The trustee for relatives of a 17-month-old girl who was beaten to death in an unlicensed Minnesota foster home has filed a wrongful death suit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against two counties, a foster mother and social workers whom she alleges failed to protect the toddler.
Trustee Lisa Brabbit alleges that Hennepin and Scott counties, as well as two social workers assigned to the case, placed Layla Jackson with a family who were not properly screened and who presented a serious risk of abuse and neglect. Foster mother Jessica Betlach is also named as a defendant.
The girl’s mother, Latasha Bacon, said in an interview that she lost custody of Layla after she suffered a broken leg during a weekend visit with her non-custodial father. Child Protective Services placed Layla and her brother with Jessica and Jason Betlach of Jordan, Minnesota, a small community about 35 miles southwest of Minneapolis.
But Jason Betlach “never agreed” to be a foster parent, he later told police. He referred to Layla as “a mongoloid,” shouted “white power!” in her face and drew “Loser” on her forehead with a marker, according to a criminal complaint. Betlach is white. Layla was Black.
On Aug. 26, 2018, Betlach called 911, saying he found Layla unconscious in her bedroom. A trauma physician noted severe brain injury and retinal hemorrhaging, which she said was a common marker of a violent shaking. Two days later, Layla was taken off life support.
“He was mean to my baby sister and me,” Layla’s brother later told a nurse, according to the complaint. “He would slam her in her crib and say, ‘I’ll murder you.’”
Betlach, who was 30 at the time of the incident, was charged with first- and second-degree murder. He pleaded guilty in February 2020 to second-degree unintentional murder while committing a felony. A judge sentenced him to 30 years in prison.
Bacon, 33, said the child protection system failed her and her family.
“I want them to acknowledge their mistakes and fix it so this doesn’t happen to somebody else’s baby,” she said. “We’re thinking child protection is here to help us. You took my kids saying you’re better fit to have them.”
Layla and her brother were placed with the Betlachs because Bacon had known Jessica Betlach since childhood and considered her an unofficial cousin. Minnesota law allows relatives and fictive kin to act as temporary caregivers without becoming licensed foster parents.
The defendants could not immediately be reached.
But Bacon now criticizes the county’s decision to place her children with the Betlach family. Shortly before Layla’s death, as Bacon did everything she could to regain custody, her 7-year-old son was returned to her from the Betlach home – but not Layla.
“I was like, if he came home she should have come home, too,” she said.
Now, Bacon said, “I would do anything in the world just to have 10 seconds with her and tell her how much I love her. I’m heartbroken.”