Monday, November 7, 2011

State blasted on Western Kentucky girl's slaying

Judge: Abuse ignored before brutal beating

Written by Deborah Yetter

A Franklin Circuit Court judge blasted state officials Monday for ignoring suspected prior abuse of a 9-year-old Western Kentucky girl beaten to death by her adoptive brother, saying they turned a “blind eye” to repeated reports of her horrific mistreatment.

In his second such order in four days, Judge Phillip Shepherd ordered the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to release records of child abuse death investigations — this time in the case of the Feb. 4 murder of Amythz “Amy” Dye. State officials have repeatedly refused to release such records, citing confidentiality.

“This case presents a tragic example of the potentially deadly consequences of a child welfare system that has completely insulated itself from meaningful public scrutiny,” Shepherd said in his order. “The Open Records Act is the only method available by which the public and the legislature can obtain information regarding the systematic breakdown of our child protective services that contributed so directly to this child’s death.”

The order notes cabinet officials had approved Amy’s adoptive home in Todd County, with Kimberly Dye, after removing her from her birth parents because of “severe neglect and sexual abuse.”

“An innocent, nine-year-old girl was brutally beaten to death after enduring months of physical and emotional abuse in a home approved by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for her adoption,” Shepherd wrote.

Cabinet officials received the order Monday and are reviewing it, said spokeswoman Jill Midkiff.

Garrett Dye, 17, Amy’s adoptive brother, pleaded guilty Oct. 21 in Todd Circuit Court to murdering her on Feb. 4 by beating her in the head with a jack handle. At the time, she was outside on a cold, snowy evening shoveling gravel as punishment for stealing pudding and juice from a friend’s lunch box at school, Shepherd’s order said.

Garrett Dye, who was prosecuted as an adult, will be sentenced Nov. 23.

After Amy’s death, police found the girl’s clothes in a dresser in a trailer outside the house, Shepherd’s order said. It said Amy sometimes soiled her clothes because of poor bowel control, and when she did, her adoptive mother — as punishment — forced her to go outside for clean clothes.

Shepherd’s ruling comes after The Todd County Standard sought records from the cabinet about reports of suspected abuse or neglect involving Amy. The cabinet refused to provide the records to the newspaper, initially claiming it had none; but then, after acknowledging it did have records, it claimed they were exempt from open records law.

In his ruling Monday, the judge ordered the cabinet to release the records to the paper, noting that the issues were “identical” to those raised in his ruling Thursday that the cabinet must release records of child abuse deaths and serious injuries to The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald Leader.

In that ruling, he excoriated the cabinet as being “so immersed in the culture of secrecy regarding these issues that it is institutionally incapable of recognizing and implementing the clear requirement of the law.”

The Louisville and Lexington newspapers are seeking the records under a law that permits the disclosure of child abuse and neglect records if a child dies or is seriously injured and if the cabinet had prior involvement with the child or family.

Ryan Craig, publisher and owner of the Todd County newspaper, said the details of Amy’s life and death — outlined in Shepherd’s order — are horrifying.

“Her death was horrible, but it seems like her life must have been just as bad,” Craig said.

He called on Gov. Steve Beshear to look into conduct of the cabinet.

“The governor needs to take a long, hard look at the cabinet,” Craig said. “I think there needs to be some housecleaning.”

At a campaign stop in Louisville Monday evening, Beshear said he hadn't read Shepherd's opinion but planned to take it up with cabinet officials.

“Certainly we are going to be reviewing that decision,” he said.

He declined to fault social service officials. “I know the cabinet works hard in the protection of children,” Beshear said.

In the five years before Amy’s death, reports of suspected abuse or neglect “flooded in,” starting the year after she was adopted by Kimberly Dye, Shepherd’s order said. Some of the reports came from school officials, including a school nurse, and some said she was being beaten by other children in the home. Yet state social workers performed cursory inquiries and took no action, his order said.

Kimberly Dye, who shared the home with her ex-husband, Christopher, could not be reached for comment. The family’s phone has been disconnected.

The reports cited by Shepherd included a May 2, 2007, letter from a school nurse detailing six separate reports she made of suspected abuse to Amy. The nurse reported injuries such as severe bruises, thumbprints on the girl’s face and scraped and peeling skin.

The nurse said Amy told her she had been hurt by another child in the home and her mother threatened to spank her if she told anyone. Amy then lived with two adoptive brothers, Garrett Dye, and an older brother not identified in Shepherd’s order.

The order said most of the abuse allegations involved the older brother, not Garrett Dye.

The cabinet dismissed the complaints as “child against child” altercations or accepted Kimberly Dye’s explanation that Amy fell or that the girl “bruises easily and plays rough with her brothers,” the order said.

“It is stunning to believe that the cabinet will refuse to protect a child from repeated acts of physical violence when the parent knows of and tolerates such abuse and does nothing to prevent it,” Shepherd’s order said. “Yet that is exactly what happened here.”

The case also appears to be the second in which the cabinet failed to conduct a fatality review required by law when a child dies or is seriously injured from abuse or neglect and the cabinet had prior involvement with the family.

The Courier-Journal and Herald-Leader filed suit in 2009, seeking the cabinet’s records of its investigation of the death of a Wayne County toddler who died after drinking drain cleaner at an alleged meth lab where he lived with his teenage parents. Both the child and his teen mother had been under the cabinet’s supervision.

The cabinet fought the newspapers’ request, citing confidentiality. After Shepherd ordered the cabinet to release the fatality report, cabinet officials acknowledged they never conducted the investigation required by state law.

In Amy’s case, cabinet officials concluded that they had no obligation to conduct such a review, Shepherd’s order said.

Attorney Jon Fleischaker, who represented the Todd County newspaper along with lawyer Jeremy Rogers, said Monday’s ruling is clear, yet the cabinet continues to litigate a battle it lost in 2010 when Shepherd first ordered it to release such records.

“They are using tax dollars to defend the indefensible,” said Fleischaker, who also represents The Courier-Journal.


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