Mother demands answers in death of 7-year-old daughter

Sylvia Norwood remembers her 7-year-old daughter as a bright little girl who loved to have fun with her older sister....

Posted: Dec 12, 2017 10:04 PM
Updated: Dec 12, 2017 10:04 PM

Sylvia Norwood remembers her 7-year-old daughter as a bright little girl who loved to have fun with her older sister.

"She was just a child that you would want around and want around to wake up to her beautiful smile," said Norwood.

Sanaa Cunningham, 7, died in February 2017, after being rushed to urgent care by her dad and stepmom because she was having trouble breathing. Her father, Germayne Cunningham, a Phoenix police detective at the time, had sole custody of Sanaa.

Staff noticed bruises and scratch marks all over the little girl's body. She was immediately transferred to Phoenix Children's Hospital where she was found to be septic. She died hours later.

The Cunninghams told doctors and police that the little girl suffered from a host of mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, and that her mental and physical health had been declining in the past two years. They also said Sanaa was self-harming and causing injuries to herself.

Norwood last saw her daughter in December 2015 and she claims at that time she was just fine with no signs of abuse or neglect.

"Things just began to change over the last couple of years and to be honest, I want to know what happened," said Norwood.

The mother claims her ex-husband started to deny her visitation or would only let the older child they had in common go visit her.

"When the visits started slowing down, I'm asking questions. I want to know why I am not getting my visitations and children, and I got no response," said Norwood.

Norwood understands that Sanaa being kept from seeing her could have triggered some emotional changes and acting out but she is not buying the severe list of mental illnesses with which her daughter was allegedly diagnosed.

Goodyear police also did not buy the story about the severe mental illness and self-hurting. After a 10-month long investigation, they say they found evidence of severe child abuse and neglect. On Dec. 1, 2017, a grand jury indicted Germayne and Lisa Cunningham each on one count of first-degree murder and 10 counts of child abuse.

"Child abuse in and of itself is very disturbing. in this case, it was extremely disturbing and ultimately lead to the death of a little girl," said Lisa Kutis, Spokesperson for the Goodyear Police Department.

[READ MORE: Former Phoenix police detective facing murder charges following death of 7-year-old daughter]

"I don't know how to make sense of this. There's [sic] days where I still don't want to believe it. But as more information continues to come out, I'm just starting to accept it for what it is and she suffers no more," said Norwood.

Quacy Smith has known Norwood and her daughters since they were little. He is also an attorney representing her in what he said will be a wrongful death claim.

"I personally believe that there was some pass given because at the time he was a police officer," said Smith.

The attorney is talking about calls to Goodyear police and the Arizona Department of Child Services on several occasions by Norwood and others to check welfare on Sanaa for suspected abuse. Neither agency would speak to prior involvement in the family or prior calls to the home.

"I think because he was a police officer, I think there was [sic] some things that were taken for granted. Passes given, some things that were taken at face value. And at the end of the day you're left with a deceased 7-year-old and family members with broken hearts," said Smith.

The police report details horrific alleged abuses by the couple. Police discovered the little girl would be restrained a number of different ways including with zip tie, arm braces and a large shirt tied into a straight jacket type restraint.

Other information police gathered pointed to the girl being forced to sleep outside on winter nights and having food withheld.

"She wanted to be loved. Don't nobody want to be neglected by their father, especially little girls. I didn't grow up with my father, so to know he didn't give her that relationship that she just wanted is heartbreaking," said Norwood.

Smith also wants to know, despite indictments on such serious charges, why the pair was not arrested and given a court date to appear to answer to the charges.

"You or I would be in custody. And so, I think we should play by the same rules. Let's deal the same cards to everybody," said Smith.

Cunningham resigned from the Phoenix Police Department in September, after serving 12 years as an officer and detective, cashing out on his retirement, nearly $125,000. At the time he was under criminal investigation by Goodyear and an internal investigation by Phoenix.

The Arizona Police Officer Standards and Training Board has opened a case against his certification. If stripped of his AZ POST certification, he would never be able to serve as a police officer in the state of Arizona.

The pair is due in court on Jan. 2. A judge will decide whether they can be released on bond, or should wait in jail.

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