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St. Paul mother faces manslaughter charges after 7-year-old dies from fentanyl toxicity

7-year-old girl dies of fentanyl overdose; mother charged
7-year-old girl dies of fentanyl overdose; mother charged 00:26

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A 27-year-old St. Paul woman faces felony charges after her 7-year-old daughter died of a fentanyl overdose. The death occurred amid a child custody dispute within the family.

According to Ramsey County court documents, Shauntaija Jannell Travis faces two counts of second-degree manslaughter in connection to the March 31 death. 

The complaint says emergency responders were dispatched to a residence 800 block of Sherburne Avenue around 6:40 a.m. on the report of a death. When they arrived, a 7-year-old girl was located and pronounced dead inside in the living room. 

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The medical examiner later determined the girl's cause of death as fentanyl toxicity and the manner of death as an accident. 

After obtaining a search warrant, officers found a purse in Travis' bedroom that contained a straw with "white residue," the complaint said, as well as a blue m30 pill that was later determined to contain fentanyl. A wallet inside the purse also had a baggie with suspected crumbs of narcotics. 

Authorities at the scene asked Travis what the chances are that the victim got into her drugs, to which she replied "seventy-five," the complaint said. 

Custody dispute 

As officers investigated the victim's death, some family members arrived and informed them that Travis was in a custody dispute with other family members. 

Travis told officers that she had agreed to let her grandmother take custody of the victim so Travis could "get her life straightened out and get help from her drug addiction," the complaint said. Custody would have begun on April 5, less than a week after the victim's death. 

Travis' grandmother, the victim's great-grandmother identified in the complaint only as TT, reported that the victim wanted to live with her because she was tired of her living situation. TT said the girl's clothing was in poor condition, she smelled bad, and wasn't given enough food. 

Child protection services

TT made an initial report on March 9 to child protection. The agency told police that there wasn't an open case regarding the girl, but that they were working with the family to transfer the girl to TT's care. 

On March 13, Travis and the girl met with a child protection worker. There, Travis said she had been prescribed Percocet for seizures, but the doctor later stopped prescribing the drug and didn't give her anything to help wean off of it. She said she would purchase drugs on the street to avoid drug sickness. The girl also reported that her mother "crushed up blue stuff into a powder before sniffing it." The child protection worker noted drug abuse among other neglect issues, the complaint said. 

The next day, child protection spoke to the girl at her school because they thought she was holding back information because of her mother's presence. The girl said that her mother used the "blue stuff" again after the previous meeting. 

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The girl wasn't removed from the home at that time because other caregivers who didn't use drugs were present in the home – and Travis agreed to get a chemical health assessment, the complaint said. Later in the month, Travis asked for two weeks to transfer custody, but child protection told Travis that a week was more appropriate. 

School had previous report of abuse

Police executed a search warrant at Benjamin E. Mays school, where the girl was a student, regarding a new suspected child maltreatment report filed on April 14. The report documented that in "the late fall of 2022" the victim reported being burned by her mother in the upper chest. 

According to the complaint, school staff looked at the reported injury at the time and "thought it appeared old." They said that they comforted the victim and that no additional details were given. Police are unsure if staff asked the victim to elaborate on the injury. 

"There is no indication that staff, who are mandated reporters, contacted anyone about the incident at the time they learned of it," the complaint noted. 

Officials say school staff only documented the incident after the victim's death. The school district also refused to allow investigators to speak with staff about the victim. 

Travis' second-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine if convicted. 

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