Earlier this week, 22-year-old Tina Ann Dayton was arrested in Duval County, Florida, near Jacksonville, by the Florida Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force, which is a division of the US Marshal Service. Tina was wanted on a murder warrant issued on March 24 by police in Columbus, Ohio. Imagine how terrifying it must have been for a woman as young as Tina to be swarmed by an elite police force and taken into custody in a state far from home.
You won’t feel an ounce of sympathy for her, however, when you think about how terrifying it must have been for her two-year-old son, Jace, when his mother allegedly delivered him a fatal beating.
Let’s jump back to the events that led to Tina’s arrest, because that’s why we’re all here.
Tina Ann Dayton and Clifford Stark Jr. have been a couple for several years, at least since 2015, according to an engagement announcement posted on their Facebook pages. (For the record, Tina has at least three separate profiles on Facebook; CJ has a baffling six at minimum. It’s like every time he forgot a password, he gave up and created a new one or something.)
For the record, in 2015, Tina was 16 and CJ was 22. Tina has a son from a previous relationship, and she and CJ created two children together: their daughter was born in April of 2016, and Clifford Alan “Jace” Stark III came along in October of 2017.
At 3:52 PM on Monday, October 7, 2019, Columbus police were summoned to an apartment complex at 4603 Refugee Road. In apartment 2A, two-year-old Jace Stark was gravely injured. The 911 call indicated that the little boy had a broken arm, was blue, and was barely breathing. The only people home with him at the time were an older sibling and his mother, Tina, who told him she was the only adult who lived at the residence.
Tina told police that she believed Jace fell off the bed. Police noted that Jace’s sister had scabies and that both she and Jace were crawling with lice, which caused the officers to suspect the children were neglected.
Jace was rushed to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where he fought valiently for almost twenty-one hours before he died at 12:52 PM on Tuesday, October 8, just days after his second birthday.
The Columbus Police Department’s homicide division immediately launched an investigation into Jace’s death, led by Detective James Shockey and assisted by Detective Brian Sheline. They found out very quickly that Franklin County Children Services had previous involvement with the family.
On October 10, Jace’s two surviving siblings were removed from the home.
The two children had also been removed from the home in October 2016, about a year before Jace was born, because domestic abuse was alleged against CJ. Jace was placed in foster care less than a month after his birth and stayed there for more than a year and a half; he was only returned to his parents in May of 2019, just five months before he died.
According to 10TV, there were several “abuse and neglect” juvenile court cases linked to the family, but due to the sensitive nature of the cases, the files could not be viewed.
FCCS employees had visited the home on October 2, just days prior to the incident that caused Jace’s death, on a report of physical abuse. That report was somehow determined to be unsubstantiated, despite the history of injuries that would be uncovered by Jace’s autopsy.
The hospital’s trauma surgeon disputed Tina’s version of events, telling police that Jace came to the hospital with internal bleeding, which caused “a life-threatening condition” that was not consistent with a fall from a bed.
A previously-sealed search warrant also states that social workers at the hospital said Jace had bruises on “various parts of his body” that led them to suspect he was a “victim of child physical abuse.”
The warrant also revealed that Tina was not, in fact, the only parent living in the apartment. CJ, who was at work at the time of the incident, admitted to police that he had also been living there. Tina didn’t initially admit to this because there was reportedly a court order at the time stating that CJ was not to have any contact with Tina whatsoever.
Both parents denied physically abusing Jace or causing his fatal injuries.
It wasn’t until February 27, 2020 that the results of Jace’s autopsy were released. According to the Franklin County Coroner’s Office, Jace had extensive injuries, including bruises on his forehead, a cut on his lip, a lacerated liver, and a badly broken arm. In addition to his severe case of lice, he was missing clumps of hair. The coroner determined that the little boy died from blunt force trauma, and his death was ruled a homicide.
The autopsy report showed that Jace also had a history of injuries, including trauma to his face and a cut near his eyes that the report stated occurred on September 23, 2018.
On March 24, 2020, Columbus Police issued an arrest warrant for Tina Ann Dayton for the murder of her son, Clifford Alan “Jace” Stark III. They released a wanted poster stating that Tina was most likely in the company of C.J.
Police soon learned that Tina had “relocated” — read: fled with her tail between her legs — to Florida, where she was arrested on March 30. Police did not disclose if CJ was with her when she was apprehended.
Tina has not yet entered a plea to her murder charge.
Interestingly, commenters on Facebook have described Tina as “weird” and “unstable,” and one alleged that she once attempted to drown her older son.
This appears to be another case of a child protection agency focusing way too hard on family reunification and giving that arbitrary goal far more weight than what really matters: the safety of the children.
It remains to be seen whether or not CJ will face charges in Jace’s death. So far, he has not been charged.
The most important thing to remember, however, is that a precious little boy lost his life on October 8, 2019, and he deserved so much better. He deserved to be loved, doted on, and cherished. His loss will leave a hole in a lot of lives.
Rest in peace, Jace.
Sources: 10TV, The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus Police on Twitter, Facebook