PITTSFIELD — An Adams couple has been indicted on charges including involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of their 10-month-old foster child last year. A defense attorney, however, calls the case as an “appalling scapegoating” of two experienced foster parents.
Matthew Tucker and Cassandra Barlow-Tucker, both 37, were arraigned Thursday afternoon in Berkshire Superior Court on charges of involuntary manslaughter involving neglect of legal duty and reckless endangerment in the death of infant Kristoff Zenopolous on Feb. 18, 2020.
The charge of involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted, according to Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington.
The Tuckers walked into the courtroom and pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors did not seek bail. Judge Mark Mason released the Tuckers on personal recognizance with orders they comply with any requirements stipulated by the Department of Children and Families.
Mason agreed to Harrington’s request to share her office’s investigatory files with the Office of the Child Advocate. After the hearing, Harrington said the Tuckers were licensed foster parents but are no longer caring for foster children.
She told reporters that the Department of Children and Families had custody of Zenopolous, who was placed in the Tuckers’ home on Dec. 5, 2019. The infant displayed visible signs of illness for two weeks before the morning of Feb. 18, 2020, when Zenopolous was found dead in his crib.
Authorities were called to the couple’s home, where Adams Ambulance pronounced Zenopolous dead, according to Harrington. She said the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined the infant died from complications from “strep A, pneumonia, and the resulting build-up of pus in his lungs.”
The child also suffered a collapsed lung, according to Harrington.
The child’s death could have been avoided if he had received antibiotics, said Harrington. “There’s some evidence presented about steps that were being taken to take care of” Zenopolous, Harrington said, but declined to elaborate.
The Tuckers failed to bring Zenopolous to the doctor, despite him displaying visible symptoms including a fever and cough, she said.
“Antibiotics routinely are used to treat these underlying illnesses and … the Tuckers’ failure to obtain medical care caused Kristoff to develop widespread infection,” she said.
She extended condolences to Zenopolous’ family, who she said are devastated by their loss.
“Kristoff’s death was preventable, and the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office is seeking justice. No child should die because a caregiver failed to provide basic medical care,” Harrington said in front of the courthouse.
Defense lawyer Jill Sheldon, who was appointed to represent Matthew Tucker, dismissed allegations that the couple is responsible for the child’s death. She said records indicate the child, who was in DCF custody, already had medical issues when he was placed with the couple.
The Tuckers did not receive the child’s health and welfare records, according to Sheldon, nor were they the ones responsible for bringing Zenopolous to the doctor. They had fostered 20 “high-needs” children before Zenopolous, experience she said gave Cassandra Barlow-Tucker the know-how to ask about the child’s medical records after the child was placed in their care in late 2019.
“There are individuals involved in making sure that paperwork regarding health and welfare of the child was turned over to them in December. That paperwork was not received,” said Sheldon. “That same organization was responsible for taking this baby to the doctor. And close to the date of the death of this child, the child wasn’t taken. And that’s not the fault of Mr. and Mrs. Tucker.”
She did not identify the organization. Asked whether the Tuckers sought medical treatment for the boy over the approximately two months they fostered him, Sheldon responded, “that will come out, as to how medical treatment was sought.”
She said she had not yet received all of the documentation related to the grand jury investigation from prosecutors. Both she and Harrington indicated more information about the case is forthcoming.
Cassandra Barlow-Tucker’s defense lawyer, Katherine Grubbs, the attorney in charge of the state Committee for Public Counsel’s office in the Berkshires, declined to comment after the hearing.
The Tuckers were heartbroken by their foster child’s death, and spent months in mourning when they learned recently “out of the blue” that they were being charged, Sheldon said.
“What I’ve seen, and what I saw here today, is an appalling scapegoating of these two very lovely individuals who have had more than 20 foster children in and out of their home over the years, have never had an issue of neglect, never had an issue of abuse, all they’ve done is taken children who were in need into a loving family,” said Sheldon.
“I’m hoping that as soon as this case is resolved, when Mr. and Mrs. Tucker are vindicated, there will be an apology from the District Attorney’s office for all of this that’s happening to this family,” she added.