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Category Archives: Tennessee Department of Children's Services

Clarksville DHS worker charged with fondling girl, 13

By JAKE LOWARY • The Leaf-Chronicle • December 15, 2009

A Clarksville day care owner and DHS worker was charged Tuesday with forcibly fondling a 13-year-old girl, police reports and court records show.

Michael McElroy Monix, 48, who gave a 1021 Tylertown Road address, was arrested and charged Monday with two counts of sexual battery and one count of sexual battery by an authority figure, on at least one occasion working in his official capacity.

Monix was arrested on a sealed indictment Tuesday, alleging that in November and December 2008 he forcibly fondled the girl, who, according to an indictment, was under his supervisory authority.

According to the indictment returned by the grand jury this month, Monix “used his position of trust … to accomplish sexual contact.”

Monix is an employee with the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Police identified Monix as a social worker in an arrest report.

Monix was released from jail Tuesday, and showed up to his job with DHS on Wednesday and immediately requested for state-paid vacation, which he was granted, according to Leaf-Chronicle news partner WSMV, Channel 4.

DHS officials are reviewing the case, but have not put Monix on suspension or unpaid leave.

Kingsport man avoids death penalty in 2005 murder of toddler

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.”

Advocates question whether foster kids should be placed close to home


DCS tries to balance safety with familiarity


By Janell Ross • THE TENNESSEAN • August 9, 2009

In the case of Stevie Noelle Milburn, a 15-year-old Dyersburg, Tenn., girl who loved soccer, dancing and singing, some facts aren’t in dispute.

Two weeks ago, she accused her father of some sort of abuse. Tennessee Department of Children’s Services caseworkers consulted Stevie, her father and police and arranged for her to stay with family friends two doors away.

Three days after Stevie’s move, Christopher Milburn, 34, walked down the street to shoot and kill his daughter and his neighbor. A short distance away, he took his own life. People in the city of 17,000 about 80 miles northwest of Memphis raised money so Stevie’s mother could take her body home to Oregon.

But what former foster children and those who knew Stevie — and some who didn’t — are debating is the wisdom of placing a child at the center of an abuse investigation in a home so close to her accused abuser.

“Were the right decisions made in this case? I don’t pretend to have any of those answers,” said the Rev. Gary Meade, pastor of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Dyersburg, the church Stevie’s caretakers attended. Meade also is a former lawyer and foster father who adopted two children.

“This story highlights the reality of social work. There are laws and there are policies. The challenge is in how those laws and policies intersect with real life.”

Some answers lie in a collection of state laws, Department of Children’s Services policies and practices endorsed by the National Association of Public Child Welfare Workers. Together, they call for most parents to be consulted about places where their children can stay while investigations are under way and for children to be placed in homes near their families.

But some things will never be known because state law shields abuse investigations like Stevie’s from public view.

Girl wasn’t in foster care

In Tennessee, 5,333 children were in state custody at the end of June. There are 11,770 open investigations, some of which involve children, like Stevie, who have not been legally removed from their parents’ custody but are living with relatives or friends under the terms of what’s called an “immediate protection agreement.”

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She was not in foster care, said Rob Johnson, spokesman for the Department of Children’s Services.

The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services does not regularly track the number of children living under an immediate protection agreement, said Stacy Miller, the agency’s general counsel. The Tennessean requested a review of case files involving immediate protection agreements between July 2008 and July 2009. It revealed one death — a child drowned while with a babysitter. That case is under investigation.

Johnson said the department will review its actions in Stevie’s case. And, as with every child’s death in Tennessee, a county health department-led team will review her death to determine if it was, in any way, preventable.

As a standard part of the initial investigation into unsubstantiated allegations like Stevie’s, the department often works with the family and child to identify a safe, neutral space where the child might stay for at least a short time. It’s a process that happens quickly but carefully, said Carla Aaron, the Department of Children’s Services executive director for child safety.

Caseworkers make a number of observations about birth and host families, the child and his parents’ safety and mental stability as well as any criminal records of the people involved. State records show Christopher Milburn had no Tennessee arrests and served no time in prison here.

“If we thought there was danger, we would not go down the road of doing an IPA,” Aaron said. “We might pursue protective custody. … In this case, we had no indication that this was a dangerous situation at all.”

Protective custody gives the state at least temporary custody of a child and in most cases will lead to a placement in a foster home. If family issues can’t be resolved or corrected, it can lead to years in foster care or, ultimately, adoption.

DCS practice criticized

Nashville attorney Natasha Blackshear, an alumna of the New York state foster care system, said she doesn’t believe the practice of placing children in their home communities — either for the night or for years — is best.

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“I think that that’s one of those policies that’s been made with a middle-class, blond-haired, blue-eyed child in mind,” said Blackshear, who serves on the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. “The child that benefits from that policy comes from a middle-class neighborhood with good schools or is the kind of child that people are looking to adopt.

“But that’s not the story with most of the kids that come into the system. A lot of them come from the ghetto, from neighborhoods where the trouble isn’t just in their home and from bad schools.”

Blackshear said the close-to-home approach to placements is part of the reason only 25 percent of the children in state custody have earned a high school diploma or equivalent or are working by their 18th birthday. And, when parents are accused of abuse, Blackshear believes that some additional care and caution need to be taken to protect children, she said.

“Even when there are unproven accusations, it does seem like some additional caution, more than two doors’ distance, might be a good idea,” she said.

Ex-foster kids weigh in

There are benefits to keeping foster children near the schools, stores, gathering places and perhaps places of worship they know, said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights, a New York-based nonprofit child advocacy agency. The agency in the late 1990s brought a civil rights suit against Tennessee over the state’s treatment of children in its care.

“Safety trumps everything and has to come first,” Lustbader said. “But it’s an important goal because the experience of being removed from one’s home and placed in foster care is in itself traumatic, and you don’t want to expose that child to any additional trauma.”

Lustbader said there is not enough publicly available information about the Dyersburg case to assess whether the appropriate balance was struck between Stevie’s emotional and physical safety needs.

Some former foster children agree with the idea that children in state care belong closer to their families of origin. Krista Noel said she was 13 when false allegations of sexual abuse led the Department of Children’s Services to remove her sister and her from their homeless mother’s custody.

Noel’s sister, then a student at Hume-Fogg High School, asked to be placed in a home in Nashville so that she could continue attending the magnet school. Noel says she wasn’t asked where she wanted to go and ended up in Baxter, Tenn., about 70 miles east of Nashville.

“Even though DCS was taking me, had I had a say, I would have wanted to stay in Nashville,” said Noel, 24, an expectant mother and waitress. “I would have already known my community and I wouldn’t have felt so like I was alone.

“Not that race is so much an issue, but I’m mixed with black and white. In Baxter, there’s not that many black people.”

Today, she serves on the Tennessee Youth Advisory Council, which works to give children in the state system a voice.

“Even now, not many kids have a choice or a say in where they are placed,” Noel said. “Children who know their rights are able to advocate for themselves. But in most cases, youth don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know what rights they have.”

Teen slain by father was placed in foster home nearby; neighbors question agency’s decision

Travis Loller August 4th, 2009

Slain teen’s placement in foster home questioned

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When the 15-year-old girl accused her father of abusing her, she was placed in a foster home while the allegations were investigated. That home was just two doors down.

A week later, the girl’s father fatally shot her and her foster father before killing himself in the northwestern Tennessee community of Dyersburg. Now people are questioning the actions of the state agency responsible for protecting children from abuse and neglect.

Officials at the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services insist there was nothing unusual about placing the teenager in a house less than 200 feet from the father she accused of abuse.

Agency spokesman Rob Johnson would not speak specifically about the case, citing the privacy of surviving relatives, but he did say the department is looking into how the matter was handled.

Authorities would not specify the nature of the abuse. Police are still investigating both the shootings and the girl’s allegations.

When children bring accusations of abuse, he said, the department tries to place them where they will be comfortable.

“When these things happen, it’s not like we spirit them away,” he said. “The parents know where the kids are … unless there’s some extreme case, an indication that something could befall the child.”

Christopher Milburn, 34, did not have a criminal history.

Neighbor Frank Hipps said Milburn was good friends with the foster father, 46-year-old Todd Randolph. The two had even vacationed together in Las Vegas.

Neighbor Charles Wootton, who called 911, recalled hearing gunshots Sunday night and seeing Randolph lying in his yard across the street. A neighbor who was a nurse tried to perform CPR while holding a towel to the bullet wound in the man’s neck, he said.

Randolph’s wife, Susan, had been shot as well and was slumped over on the porch. She was taken to the hospital and released the following day. Wootton did not enter the house where the girl was slain.

When a child is placed in a temporary home, all parties must sign a protection agreement, Johnson said. The details of the agreements are different in each case, and he would not disclose what was in this one.

“The goal is to get the child out of the home while the allegations are being investigated,” Johnson said. “Sometimes the allegations aren’t true.”

Ira Lustbader is associate director of Children’s Rights, a nonprofit group that sued the state in 2000 over how the Department of Children’s Services was run. In general, he said, when a child is taken from a home, that child’s safety is the top concern.

“It is good to keep a child within the community so they can retain important relationships,” he said. But “safety trumps everything.”

Frank Hipps was less circumspect.

“That kid shouldn’t have been in that house,” he said. “This might have been preventable if she had been placed with foster parents out of the community.”

State Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat who leads a legislative committee on children and youth, said the panel plans to look into allegations that child-welfare officials are not removing children from dangerous situations.

“It’s ridiculous to place a child two doors down when the department is doing an investigation,” she said. “They’re not doing what they need to do to keep children safe.”

Woman charged in 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

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)


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