak Park, was “being checked for trouble” when called Monday morning. A woman who answered the phone at another number found for Shanan Hall said there was no Shanan Hall at that number.
The building’s landlord, Richard Easty, was given a reporter’s phone number and asked to pass it on to Hall-Clayton, but she did not call back.
Easty, who lives in Oak Park, said Shanan Hall lived at the address until recently. He said he had no knowledge of a day care business there. “I know that she baby-sat a friend’s child,” he said.
The neighborhood tension
Easty, who has lived near the Scoville Avenue house for 20 years, said Monday that he was hesitant to have his comments published out of context in a newspaper.
He’s had some problem tenants, he said, but defended most who rent from him.
“No doubt there have been people who haven’t been saints,” Easty said. “Most people have been good people.”
Easty said that his understanding of the circumstances of events of Oct. 5 is that the boy was having a bad dream.
Of Hall-Clayton, Easty said, “She’s a poor mother who’s just lost a child. I don’t think she should be run out of town.”
However, two neighbors on the block said many people are concerned with the ongoing problems at the apartment building.
“We were all pretty fed up with that building,” one woman said Monday, asking that her name not be used. “We all have to live here,” she said.
Portnoff said she and others watched late the night of Oct. 5 as a young boy ran out of the house and ran two doors away to a neighbor. One of her neighbors told her the boy said that “his mother was trying to kill him with a knife.”
Portnoff said that when Hall-Clayton later came out of the house accompanied by a police officer, “she was belligerent, screaming all over the place.” She said she witnessed Hall-Clayton’s contact with an officer.
“She elbowed him in the midsection because she didn’t want to get in the (squad) car,” she said.
Hall-Clayton, both Portnoff and the unnamed neighbor say, is not the first problem tenant there. They said Easty simply tells them to call police.
“He’ll just say, ‘Call the police,’ which we do,” the neighbor said. “He’ll say, ‘If you can get me some good tenants, let me know.'”
Portnoff, who has lived on the block more than 10 years, said the house has gone from a stable single-family house to a multi-unit rental with ongoing problems.
“We’ve seen it all on this block,” Portnoff said. That includes fights in the street and women exposing their breasts while on the house’s front stairs. She said numerous strangers “come from God knows where” to use the building’s washer and dryer.
In addition to Hall-Clayton’s arrest, a teenager living in the building in another apartment was arrested in July and charged with a burglary at Oak Park River Forest High School.
Portnoff said she had had enough. “We have to have the courage to say what needs to be said.”