Lawmaker, family demand accountability after child abuse death of 5-year-old boy

Lawmakers want to know if the system failed these children

DETROIT – The family of 5-year-old Ethan Belcher said the child died of blunt force trauma after enduring child abuse.

Shane Robert Shelton, 27, and Valeria Lynn Hamilton, 27, both of Detroit, have been charged with murder, child abuse, and torture in Ethan’s death and the abuse of his 3-year-old brother. Hamilton is Ethan’s biological mother, and Shelton is his stepfather, officials said.

Ethan’s aunt, Ashley Belcher, told Local 4 she reported the abuse to authorities more than a year and a half ago. She said she took the child to a hospital. She also said she took photos of Ethan’s bruises and cuts and shared those photos with police. Lincoln Park police said they launched an abuse investigation into Shelton and placed the children with their grandmother.

Police said they spoke with everyone involved in the case and sent an evidence package to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. They did not get approval for an arrest warrant. The couple got custody of the children and moved into a home in Detroit. That’s where police found Ethan dead and his younger brother seriously injured.

Ethan’s aunts had to identify Ethan’s body at the medical examiner’s office on Wednesday, that’s where they learned of the battering that took Ethan’s life.

“I’m so devastated. We had to lose babies for this to happen, but something has to change, something has to change today, not tomorrow, today,” Ashley Belcher said.

She said she called Child Protective Services on Ethan’s parents twice.

“All they had to do is take some classes and the children were sent back to that house of terror and it should never have happened,” Ashley Belcher said.

Michigan Sen. Jim Runestad wants to put Michigan Child Protective Services under the public spotlight, saying it has been seriously flawed for decades and a privacy law protects the agency from meaningful oversight.

Runestad said a poorly-written law that’s decades old confuses family privacy with true agency accountability and believes it needs to end. Runestad said Ethan’s case and the case of the Pontiac mother who died with her two sons in an open field in January had him asking CPS questions they would not answer.

“It appears to me to be a complete failure from CPS’ side. Was it the case worker? Was it the supervisor? The whole system? Is it a systemic problem that isn’t rising to this level because the child died,” Runestad said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released a statement, which reads in part:

“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) extends its deepest sympathies to the Belcher family . . . The confidentiality requirement in state and federal law protects children who have been abused or neglected and their siblings from the additional trauma of having the intimate details of their alleged abuse and neglect made public.”

About the Authors:

Rod Meloni is an Emmy Award-winning Business Editor on Local 4 News and a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.