Nixzmary Brown and Ama’s Fight for Justice

As chief of the Crimes Against Children Unit in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, Ama Dwimoh fought for and won some of the most notorious child abuse cases in New York and the nation, including the case of seven-year-old Nixzmary Brown.

Nixzmary Brown was seven years old and a first grade student at P.S. 256 in Brooklyn when she was tortured, molested, beaten, and murdered by her stepfather and biological mother on January 11, 2006.

Ama won the convictions of both Nixzmary’s stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, sentenced to 29 years in prison, and Nixzmary’s mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, who was sentenced to 43 years in jail after ignoring the 7-year-old’s pleas for help.

Ama’s work on Nixzmary’s case also made international news and led to an overhaul of New York City’s Administration of Child Services and changes to state law.

Nixzmary had lived confined to a room with dirty mattresses, a broken radiator, an old wooden school chair with a rope, and a litter box she was forced to use. She had been absent for weeks from school the previous year, and neighbors had noticed unexplained injuries and noted the child appeared underfed and small for her age. Although child welfare workers had been alerted twice, they said they had found no conclusive evidence of abuse. On the night of her death, her stepfather beat her and dunked her in cold water after accusing her of stealing a cup of yogurt.

After Ama successfully brought Nixzmary’s abuse to light, ACS made new efforts to hire motivated and qualified staff, improved training, expanded the use of Court Ordered Supervision, and further required its Family Services Unit to visit family and monitor adherence to the conditions set by the court. In July 2006, ACS implemented ChildStat, an accountability initiative for monitoring child protection practices and performance of families that are subject or abuse/neglect investigations.

Nixzmary’s case also had a direct impact on state child social welfare law. In 2009 then-New York State Governor David Patterson signed “Nixzmary’s Law,” changing the maximum sentence to life in prison and removing any possibility of parole for a parent or guardian who kills their child.

In June 2017, Ama presented the Nixzmary Brown Reading Award, established in honor of Nixzmary and her love of reading, to two fifth graders at Nixzmary’s school, P.S. 256.