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December 18, 2011 permalink
The good news is that reported child deaths in Kentucky are down. The bad news is that the numbers in the reports are fake. Investigative journalism exposes the fakery.
Some child abuse deaths missing from Kentucky's list
At least 8 fatalities not in state report
Kentucky child welfare officials omitted the deaths of at least eight children in their annual report on abuse or neglect fatalities — even though some were high-profile cases that resulted in criminal charges, including murder, and one was documented in other state records.
The state’s most recent report — released Dec. 1, three months past the deadline set by state law — lists just 18 such deaths in the fiscal year that ended June 30, far fewer than the 33 for the previous year. Advocates hailed the decline as encouraging.
But a Courier-Journal review of court records, news stories and the cabinet’s own records found at least eight other child deaths in that 12-month period that were not in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ annual report to lawmakers and Gov. Steve Beshear.
Among them was the case of Amy Dye, 9, a Todd County girl beaten to death on Feb. 4 by her adoptive brother, a death the cabinet already has acknowledged it did not include.
Another was the case of Anthia Lattimore, a Covington infant who suffered severe burns and suffocated after becoming wedged between a mattress and heater as her drug- and alcohol-impaired mother slept in the same bed. Anthia died Jan. 18, 2011, at the age of 9 months.
“I can’t imagine any reason this case wouldn’t be included in their annual statistics,” said Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders, who prosecuted Anthia’s mother, Megin Gray, on criminal abuse charges. “Cases like this don’t help the cabinet’s cause when it comes to explaining themselves to the courts and the public.”
Gray pleaded guilty to criminal abuse and is to be sentenced Tuesday. That case prompted a tongue-lashing of top cabinet officials earlier this year by a judge upset with the cabinet’s refusal to publicly disclose its previous involvement with Gray and her four children.
A 'closed' agency
“The cabinet is a very closed, shrouded in secrecy agency,” Kenton District Judge Ken Easterling said at a hearing, according to a Jan. 27 report in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Relying on the cabinet to police itself is like “asking Richard Nixon to investigate Watergate,” he said.
Cabinet officials said last week that they couldn’t comment on the additional deaths without a further review of their files.
But lawmakers, scheduled to question cabinet officials about the report Monday at a meeting of the interim joint Health and Welfare Committee, said they are seeking answers.
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, the committee’s co-chairman. “If they’re killed, it seems that should be reported. There might be 20 or 30 out there that don’t get reported.”
The National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, arguing that as many as half of all child abuse deaths aren’t reported, is pushing for federal legislation that would require more specific definitions and uniform standards among states for reporting such deaths.
“It differs all over the country,” said Kim Day, director of the coalition, who decried the fact that “we can’t even count how many children die in this country and be accurate.”
In Kentucky, lawmakers and advocates have criticized the cabinet for its handling of child abuse cases and its fight to keep records of child deaths or serious injuries secret, despite rulings by Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd that they must be disclosed under state open-records law.
Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the disclosure that the cabinet has omitted some deaths from the annual report raises even more questions. “It’s very clear the cabinet’s numbers have no credibility,” he said, adding that Beshear needs to act to correct problems. “The governor cannot distance himself from this kind of performance. Ultimately, it’s the governor’s responsibility.”
The state’s annual report does not identify the 18 children it lists as having died from abuse or neglect between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011. But The Courier-Journal obtained the names and other details of those children through an open-records request after Shepherd ruled that the state must disclose such information.
By comparing that list with court records and news reports about cases from the same time period, the newspaper identified at least seven more in which adult caregivers were charged in abuse or neglect deaths.
An eighth, unnamed child was identified through another set of records the cabinet recently provided The Courier-Journal of internal reviews in cases of child abuse and neglect deaths.
In that last case, cabinet records show, social service officials conducted an internal review of the case of a 15-month-old girl who died from a morphine overdose on Aug. 30, 2010. The heavily redacted records, which don’t name the child, list it as a substantiated abuse or neglect death after the child ingested drugs available in the home.
Yet that death is not included in the cabinet’s annual report, despite the fact that it’s included in its own records of child abuse or neglect deaths.
Nor does the annual report include the violent death of James “Tony” Hack, a Louisville 4-year-old who died Dec. 15, 2010, from a severe beating. His mother’s boyfriend at the time — Johnny Juliot, who was caring for the child, according to court records — is scheduled to be tried in January on a murder charge in Tony’s death.
Tony’s injuries included skull fractures and bruises on his back, buttocks, face, neck and scrotum, according to court records. Prosecutors with the Jefferson County commonwealth’s attorney’s office are seeking the death penalty.
Tony’s grandmother, Catherine Milliner, said she was shocked to learn that his death wasn’t counted as child abuse in the state’s report. “I don’t know why he got left out,” Milliner said. “It was a homicide through abuse. I guess they need to be more aware.”
The Courier-Journal first raised questions this month about why Amy Dye’s death was not included after Shepherd ruled that it was a result of abuse or, at a minimum, neglect by her adoptive family. State records that Shepherd ordered released in the case showed state officials had ignored or dismissed as unfounded repeated reports from Todd County school officials that the girl was suffering abuse at home.
State officials have said they didn’t count Amy’s death because she was killed by her 17-year-old brother, not a parent. Garrett Dye, now 18, pleaded guilty to Amy’s murder and was sentenced last month to 50 years in prison.
Shepherd has ruled that the cabinet’s stance conflicts with state law, which allows social service workers to substantiate abuse or neglect in cases involving parents, guardians or others supervising or caring for children.
The cabinet’s refusal to include Amy’s murder drew outraged responses from lawmakers and advocates who said it undermines the credibility of the cabinet and its report.
Other cases not included in the report:
Cally Jobe, a 16-month-old Boyd County girl who died May 3. Brian “Trinity” Brewster, who had been living with the girl’s mother, Lakyn Jobe, has been charged with murder, and the mother is charged with criminal abuse, said David Justice, Boyd County commonwealth’s attorney. “This was a high-profile case in our county,” Justice said, adding the child was brain-damaged from a violent shaking. “I’ll prosecute this guy as hard as I can.”
Addysen Brooks Mayes, a 10-month-old Clark County girl who died from a drug overdose, resulting in the conviction of her grandparents, who were baby-sitting, and the girl’s mother.
Addysen died in October 2010 after ingesting enough methadone at her grandparents’ home to kill an adult, according to reports in the Winchester Sun.
Her mother, Brooks Ecton, who left the girl with the grandparents, was sentenced to a year’s probation Dec. 1 after pleading guilty to wanton endangerment for leaving the girl in their care. And grandmother Cheryl Kirkwood Black and her husband, David Black, were sentenced to 10 years each for manslaughter for allowing the child access to the drug.
Clark Circuit Judge Jean Chenault Logue had stern words for the child’s mother and grandparents at a recent sentencing hearing, according to the newspaper. “The parent trusted the grandparent,” Logue said. “As a sole result of that trust, the child is no longer with us.”
Ten-month-old Dominic Knox Stephens of Lexington, who died Sept. 30, 2010, from an apparent beating or shaking. Christopher Ryan Mitchell, a friend of the mother who was baby-sitting, has been charged with manslaughter.
Conner Bachuss, 2, of McCracken County, who died Dec. 10, 2010, after a fatal beating. The mother’s boyfriend, Ronald Sanders, has been charged with murder.
Source: Louisville Courier-Journal