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Monday, October 15, 2012

KENTUCKY'S GESTAPO STRIKES AGAIN: Kentucky Attorney General Finds Cabinet For Families And Children Improperly Redacted Child's Death Records.

Kentucky attorney general: Agency improperly redacted child's death records
By Beth Musgrave —

FRANKFORT — Attorney General Jack Conway's office has ruled that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services improperly withheld from a newspaper information on a 2-year-old Prestonsburg boy who was allegedly killed by his aunt and uncle.

The Mountain Citizen in Inez had requested all the cabinet's information on Watson Adkins, who was found unresponsive at his aunt and uncle's home in Prestonsburg on Sept. 29, 2011. Watson had been removed from his mother's home by state social workers and placed with his aunt and uncle, Gladys and Jason Dickerson.

Gladys Dickerson was Watson's maternal aunt and had custody of him at the time of his death.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services initially did not provide two previous unsubstantiated reports of abuse against Gladys and Jason Dickerson to the newspaper, but the agency later supplied the reports with much of the information redacted, the attorney general's opinion said.

The opinion said the cabinet could not redact some of that information, including the names of perpetrators involved in the unsubstantiated reports. The cabinet failed to follow the state's Open Records Act in its response to The Mountain Citizen by not citing either state or federal law that allowed it to withhold or redact information, the opinion said.

The attorney general's opinion, publicly released Monday, is the latest step in a legal battle of more than three years between the media and the cabinet over what details can be released after a child is killed from abuse or neglect. The Lexington Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal have sued the state twice over the handling of social worker files on children who have been killed or severely injured as a result of abuse and neglect. What information can be redacted or blacked out of those files is currently being appealed.

Gary Ball, the editor of the Mountain Citizen in Inez, said he was relieved that the attorney general's office agreed that too much information had been removed from the files. Ball filed the request for the information after hearing that there had been previous reports to the cabinet regarding Gladys and Jason Dickerson's treatment of Watson and his siblings.

"I got heavily redacted information," Ball said. "I wanted all records from the time that they were removed from the home to the time of the criminal charges."

Watson Adkins and his four siblings were removed from his mother's home in February 2011 because of conditions in the home, according to news accounts and records from the cabinet. The mother was allowed supervised visitation with the children between February 2011 and September 2011, Ball said. The mother had taken photos of the children with suspicious injuries, Ball said.

Ball said the cabinet had investigated two abuse allegations against Gladys and Jason Dickerson before September 2011. Ball received the reports from the cabinet, but it's difficult to tell why those reports were not substantiated.

"I want the records that will show me how they made that determination that those reports were unsubstantiated," Ball said.

Gladys and Jason Dickerson were charged with murder after Watson's death. Those charges are pending. Court records allege that Watson and his siblings were repeatedly beaten in July, August and September.

A local day-care center where Watson and his siblings attended was shut down by the Office of Inspector General with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in October 2011 for failing to report alleged physical abuse of the children. Watson's 5-year-old sibling allegedly told staff at Dinosaur Playland Daycare in Prestonsburg that her uncle hurt her and pleaded with staff to take her home with them.

Staff also saw injuries to Watson's head on Sept. 26, three days before Watson died.

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