Court documents allege neglect, abuse in deaths of 2 Bismarck children

In one case, court documents say a 5-year-old's caretakers "beat" and "whooped" the child with a belt. In the second case, officers allege a 3-week-old infant's mother was intoxicated enough to impair her ability to care for the infant.

child death inmates.jpg
From top left, clockwise: Rolanda Doyle, Russell James, Cassandra Black Elk and Serenity Foots.
Burleigh Morton Detention Center photo

BISMARCK — Recent court filings have revealed details about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of two Bismarck children who died in separate incidents over the weekend. Four people have been arrested for alleged child neglect and abuse in connection to the deaths.

In one case, officers were called to a Bismarck mobile home park on the evening of Friday, Feb. 18, in response to a call that 5-year-old Geremy Doyle was reported unconscious and not breathing, according to court records. He was later transported to CHI St. Alexius in Bismarck and pronounced dead.

Geremy Doyle had multiple open sores and bruises on his body. His ears and toes appeared blackened, and officers were unable to tell if it was because of frostbite or bruising, according to court records. One officer said the boy's stomach appeared distended and his arms and legs looked "emaciated," or extremely thin and weak.

His caretakers — Rolanda Ann Doyle, 40; Russell Allen James, 36; and Serenity Nizhay Foots, 18 — were arrested and charged with child abuse and child neglect. Rolanda Doyle and Foots are being held on $100,000 bond and James on $50,000 bond, court records show. All three were booked into the Burleigh Morton Detention Center on Saturday, Feb. 19.

According to the court filings, Rolanda Doyle was Geremy Doyle's primary caretaker. In her application for a public defender, she reported having five additional children, including a 6-month-old daughter.


In an interview with one of Geremy Doyle's siblings, they said in the past Rolanda Doyle and Foots had "beat" or "whooped" Geremy Doyle with a belt.

James said he was made aware of an incident where Geremy Doyle fell and hit his eye "on either a toy on the floor or a window sill" about three weeks ago. James said he thought the 5-year-old was "OK" so he gave him ice, but he later said he "should have brought him to the hospital before it got worse," according to court records.

Officers later searched through Rolanda Doyle's cellphone and found a video of Geremy Doyle dated Friday, Feb. 18, in which they said he appeared to be "clearly suffering from a concussion or other traumatic brain injury," according to court records. He looked "dazed" and was "wobbling around off balance, and falling striking his head on the ground."

Court filings did not list a cause of death for the 5-year-old, but the Bismarck Police Department said an autopsy has been ordered. Geremy Doyle's three caretakers' next court appearance is scheduled for March 4, according to court records.

Lawyers for Rolanda Doyle and Foots did not immediately respond to a request for comment. James, who was denied a court-appointed lawyer because of his income, did not have an attorney listed as of midday Wednesday.

In the second case in which a Bismarck child died over the weekend, Bismarck officers were called to an apartment Saturday morning, Feb. 19, in response to a call that a 3-week-old infant was unconscious and not breathing, according to court records.

One officer described the infant, Starlight Black Elk, as being "obviously deceased and in the early stages of rigor mortis" when he arrived at the apartment. The infant's mother, Cassandra Jo Black Elk, was arrested on Saturday and charged with child neglect. She is being held at the Burleigh Morton Detention Center on $25,000 bail. In an application for a public defender, she reported she has two additional children.

In an interview with authorities, Cassandra Black Elk said herself and Starlight Black Elk's biological father got into a physical fight in the early morning hours of Saturday, though she could not recall any of the details, according to court records. Cassandra Black Elk said she was "extremely intoxicated" but did not remember doing anything that would result in her infant's death, according to court records.


Cassandra Black Elk said when she woke up Saturday morning, Starlight Black Elk was in the same position as when the infant fell asleep — swaddled and face up — however, the 3-week-old was dead, according to court records.

The infant's cause of death was unknown as of Sunday, according to court filings, and an autopsy has been ordered. Because Cassandra Black Elk's alleged "intoxication level would impair her ability to care for (Starlight Black Elk) to a point where (the infant) in fact died," officers said this is probable cause for the mother to be charged with child neglect.

Cassandra Black Elk's next court appearance is scheduled for March 4. Her lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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