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Tag Archives: Tennessee CPS

Kingsport man avoids death penalty in 2005 murder of toddler

 

http://www.timesnews.net/article.php?id=9018085

By Kacie Breeding

BLOUNTVILLE — A Kingsport man who potentially faced the death penalty if found guilty of killing his girlfriend’s toddler son has agreed to a last-minute plea deal.

Shawn Anthony Mullins, 27, was headed to trial Monday morning on charges of first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse and neglect stemming from the 2005 death of 2-year-old Christopher David Smith by means of severe physical abuse.

Mullins was 22 on March 30, 2005, when Heather Collins found her 2-year-old son unresponsive at a friend’s home on Robin Lane where the couple had been staying.

At the time, Mullins had been left alone with the boy for about two hours, according to investigators.

Christopher reportedly was suffering from cardiac arrest and was rushed to a local hospital, where he later died.

Prior to Christopher’s death, Mullins and Collins had been scheduled to meet with a Department of Children’s Services worker on April 2, 2005, to discuss allegations of child abuse. Those complaints were filed with the Kingsport Police Department in February and March of that year by family of the boy’s father.

Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Bobby Russell told the Times-News in 2005 that the boy had been beaten repeatedly, suffering multiple broken bones and bruises that were in various stages of healing.

On Monday, Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Barry Staubus advised the judge if the case had gone to trial, the evidence would show the boy suffered injuries to his heart, kidney and brain in addition to a broken arm and leg.

Staubus said testimony would have shown evidence that Mullins was jealous of the boy.

According to court records, when the boy cried Mullins would say he “‘wished the little (expletive) would die” and cover his mouth in an attempt to make him stop.

Mullins was accused of picking Christopher up by his head; throwing him into his crib; striking him with his fist, palm and the back of his hand; kicking him in the back and knocking him to the ground; and placing a bucket over his head and striking the bucket as the boy walked around, according to court documents.

Additionally, Mullins was accused of forcing Christopher to inhale marijuana smoke and consume alcohol, according to court documents.

A report prosecutors received Thursday from one of their own expert witnesses “changed the evidence that would be presented to the jury, and as a result we entered this plea,” said Staubus.

The late pathology report “put some serious questions into the state’s timeline,” said Mullins’ attorney, John Eldridge.

As a result, the state allowed Mullins to enter Alford, or “best interest,” pleas to second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in exchange for 30 years in prison with 100 percent service.

“We’re pleased with the outcome. And I think our client, Shawn Mullins, is quite resolved and glad that this episode is over,” Eldridge said.

Staubus said he wasn’t particularly pleased with it, but added that he was glad the plea will “hold Mr. Mullins accountable.”

Audit: DCS workers looted foster kids’ accounts

 

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/jun/18/audit-dcs-workers-looted-foster-kids-accounts/?partner=RSS

Janell Ross, THE TENNESSEAN

Originally published 06:55 a.m., June 18, 2009

Updated 06:55 a.m., June 18, 2009

NASHVILLE — State employees stole from foster children’s savings accounts, skipped calls and e-mails to teens transitioning out of foster care and submitted mileage reports for trips to and from work, an audit released this week found.

But those familiar with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services’ history say the audit shines a light on just how far a once-chaotic agency has come. Eight years ago, it was restructured in a settlement of the so-called “Brian A.” case, a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Tennessee’s abused and neglected children.

“In broad strokes, it was really a dangerously dysfunctional system,” said Ira Lustbader, the associate director of Children’s Rights, the New York-based child advocacy organization that helped to bring the suit in 2000 and to monitor the state’s performance since.

See full story on The Tennessean below:

 

Children’s Services workers looted foster kids’ accounts

 

 

Audit finds progress, but problems persist

 

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20090618/NEWS0201/906180349/Children+s+Services+workers+looted+foster+kids++accounts

By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • June 18, 2009

State employees stole from foster children’s savings accounts, skipped calls and e-mails to teens transitioning out of foster care and submitted mileage reports for trips to and from work, an audit released this week found.

But those familiar with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services’ history say the audit shines a light on just how far a once-chaotic agency has come. Eight years ago, it was restructured in a settlement of the so-called “Brian A.” case, a federal class-action civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Tennessee’s abused and neglected children.

“In broad strokes, it was really a dangerously dysfunctional system,” said Ira Lustbader, the associate director of Children’s Rights, the New York-based child advocacy organization that helped to bring the suit in 2000 and to monitor the state’s performance since.

He said the audit shows a basically functioning agency with the need for more fiscal controls.

The department and its 5,000 employees are charged with managing a $690 million budget and caring for children in state custody or at risk of abuse.

“We take audits very seriously,” said Viola Miller, the Department of Children’s Services commissioner.

“Nobody loves them, but we are going to use these as opportunities to learn to identify areas that we need to make improvements.”

State comptroller’s office auditors reviewing the period between April 2006 and October 2008 found a number of problems inside the agency.

The audit indicated there were instances of employee theft from interest-earning accounts that belong to children in state custody who work. Joe Holzmer, executive director of finance and program support, said the department asked auditors for details, but they were unable to provide any.

While such incidents are rare, there have been a few internal investigations dealing with similar matters, Miller said.

(2 of 2)

The audit also found social workers assigned to older children transitioning from state custody to adulthood were not visiting them as frequently as department rules require — once every two months, plus contact by phone or e-mail once per month. When auditors sampled 25 such cases, they found 20 had not received required visits or contact.

The social workers are supposed to help with housing, job placement, utility hookups and other adult responsibilities.

That’s a vital job, said Linda O’Neal, director of the Tennessee Commission on Youth and Children, a state advocacy agency.

“Obviously, this is one of the areas where the department is not where we would want it to be and not where I think they want it to be,” she said.

“But much like the effort to reduce child abuse, it is the sort of thing that is going to require the whole state to get involved.”

Tax money misusedThe audit also pointed to three departmental matters affecting the state’s taxpayers.

Joel Player, a department employee, improperly requested and was paid for $14,127 in travel, hotel, parking and taxi fares, according to the audit. That included mileage to and from work and taxi fares accrued on business trips on days that he also requested reimbursement for his parked car.

After the audit and an internal investigation, a letter of reprimand was placed in the file of Player’s supervisor, Mark Anderson. Player must repay the $14,127. He didn’t return a call placed to his office Wednesday afternoon.

“These are good people who admitted what had happened, made no attempt to hide it, but really it seems just misunderstood the policy,” Miller said.

The audit also identified as many as 446 possibly unused but in-service telephone lines that may cost the department as much as $7,000 a month. The agency has since identified and disconnected 211 unused phone lines, said Rob Johnson, the agency spokesman.

Finally, money from two closed petty cash accounts could not be found or recovered. The two accounts should have contained a combined $650.

Woman charged in second baby death

 

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/jun/11/woman-charged-second-baby-death/

 

Lawyer awaits sleep test results

 

By Lola Alapo (Contact)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The first time, the death of an 11-day-old baby girl while sleeping with her mother was ruled a tragedy and an accident, authorities said.

But the second time a child of Sara Mynatt, 27, died while allegedly sleeping with her — this time, a 4-month-old boy — prosecutors charged her with reckless homicide.

Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner on Wednesday set an Oct. 15 hearing on whether details from the death of Mynatt’s first child would be admissible at her trial.

Mynatt is accused of rolling over on 4-month-old Jaden Jerman on Oct. 28, 2007, while Mynatt was sleeping.

The first child, 11-day-old Lily Mynatt, died Feb. 3, 2006. The death was ruled as accidental asphyxiation by the Knox County medical examiner, said Assistant District Attorney General Steve Sword, who is prosecuting the case.

Since then, Mynatt has had a third child, and the Department of Children’s Services took the baby from Mynatt at the hospital and placed it in foster care, said her attorney, Assistant Knox County Public Defender Bob Edwards.

Mynatt also is known as Sara McCurry.

Edwards said he is awaiting results of a sleep study that will show whether the woman has a neurological disorder, “nocturnal seizures,” that is causing a sleep problem.

“The accusation is (Mynatt) slept with the babies in bed, but we’re not ready to admit that,” Edwards said.

Mynatt is free in lieu of $20,000 bond, he said.

Lola Alapo may be reached at 865-342-6376.

Lawmakers to vote on cap for children in state custody

 

http://www.volunteertv.com/news/headlines/46496277.html

CLINTON, Tenn. (WVLT) — On average, Anderson County sends four times as many children to state custody than other counties in Tennessee.

That is bad news for its budget if the Department of Children’s Services gets its way.

Child advocates say there is legislation being discussed right now that will force judges to choose between children. Choose, or pay up.

The bill will put a limit on how many kids can be placed into custody, and if a county goes over that cap, it will pay $27,000 per child over the limit.

“Each of these numbers represents a child. It’s easy to talk about numbers on paper, but we’re talking about the lives of children,” said Anderson County Juvenile Court Judge April Meldrum.

“They would prefer for the cost of foster care to primarily be borne by the county,” Meldrum continued.

The judge says she’s not happy that the DCS is trying to force her hand.

Meldrum is concerned it wants to limit how many children she can remove from what she calls dangerous situations. In Anderson County, many times that’s meth labs.

Russell Morel agrees.

“I would have obviously preferred to see legislation that had this kind of potential impact long-term, across the state to come through a normal hearing process as opposed to be embedded in in some sort of a budget bill,” Morel said.

Morel is the interim executive director for CASA. A child advocate organization.

Morel says while smaller numbers may look good. It’s going to hurt the children. (NOT IF YOU STOP REMOVING THE ONES WHO DON’T NEED TO BE REMOVED AND CONCETRATE ON THE ONES THAT DO…if this becomes a law, maybe it will make them actually perform investigations to see which children are actually being abused and helping them instead of removing children just cause they don’t like the parents, or what other reason they legally kidnap children.  And hey wow, this might make them actually work toward reunification, or kinship care!)

“Over time, the effect of this is, if you take the counties that have the largest numbers and you force them under the cap, what happens to the average next year? Oh it drops, so what you have is a ratcheting effect that goes down and down and down, which is saying next year fewer and fewer children can be placed into custody,” Morel explained.

Meldrum wonders if there’s not financial gain at the heart of this bill. She asked a DCS representative about stimulus money that was supposed to be earmarked to help foster children.

“He indicated that those monies had been absorbed into the state general fund and that they would no longer be used by the department of children’s services that they would be used to balance the state budget,” Meldrum told WVLT.

Regardless of how lawmakers vote, Meldrum says it’s not going to affect her job.

“My responsibility as a judge is to follow the law. Maybe higher calling than that is to protect the children,” Meldrum said.

The $27,000 fine is the cost no matter if the child is in state custody one day, or 365 days.

Which is another reason why child advocates believe this bill was crafted without the best interest of children in mind.

(Or maybe it was crafted with the best interested of children in mind……I wonder what this will do to their adoption bonuses)

Middle Tennessee boy found hanging from tree

 

http://www.volunteertv.com/news/headlines/46234207.html

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — State and county authorities are investigating the Memorial Day death of an 8-year-old foster child found hanging from a tree.

Rutherford County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Goodwin said David “Charlie” Cotten was fishing with his two brothers and their foster father, reserve Deputy Kam Sandstrom, as well as Deputy Edwin Fitzgerald and his two sons.

Sandstrom told investigators Cotten accidentally struck another boy with his fishing pole and was told to stop fishing for a while.

The Daily News Journal reported the boy then put his fishing gear in a barn.

About a half-hour later, the boy’s foster grandfather arrived and saw him hanging from a tree by baling twine.

The two other foster children have been removed from the home.

 

Information from: The Daily News Journal, http://www.dnj.com

 

8-year-old child’s death by hanging probed

 

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20090527/NEWS01/90527011/8-year-old+boy+found+hanging+from+tree

By Melinda Hudgins • Gannett Tennessee • May 27, 2009

 

The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Children Services are investigating the Memorial Day death of an 8-year-old foster child.

David “Charlie” Cotten was on a fishing outing with his foster family shortly before he was found hanging from a tree with baling twine wrapped around his neck on a farm off Manchester Highway Monday evening, authorities reported.

Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Dan Goodwin said the incident is under investigation — as are all unattended deaths — and “no ruling or finding has been made yet.”

Foster father Kam Sandstrom, a reserve deputy, stated that he and Cotten had been out fishing at a pond with Cotten’s two brothers, ages 7 and 10, and Deputy Edwin Fitzgerald and his two sons, when Cotten accidentally hit another boy with his fishing pole, Deputy Mark Mack reported.

“Kam said he told Charlie that he needed to stop fishing for a while and Charlie then went and put his fishing pole up in the barn,” Mack reported.

Fifteen minutes later, he had not returned, and Kam called out to Cotten, who answered that he was OK. Another 15 minutes passed and Sandstrom sent two boys to look for Cotten. They couldn’t find him, the report stated.

About the same time, Sid Sandstrom, the child’s foster-grandfather, and his wife arrived to join the group for dinner on the dock.

“Sid exited the vehicle and saw Charlie hanging from a tree between a wall of large rocks and where the earth had been cleared. Sid ran over to Charlie grabbing him around the waist to remove the baling twine and lifting him up while his wife yelled for Kam to come help,” Mack reported.

According to Randy White, spokesman for Rutherford County Emergency Medical Services, three paramedics continued advanced life support on Cotten until he was transported to Middle Tennessee Medical Center.

“Everything that could’ve been done was done,” White said.

Cotten was pronounced dead at the hospital approximately an hour after arrival, said Goodwin, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

He also explained that as a reserve deputy, Sandstrom is an unpaid volunteer who occasionally rides along with Peace Officers Standards and Training-certified deputies and more frequently assists at large public events.

The Department of Children Services is also conducting an investigation into the incident, and the cause of death is still unknown, said Rob Johnson, communications director with the agency.

An autopsy was scheduled to be performed Tuesday.

He added that for the time being, the other two foster children in the home “have been moved to another location in an abundance of caution.”

Cotten has been in state custody for the past three years, Johnson said.

A Sandstrom family member said they were told not to comment about the incident.

 Is the foster father a reserve deputy of Rutherford County…if so, there could be a conflict of interest in his employer conducting this investigation.

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