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Kentucky New Era

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A cabinet coverup? Records show scope of investigation was changed to avoid public scrutiny

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Posted: Friday, November 18, 2011 12:00 am

The day after the Todd County Standard asked for records pertaining to a murdered child under the care of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, social workers were changing the scope of the state’s investigation so it wouldn’t have to divulge any files under Open Record laws.

According to records the Standard obtained last week after winning a lawsuit for the Cabinet’s files concerning Amy Dye, a 9-year-old girl found murdered near Trenton Feb. 4, 2011, social workers had a conversation to clarify whether the Cabinet’s investigation was a “fatality investigation.”

Records now show that the cabinet made a choice within a few days of Amy Dye’s death and a day after the Standard filed an open records request to declare the scope of the investigation in a way that would keep the files from becoming public.

In a Feb. 16, 2011 email with Ragena Kinney, service region associate administrator for the Lake Region, local social worker Sarah M. Gill recorded in the official files that there was a request for open records.

“If it had been a fatality investigation, then records would have to be released,” the email to Gill from another employee said. “Since it is not a fatality investigation, then they don’t have to release them. They did not say who had requested them.”

By not declaring its involvement in the Dye case as a fatality investigation and instead referring to it as a “neglect investigation,” the Cabinet would later claim it did not have to investigate social workers’ role in Dye’s death or release any related records.

Also consulted on the matter where Teresa James, the deputy commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services and Kelly Staples, the assistant director of the Division of Service Regions.

Garrett Dye, Amy’s adoptive brother, admitted last month during a guilty plea to beating her to death with a hydraulic jack handle. He is set to be sentenced on Nov. 23 and could receive 50 years in prison.

In an Aug. 11 document in the state’s Amy Dye file that was turned over to the Standard, Gill explained further the scope of a “neglect investigation” in a document called a “Continuous Quality Assessment.”

Records show the “investigation was not accepted as a child fatality investigation by (the Department for Community Based Services) Centralized Intake and Regional office staff due to the fact that this was a child on child incident as related to the injury and murder of Amy by her brother.”

Gill goes on to write that “it was accepted as a neglect investigation against (Kim and Chris Dye, Amy’s adoptive parents) on the allegations reported” in an investigative form. The report also said Gill was instructed to assist the Kentucky State Police with the criminal investigation, to share records and to collaborate.

That was a far cry from what was being officially said in Frankfort during that same time shortly after Amy Dye’s death.

Officials with the Cabinet delayed nearly two weeks — violating Open Records laws — before even responding to the Standard’s initial request for records. Then when the Standard received a response, it was told there were no files whatsoever on Amy Dye.

The state Attorney General’s office was also later told there were not any files on Amy Dye because she was not in the state’s care and she was killed by a sibling, not a parent, so there was no requirement for the state to investigate. It was August before Cabinet attorneys would even admit to a judge the files existed.

A record request denial letter sent to the Standard by the Cabinet and written by General Council Christina Heavrin on March 23 said the “Cabinet had no records concerning Amy Dye’s fatality … since it is not alleged that the individual involved in Ms. Dye’s death was a parent, guardian or person exercising custodial control or supervision … it is not within the Cabinet’s authority to investigate it.”

A circuit judge in Franklin County (Frankfort) blasted the cabinet in a decision last week for its handling of Amy Dye’s case.

The judge said that the cabinet failed Amy Dye and that its handling of her situation was a tragic example of the “potentially deadly consequences of a child welfare system that has completely insulated itself from meaningful public scrutiny.”

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip J. Shepherd said in his decision to release the Cabinet’s files to the Standard that the court rejects the “Cabinet’s argument that the records are exempt from disclosure because (Amy) Dye was not in the Cabinet’s ‘custody and care’ and because her death was not the result of ‘abuse or neglect’ by a parent, guardian, or person exercising custodial control or supervision of her.”

Shepherd said that while records related to child abuse and neglect are usually exempt from disclosure, clear exceptions apply in Amy Dye’s case under state and federal law.

“The Court must note for the record that the Cabinet’s claim that (Amy) Dye was never in its custody and care is highly misleading … (and) there is not a question that the Cabinet had prior involvement with the child or family” under state law, Shepherd said in his opinion last week. “The fact is (Amy) Dye was placed in the home of the people who abused her, one of whom ultimately murdered her, only with the approval by the Cabinet.”

Shepherd said social services’ argument that Amy Dye’s death had to be the result of parental abuse or neglect before a fatality investigation could be performed — and eventually made public — is not the final resolution of the matter.

“To be clear, a parent need not personally administer the fatal blow in order to be held responsible for ‘abuse and neglect’ under (state law),” Shepherd said in the decision, “if the parent places the child in danger and neglects to protect the child from on going physical or emotional abuse by a sibling or anyone else.”

Shepherd said there is no question that the failure to protect Amy Dye constitutes child neglect at a minimum and that the Open Records Act “is the only method available by which the public and the legislature can obtain information regarding the systemic breakdown of our child protective services that contributed so directly to this child’s death.”

Jeremy Rogers, the Louisville attorney who represented the Todd County Standard in its lawsuit against the Cabinet, said it seems as though state employees were trying their best to keep the records of Amy Dye’s abuse and eventual death from seeing the light of day.

“The Cabinet’s investigation records pretty clearly show a cover-up,” he said. “The cabinet made a deliberate attempt to avoid public accountability under the Open Records Act, and that is extremely disturbing.”

The neglect investigation the Cabinet conducted resulted in a letter given to Chris Dye concerning an incident determined by social services to be neglect. The letter said that Chris had left Amy alone in a hotel parking lot with a packed bag in Clarksville, Tenn., in order to “teach a lesson.”

The Aug. 11 letter said Chris Dye may be denied certain “rights and privileges” such as foster parenting, adoption or certain types of employment.

According to the files, the letter to Chris Dye is the only action taken by the state against anyone in the Dye family to date.

When contacted by the Standard Nov. 15, a Cabinet spokeswoman gave a similar answer as during the Dye investigation regarding how the state now determines a fatality investigation, by saying neglect or abuse has to be perpetrated by a caregiver.

“As required by statute, (the state) conducts investigations into reported cases of suspected neglect and/or abuse, either of which may result in a fatality,” Jill Midkiff, executive director of the Office of Communications for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an email. “By statute, a fatality investigation is conducted by (the state) when it is alleged that a fatality is the result of abuse or neglect by the caregiver.”

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