SAN ANTONIO – Judge Peter Sakai is on the front lines of a system that is supposed to protect children, and when that system fails, he feels it on a personal level.
"What we're dealing with is generational child abuse and neglect. Initially when I started in this business 20 years ago, I would have said, 'Nah, I'm a tough judge,'" Sakai said.
Sitting in the middle of his courtroom, Sakai remembers the one time he almost gave it all up.
The case was that of a baby girl, Diamond Alexander Washington, who was removed from her home after her mother tested positive for drugs.
For Sakai, who deals with the toughest child abuse and neglect cases, this one was almost too much for him to handle.
"Everybody had agreed that this child should be returned to her mother. Shortly after returning to her mother, the mother ah, killed this kid and this mother is now doing a life sentence, I took that case and that situation very hard, I took a leave of absence, because I thought I messed up," Sakai said.
The Bexar County Medical Examiner testified at the mother’s trial that the little girl was struck at least 26 times in a 24 hour period, and died.
The death shook the system and Sakai.
"But when I looked at it, and I studied it, I realized that I had done the best i can," Sakai said.
Every report from therapists and investigators said the girl should be returned to the mother.
Sakai looked over every piece of testimony and ruling during the case, and even today when he shakes the hands of parents who are getting their kids back, he thinks of a little girl, gone too soon.
"What I learned from Diamond Alexander Washington, the little girl, was that I could never be afraid to make a decision. I can't be afraid to take on child abuse and neglect cases, I can't be afraid these parents might kill their kid. We can't use these child deaths as an excuse not to help these parents that need help, and are willing to take our help,” Sakai said.
The mother, Kim Washington, was sentenced to life in prison for murdering her own daughter.
Sakai took a many months long leave of absence following the case.
Sakai has been one of the state’s Child Protective Service’s biggest critics and cheerleader.