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Child Protector Dead

March 16, 2006 permalink

A child-protection administrator has been found apparently murdered in Texas.



San Antonio Express-News

Child agency supervisor dead

Web Posted: 03/16/2006 12:00 AM CST

Jeorge Zarazua
Express-News Staff Writer

The body of a missing Child Protective Services administrator was found Wednesday in a field outside Victoria, two days after she last told a friend she was settling in for the night.

Sally Ann Blackwell, 53, was reported missing Tuesday after she failed to show up for work and her daughters immediately feared her job might have played a role in her disappearance.

Victoria police notified the daughters shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday that Blackwell's body had been found in a field off U.S. 59 and Hanselman Road, southeast of Victoria, said Kirsten Menie, a family spokeswoman. The cause of death wasn't immediately known, but police told the Victoria Advocate they were treating the case as a homicide.

Menie said the daughters were too distraught to talk.

"Nobody is able to communicate, to tell you the truth," she said.

Menie said the family continues to believe Blackwell was a victim of foul play.

Sally Ann Blackwell

"Right now there are endless possibilities," she said. "I don't necessarily think the police are just clueless."

The family offered a $5,000 reward for information about the case, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier Wednesday, Tina Taulbee said her stepmother had spoken of threats she had been receiving at work.

"In the 15 or 16 years she has been there, this is the first time she was actually scared," Taulbee said.

Taulbee, 37, of San Antonio, said she didn't know details of the threats, but said it was in connection with one of the cases the CPS program director's office was handling.

Blackwell oversaw caseworkers in nine South Texas counties, including Bexar.

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in Austin, confirmed Wednesday that someone threatened Blackwell in her office last week.

But he said the agency hasn't received any information Blackwell's death was related to her work.

"We're obviously shocked and filled with sadness," Crimmins said. "We, of course, were hoping for a happier outcome. She was very, very well known in the Victoria community. She was well-liked, well-respected.

"Everyone is kind of at a loss for words."

Lt. Mike Hernandez of the Victoria Police Department said a search had been launched for Blackwell in that area early Wednesday, but investigators failed to find her body.

Hernandez declined to say what led investigators to suspect she might have been there, saying it was part of the ongoing investigation.

"No suspects have been identified," he said.

Hernandez said a county work crew found Blackwell's body lying just on the other side of a fence on Hanselman Road. There were no apparent signs of how she might have died, he said.

An autopsy has been ordered for today.

According to Taulbee, investigators found the door to her stepmother's home open and her dog locked up in the garage. Blackwell's car was left at the house.

She said the only thing that appeared missing was Blackwell's purse.

Blackwell, a former University of Texas cheerleader, joined CPS in 1990 as a caseworker in the Cuero office, and in 1998 became a supervisor.

In 2001, she was promoted to CPS program director, overseeing 46 caseworkers, their supervisors and additional support staff in nine counties.

Taulbee said Blackwell was passionate about helping abused children.

"I think that she did what she needed to do to protect the people who couldn't protect themselves," she said.

Crimmins said the incident last week at Blackwell's office "did not escalate" into anything that would have required police intervention.

"It was handled at the time," he said, adding it's not uncommon for CPS workers to be threatened.

The Child Protective Services Division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigates reports of abuse and neglect of children, and, if necessary, places children in foster care, Crimmins said.

He said employees receive training about workplace violence, dealing with difficult or hostile clients, and personal security.

Crimmins said the news of Blackwell's death spread quickly Wednesday among CPS caseworkers throughout the state.

"There is a strong bond between people that do this for a living," he said. "The jobs are very, very tough; very, very demanding."

Counselors were scheduled to consult with Blackwell's 30 co-workers today at the Victoria office because of her disappearance, Crimmins said.

"That's obviously going to be more important than ever now," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Source: San Antonio Express-News

Addendum: The incident was unrelated to the victim's responsibilities in child protection.



Jeffrey Frank Grimsinger
Jeffrey Frank Grimsinger, 25, got 20 years for kidnapping and a life sentence for murder. He admitted killing Sally Ann Blackwell, 53. Her relatives said they were satisfied with the sentences.

CPS supervisor's murderer gets a life term in plea deal

Killer evades death penalty in '06 Victoria slaying

Subdued and avoiding eye contact with his victim's family, a 25-year-old construction worker Friday pleaded guilty to the 2006 kidnap-murder of Victoria Child Protective Services supervisor Sally Ann Blackwell.

Jeffrey Frank Grimsinger, who faced the possibility of a death sentence had the case gone to trial, agreed to a 20-year sentence for kidnapping and a life sentence for murder. The sentences — assessed in the Victoria court of state District Judge Skipper Koetter — will run consecutively.

Blackwell, 53, disappeared from her Victoria home on March 14, 2006. Her rope-trussed body was found the next day in a field southeast of town. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

The killer is the son of Michael Grimsinger, who said he had dated Blackwell intermittently since 1995. Earlier on the night of her death, the elder Grimsinger told the San Antonio Express-News in a 2006 interview, Blackwell had visited his home to discuss renewing their relationship.

'He acted impulsively'

The younger Grimsinger stared into his lap as relatives of his victim addressed the court Friday. "He never made eye contact with them," said Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor, whose office led the investigation.

The victim's sister, Mary Allaway of Austin, told the court she remembered Blackwell as "a precious, trusting little sister."

"I remember Sally as a strong, intelligent woman who worked hard and made a positive difference in this world," Allaway said later.

When asked why he had murdered Blackwell, Grimsinger responded, "I don't know."

"I don't know that he's a great orator," said Victoria County District Attorney Steve Tyler. "He might not even fully understand himself. He acted impulsively."

Tyler said the killer had expressed remorse for the crime.

Investigators linked Jeffrey Grimsinger to the murder by DNA evidence found beneath his victim's fingernails and on a cigarette butt discovered at the crime scene. His fingerprints also were found at Blackwell's home. In addition, Tyler said, Grimsinger confessed to authorities and his father.

The prosecutor said he crafted the plea agreement rather than go to trial because capital prosecution "would have been difficult for the family and very expensive for the community."

"I believe this sentence is just, and that is what I am duty-bound to obtain," he said.

M.P. Eaves, district attorney at the time of the murder, said in November 2006 that he intended to seek the death penalty for Grimsinger. Eaves declined Friday to comment on his successor's plea agreement with Grimsinger.

Allaway said she is pleased with Tyler's handling of the case. Blackwell's daughter, Amanda Taulbee, concurred, noting she is grateful to be spared the trauma of a trial. "I am confident Jeff Grimsinger will spend the rest of his natural life in prison," she said.

Victoria County has sent three killers to death row since executions resumed in Texas in 1982.

Remembered fondly

Blackwell joined Child Protective Services in 1990 as a caseworker in Cuero. At the time of her death, she was a program director overseeing 46 caseworkers and other staff in nine counties.

"Those of us who were fortunate enough to have worked with Sally Blackwell will always remember her energy, her optimism and her commitment not only to the children of our state, but also to her co-workers in Child Protective Services," agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said. "We choose to remember her life."

Source: Houston Chronicle

Sidebar: Before finding the real killer, a sheriff's dog accused Michael Buchanek. The Texas Innocence Project has taken an interest in protecting people from junk dog evidence.



The Innocence Project of Texas, Jul 13 2009

Criminal Investigations Thrown to the Dogs in Texas

Published by Natalie Roetzel at 1:29 pm under Website Updates

The Victoria Advocate released a story last night that takes an in depth look at the use of dog-scent lineups in Texas. Specifically, the article addresses two cases where men were arrested and incarcerated based on canine testimony and later released when proof of their innocence emerged. The evidence in these cases was subjected to bloodhound scent lineups conducted by Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pikett, a man whose practices are currently under rigid scrutiny as a result of two recently filed federal lawsuits. The story explains:

Michael Buchanek’s federal lawsuit in January 2008 was the first complaint about Pikett’s work, said Randy Morse, an assistant Fort Bend County attorney representing the deputy. A scent lineup and trail identified Buchanek as a suspect in the high-profile murder of Sally Blackwell.

Pikett’s dogs, Quincy and James Bond, walked from the site where Blackwell’s body was found, along Zac Lentz Parkway, to her home more than five miles away. From there, they went to Buchanek’s house nearby.

The hounds also picked the former Victoria County sheriff’s captain’s scent in a series of lineups. The identifications were used to get a search warrant for Buchanek’s home.

His lawyer, Rex Easley, represents Calvin Miller in another civil suit that names Pikett.

In one motion, Easley wrote Pikett’s lineup was “so recklessly flawed that it violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiff. First, the dogs were leashed during the lineup, which fails to exclude handler input. Second, the site, the pads and the cans were contaminated with countless other scents so as to render it unreliable and impermissible to base a warrant upon.”

Easley hired Bob Coote, who led a police-dog force in the United Kingdom and worked with scent dogs guarding the British border, to review Pikett’s work in Buchanek’s case. The lineup was “the most primitive evidential police procedure I have ever witnessed. If it was not for the fact that this is a serious matter, I could have been watching a comedy,” Coote wrote.

The Innocence Project of Texas recently took an interest in Pikett’s use of dog-scent lineups and is currently evaluating several potential wrongful convictions brought about, at least in part, by the use of these flawed “investigation” procedures. In his comments to the Victoria Advocate, IPOT Chief Counsel Jeff Blackburn noted that although dog scent lineups are commonly regarded as junk science, “this isn’t even science. This is just junk.” Even the National Police Bloodhound Association has regarded the lineups as “unreliable” and no longer edorses the practice.

Source: Innocence Project of Texas