Grieving Grandfather seeks Trump’s ear on
ROCHESTER, NY – John Geer is a desperate man.
Reeling from grief after his 3-year-old granddaughter Brook Stagles died last month from injuries sustained in a beating that allegedly came at the hands of her father’s girlfriend, Geer has found his mission: raising awareness of child abuse and the pressures faced by the often undermanned, overburdened agencies responsible for protecting the most vulnerable.
And he’s trying to get the attention of a significantly higher power: President-elect Donald J. Trump.
To that end, Geer, a 46-year-old small business owner from Irondequoit, has sunk nearly $100,000 into buying billboards around the country that will deliver his message, “Don’t let children die from child abuse … like Brook Stagles.” The billboards have already gone live in Chicago, Cleveland and Allentown, Pa. More are coming Monday, in cities that include Philadelphia; Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, Fla.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C. Another will be erected that day in Henrietta.
He’s also purchased the domain name trumpforchildren.com and set that up with a website that details his efforts.
“I want the system fixed,” said Geer. “And I have to make something happen. This needs to be in the national spotlight, that’s why I want Trump to look at it. This is nationwide and we need real reform.”
In the days since Brook died, Geer — whose daughter Ashley is Brook’s mother — has busied himself reading news stories online about children who have died as a result of neglect or abuse. He’s found it overwhelming.
“There are so many cases, so many of these scenarios and it’s happening everywhere,” he said. “It’s mind-blowing and I was so blind to all of this before.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, state and local child protective services across the country received an estimated 3.4 million referrals of children being abused or neglected in 2012. Of those, an estimated 686,000 children were victims of maltreatment, and 18% of those were victims of physical abuse. The agency estimates roughly 1,640 children in the United States died from maltreatment that same year.
Brook’s father, Michael Stagles, and his girlfriend Erica Bell face criminal charges in connection with the girl’s death. Bell has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter, while Stagles has been charged with criminally negligent homicide. Trials for both have been scheduled to begin May 15.
Prosecutors have not given specifics about Brook’s death, but Michael Stagles is accused of failing to get medical help for his injured daughter; while Bell is accused of acting with “depraved indifference to human life” and engaging in “conduct which created a grave risk of serious injury or death to Brook Stagles, a person less than 11 years old, and caused her death.” The conduct is alleged to have occurred between Nov. 9 and Nov. 12.
Brook died Nov. 14 after being hospitalized the night of Nov. 13. Her death was ruled a homicide four days later.
Geer said Brook’s injuries were so severe that family members were asked at the hospital if the girl had been in a car accident, and Assistant District Attorney Sara Van Strydonck has said Brook was “bruised from head to toe.”
Geer said his granddaughter died of sepsis caused by a ruptured intestine.
Turning to Trump
He said he and other family members contacted Monroe County’s Child Protective Services in September to report that they believed Brook was being abused. Geer’s daughter Ashley and Michael Stagles had ended their long relationship earlier in the summer, but continued to amicably share custody. It was after Stagles began dating Bell in late August or early September that family started to notice unexplained bruises and marks on the girl, Geer said.
He said the response from CPS was inadequate and too slow to save his granddaughter.
In a written statement, Department of Human Services Commissioner Corinda Crossdale has said, “As a community, our hearts are heavy at the loss of any child. Unfortunately, the Department of Human Services cannot discuss any case under investigation.”
A staunch Trump supporter, Geer is hopeful the president-elect will hear of his campaign.
“The whole family is big on helping kids,” he said, noting the Eric Trump Foundation and its work raising money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. With Eric Trump deciding earlier this month to stop directly soliciting contributions for the charity, due to the possibility that donors could try to use him for access to his father, Geer said child abuse prevention and child protective services reform could become a new banner for the Trump family to carry.
In addition to the billboards, Geer is looking at buying advertising on the sides of buses that would run near Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20 in Washington, D.C. He also has $150,000 he says he’s willing to provide the president-elect to be used for any purpose if Trump would just give him 10 minutes of time on the phone.
“This is what I need to do, I need to get this to Trump,” said Geer. “Once I know he knows what’s happening, I’m going to have a million pounds lifted off of my shoulders.”