Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Child protection taken to task: Why did they give father with history of domestic violence custody of little boy who was beaten to death? (Hiawatha, Kansas)

I can't even begin to summarize this case. It is too disgusting. Once again, we see how governmental authority works with abusive fathers to help them gain and retain custody. And once again, a murdered child is the result.

Dad is identified as LEE DAVIS.

Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015

Documents: Hospital personnel describe abuse to 4-year-old Mekhi Boone as 'the worst ever seen'
By Jonathan Shorman

Mekhi Patrick Dean Boone, 4, of Hiawatha, died March 5, 2013 after suffering from child abuse.

Mekhi Patrick Dean Boone suffered the “worst case of child abuse they have seen.”

The 4-year-old Hiawatha boy lay on a Children’s Mercy Hospital bed in Kansas City, Mo., hooked up to a ventilator. A visiting social worker scrawled an observation on a case activity log, noting the child was brain dead.

“There is not a 2 inch part of his body that doesn’t have bruises. He was beat to death,” the log reads.

The entry was dated March 4, 2013. Mekhi was pronounced dead the next day — apparently without family by his side.

While the boy’s father and his father’s girlfriend were prosecuted for murder, the boy’s mother alleges the “outrageous conduct” of the state of Kansas and one of its contractors caused the death.

More than a hundred pages of court documents allege Kansas-based TFI Family Services, which at the time was one of the companies tasked with running the state’s foster care system, placed Mekhi with his father, Lee Davis, despite knowing he had a history of domestic violence and without telling the Department of Children and Families — the agency ultimately responsible for Mekhi’s well-being.

The court filings — part of a federal lawsuit against TFI and DCF brought by Mekhi’s mother — purport to document mistakes and missed clues prior to the boy’s death. Dozens of pages of emails and official reports paint a picture of an agency and a company where required visits weren’t made and action wasn’t taken, even after evidence of abuse began to mount.

Changes in custody

Mekhi was born Sept. 4, 2008, in Horton. Although he lived only four years, he was described as a smiling boy with energy.

“I had the opportunity to meet little Mekhi last year while he was in preschool. There was something special about this little guy that intrigued me; to sum it up, he touched my heart,” one person wrote on the funeral home’s condolence page.

Months before Mekhi’s death, an educator at the preschool reported he showed signs of abuse, but the boy’s situation didn’t change.

Mekhi had spent the first part of his life with his mother, Naomi Boone. According to a July 10, 2012, case activity log written by Michelle Petry, a DCF worker named in the lawsuit, the agency had concerns with Mekhi staying with his mother and ultimately sought to remove him.

The report recounts a conversation between Petry and TFI at the Brown County Courthouse ahead of a temporary custody hearing.

According to Petry’s report, Mekhi had been found on two occasions at a grocery store in Horton without supervision. The lawsuit also says Mekhi had attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Davis, his father, would later cite the boy’s behavior issues in attempting to explain injuries.

“We discussed that (redacted)’s father has not had much to do with him since birth according to Naomi and that Naomi reported she has concerns that he is an alcoholic and also reported that (redacted) had returned home from a visit with his father a year or so ago with a bruise on his face and she was concerned that dad had caused the bruise,” Petry wrote.

The report concludes by noting that Boone had said she told Horton police about the bruise incident and that law enforcement had investigated. Petry then writes “that is why we are not looking at dad for placement option at this time.”

Petry’s warning to TFI would go unheeded, according to the lawsuit.

At the hearing, the court placed Mekhi into the state’s custody. TFI then placed the boy with his paternal grandmother, Carol Negretti, who was also a licensed foster parent.

More than a year earlier in March 2011, the Kansas Department for Health and Human Services had designated Mekhi’s father as having a “prohibited offense.” The label meant that Davis was prohibited from working at a licensed foster home or living in a foster home under Kansas law.

Davis, who was 27 at the time of Mekhi’s death, had been twice convicted of misdemeanor battery. In one September 2009 incident recorded in a police report, a woman told Horton police that Davis had grabbed her by the throat and had pushed her against a wall. Davis told police the woman had slapped him and that he had hit her back.

In an April 2013 email sent in response to questions raised by DCF following Mekhi’s death, Gaven Ludlow, TFI’s director of Resource Family Services, said TFI was informed in March 2011 that Lee had a prohibited offense.

Mekhi lived with Negretti for about four months. But despite Davis having a prohibited offense, on Nov. 3, 2012, TFI took Mekhi from Negretti, his paternal grandmother, and placed him with his father.

According to the lawsuit, Davis had never before had custody of Mekhi. The lawsuit alleges TFI didn’t notify DCF in advance that it had decided to move Mekhi. In a March 20, 2013, email, Melinda Handley, a DCF social work supervisor, wrote that DCF staff didn’t know Mekhi was being placed with Lee before TFI moved him.

Less than a week after Mekhi was taken from his mother and placed with Negretti, Davis began to visit Mekhi at Negretti’s home. A document written by TFI in response to DCF questions following Mekhi’s death outlines how Davis began having more and more contact with Mekhi.

Davis had three supervised visits with Mekhi during July that took place at Negretti’s home. Davis then began unsupervised visits in August, with day visits taking place on Saturdays. He started to pick up Mekhi from preschool and take him to daycare. Once-a-week visits started in September, and Davis looked after the child on some evenings as well.

TFI described what case managers observed on their home visits with Davis beginning in July 2012 through January 2013. Generally, the case managers noted a clean home.

But the regularity of visits didn’t meet standards, the lawsuit alleges. When Mekhi was transferred from Negretti’s custody to Davis’ custody, the transfer wasn’t facilitated by either DCF or TFI. Instead, according to the TFI document, Davis picked up Mekhi from Negretti’s home on the date he was placed with his father.

In addition, TFI said the first visit to see Mekhi following reintegration came on Nov. 28, more than two weeks after the transfer of custody. State regulations, however, require the supervising worker to visit the child biweekly during the first three months of placement and then monthly afterward.

On a Dec. 27 visit, a worker noticed Mekhi had two black eyes and a big bump on his head. Davis had contacted TFI before the visit, saying the child had fallen into the arm of a futon while playing at his grandmother’s home and that he had taken Mekhi to the doctor.

TFI said in the document that Negretti confirmed to them through informal conversation that Mekhi fell on the futon, but the conversation was never formally documented. During a Jan. 18 visit, the worker noted Mekhi’s bruises had disappeared, with no other bruising noted on his body.

But while the TFI employees saw an apparently benign injury, Mekhi’s preschool teacher had noticed signs of physical abuse — not accidental injury — a month earlier.

In a note dated Nov. 26, 2012, an educator at Brown County Special Education Interlocal 615 wrote that several bruises and red marks could be seen on Mekhi’s stomach. The educator asked Mekhi what had happened, but he didn’t say anything.

When the school nurse examined him, Mekhi said he had fallen at home in the grass in the backyard. When asked how he fell, he said he was on the roof and jumped off.

Later that day, though, Mekhi opened up — saying that he hated living with his father and that Davis had slapped him.

“He then showed them his stomach. When asked why he said it’s when he gets in trouble and has to stand by the wall and then he said he gets slapped all over,” the teacher wrote.

Documents from the school also note about two weeks prior to Mekhi’s comments, he had bruises on both of his temples.

Mekhi’s bruises and his comments were reported to the Kansas Intake/Investigation Protection System — a DCF hotline, documents show. According to the lawsuit, DCF employee Debra Adcock conducted an investigation into the hotline call.

The lawsuit alleges Adcock’s investigation didn’t find the same risks associated with Davis that Petry noted in July 2012. DCF concluded that there was a “low risk” of abuse or neglect and that the risk was “controlled.”

“The second risk assessment contained no explanation for the conclusion that the risk to M.B.’s safety was deemed ‘low’ for abuse after M.B. had been placed with Mr. Davis, who DCF had previously determined was not a placement option for M.B. because of Mr. Davis’ background of domestic violence against M.B. and others,” the lawsuit reads.

According to the lawsuit, Adcock’s investigation lasted from Nov. 26, 2012, to Jan. 10, 2013. During that time, Adcock visited Mekhi once face-to-face. The lawsuit alleged Adcock didn’t interview the individual who made the hotline call, nor did she interview anyone who was at Mekhi’s school that day.

The lawsuit says Adcock determined the allegations were unsubstantiated and closed the investigation.

Further, the lawsuit says Adcock told TFI about the hotline call on Nov. 26. TFI indicated it would pay special attention to Mekhi, but that it had no concern about Mekhi being in the Davis home.

The lawsuit also alleges DCF didn’t meet with Mekhi while he was living with Davis, despite an obligation to make contact with the family at least once every 30 calendar days to evaluate risk and safety factors, according to DCF regulations.

No one, either from TFI or DCF, visited Mekhi after Jan. 13, 2013, the lawsuit says.

The worst ever seen

After a little less than two months without any contact from the state or TFI, Mekhi’s situation changed suddenly.

Davis brought Mekhi to the Hiawatha hospital on March 3, 2013. Mekhi was unresponsive. Davis said the child had fallen down 30 stairs.

According to the lawsuit, Davis spoke of behavior problems with the boy. Hospital staff who removed Mekhi’s clothing saw bruising and abrasions all over his body in various stages of healing.

Mekhi had multiple injuries, including internal bleeding and bleeding on the brain. He was taken by helicopter to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.

At Children’s Mercy, doctors diagnosed Mekhi with severe traumatic brain injury secondary to child abuse, a skull fracture, mid-line shift of the brain and multiple bruises. The diagnosis didn’t match the explanation Davis had provided.

“Children’s Mercy personnel including a medical doctor who had observed approximately 15,000 victims of child abuse, described (Mekhi’s) injuries as the worst ever seen for a child that age, and that there was not two inches of (Mekhi’s) body that did not have bruising on it,” the lawsuit reads.

On March 4, Petry — the DCF worker who had told TFI in July 2012 that Davis wasn’t a placement option — visited Mekhi in the hospital. She wrote in her case activity log that Mekhi had been “beat to death.” She noted Mekhi showed signs of sexual abuse as well.

“After midnight test brain activity and they will pronounce him dead if nothing has changed,” Petry wrote.

The test came and went. At 2:35 p.m. on March 5, Mekhi was pronounced dead.

Davis and his girlfriend, Janice Summerford, were charged with murder. Davis was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison in July 2013. In August 2014, Summerford entered an Alford Plea — acknowledging enough evidence exists to convict her but not admitting guilt, the Sabetha Herald reported at the time.

Though a DCF employee was present at the time of Mekhi's death, and multiple DCF employees visited Mekhi in the hospital, the lawsuit alleges no one from TFI visited Mekhi in the hospital.

Further, the lawsuit alleges Mekhi died without his family. “Naomi Boone was not allowed to visit her son, (Mekhi), before his death while he was hospitalized at Children’s Mercy Hospital. (Mekhi’s) family were not allowed to see or visit (Mekhi) while he was being treated at Children’s Mercy,” the lawsuit reads.

“(Mekhi) died without his mother or family present.”

Ongoing litigation

Naomi Boone filed her lawsuit against TFI and DCF on Oct. 27, 2014. The lawsuit, which totals more than 100 pages with attached emails and reports, appears to have drawn little outside attention since.

The lawsuit was listed, however, in a budget document given to lawmakers Monday. The document indicates DCF was served with the lawsuit in December and filed an answer in January. However, federal court records show DCF was served on Oct. 31 and that TFI was served on Nov. 6.

Boone’s attorney, Michaela Shelton, of Overland Park, said she would potentially be willing to speak to The Topeka Capital-Journal, but as of Tuesday afternoon hadn’t agreed to an interview.

Approached for comment, DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed sent a short statement that indicated one employee was fired.

“The loss of any child is a tragedy. We are deeply saddened that this little boy suffered an unthinkable death. It is always our top priority to ensure the safety of children. DCF has carefully reviewed this case and taken appropriate action, including the termination of an employee,” Freed said.

Questions directed at TFI spokeswoman Sara Hadaway were forwarded to the Kansas City, Mo., law firm Franke, Schultz & Mullen.

“Our firm is counsel of record for TFI. We would request that any further inquiries be directed to our office. It is TFI’s policy not to comment on pending litigation. Thank you for reaching out for comment before going to print,” attorney Derek Johannsen said in an email.

TFI has drawn scrutiny for past incidents. In the 2011 death of a Topeka baby, the child's grandmother said she had filed a report with TFI prior to the death raising concerns about injuries.

This past summer, TFI also attracted attention after a 10-month-old girl who had been placed into a foster home by TFI died in a hot car in Wichita. DCF temporarily suspended further foster placements by TFI but later lifted the restriction after a review of its foster homes found no serious safety concerns.

Although TFI lost its state contract in 2013, it still works as a subcontractor.

DCF and TFI both answered the lawsuit in Dec. 9 court filings, a month prior to what DCF indicated to lawmakers. In its answer, DCF seeks to distance itself from the incident and says it had no connection to Mekhi’s death.

“These answering Defendants would affirmatively assert there is no causal connection between these answering Defendants’ conduct and the death of (Mekhi), the constitutional deprivations claims by Plaintiffs, and the other injuries and damages claimed by Plaintiffs,” DCF’s legal answer reads.

Boone’s lawsuit argues her son’s due process rights were violated, a claim that also drew a response from DCF.

“These answering Defendants affirmatively assert that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not require these answering Defendants to protect its citizens from private violence,” the answer reads.

TFI in its answer denies the plaintiff sustained any damage. The company suggests that if any fault is found, it should be shared with DCF as well.

According to an online court docket, the next step in the lawsuit is a scheduling conference set for Monday.