Police in Newark arrest man suspected of killing eight-year-old Sophia Mason

NEWARK — Multiple law enforcement agencies arrested Dhante Jackson in Newark Saturday on charges of murder and child abuse in connection to the 2021 killing of eight-year-old Sophia Mason in Hayward.

Jackson, 34, was taken into custody by multiple law enforcement agencies including the California Department of Justice at about 1 p.m. in Newark after being on the run from authorities for six months. His bail is expected to be set $1 million once he is booked into Merced County jail, according to Merced Police Detective John Pinnegar.

The arrest comes after a three-month Bay Area News Group investigation earlier this year found deep deficiencies in the response by county child welfare agency authorities to repeated concerns about Sophia’s wellbeing during the last year and a half of her life.

The investigation found that the county failed to respond to five of the seven complaints of abuse or neglect made during the last 15 months of Sophia’s life. An eighth report — one made years earlier in 2014 — also was determined to be unfounded by the agency.

Those failures appear to be part of larger, systemic issues in the Alameda County child welfare office, lagging behind nearly every other county in California in responding to report of abuse or neglect within the legally-required time frame.

Growing up in Hayward, Sophia spent most other life under the care of an expansive support system of family, neighbors and her grandmother Sylvia Johnson, according to interviews with relatives. But that changes January 2021 when Sophia’s mother, Samantha Johnson, came back into Sophia’s life with a renewed interest in raising her.

The girl moved to Merced with Johnson in late 2021, and it’s there that the eight-year-old was found decomposing in a bath tub on March 11 — prompting authorities to arrest and charge Johnson in the girl’s death. She is currently held in Merced County jail on a $1 million bail.

Police are expected to give more information on Jackson’s arrest at a press conference Sunday morning.

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