Copyright 2007, The Oklahoman TULSA — A state Department of Human Services worker failed to properly investigate accusations a boy was being abused in the weeks leading up to his death and faked reports to cover up the blunder, a new report has revealed. DHS discovered the fabricated reports only after the boy was murdered by his father, according to a special report that a state oversight agency prepared at the request of The Oklahoman. Keenan Taylor, 2, died from burns on June 9, 2005, a day after he was scalded by boiling water at his home. The DHS "intake” worker reported he'd checked on the boy and three other children two weeks earlier because of abuse complaints but found no problems at the father's home. The worker actually may not have interviewed or observed the boy at all then, the special report shows. Also, a DHS supervisor found key witnesses were never interviewed even though reports reflect the worker questioned them, records show. The worker resigned after he was confronted about inaccuracies in his investigative reports, the oversight agency's report shows. The tragedy is an extreme example of a recurring problem at the agency — workers sometimes fail to check on a child's welfare then falsify reports to show they did. Some former employees have told The Oklahoman that workers make phony reports because they are struggling with high caseloads and are under extreme pressure from supervisors to make documentation a priority. "They chose to put these kids in these types of situations and then they don't follow up and they lie about following up,” said Keenan's grandfather, Archie Taylor, who is suing DHS and current and former DHS employees. "It was like they were just half doing their job,” said Taylor, a Tulsa aircraft machinist whose daughter is Keenan's mother. "I want to make sure that this don't happen to other kids, and the only way to do that is to expose DHS.” DHS Director Howard Hendrick did not respond directly to a request for comment. Instead, DHS spokesman George Johnson said, "When we hire and train staff to do a job, we have to rely on a certain amount of trust and honesty. "With a work force the size of ours, that trust is going to be violated. That's why we have policies in place to address those issues when they do occur.” In Keenan's case, both the worker who faked reports and a "permanency” worker resigned shortly after the boy's death, records show. The permanency worker failed twice to turn in accusations of mistreatment for possible investigation, records show. Keenan's father, Carlis Anthony Ball, 25, is serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the boy's death. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and neglect at a trial last year. Prosecutors say Ball deliberately poured scalding water on his son, burning 50 percent of the boy's body, on June 8, 2005. Ball allegedly then stuck the boy in a dirty bedroom closet overnight. Ball watched a movie, had sex with a girlfriend and went shopping in the hours after the boy was burned, according to testimony at his trial. Ball called for help the next afternoon and claimed he accidentally knocked a pot of boiling water on Keenan while cooking, according to testimony. Ball said he had not realized at first the boy was burned so badly, court records show. DHS disclosed to prosecutors its intake worker had done an inaccurate investigation. DHS did not discuss the fraud in its only public report on the case. The majority of DHS records on the case remain confidential by law. The Oklahoman discovered the fraud as part of its ongoing inquiry into DHS. It is unclear if the worker faked the records before or after Keenan died. The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth last week revealed some details about the fraud in an 11-page report based in large part on a review of DHS records. The oversight agency did not name the employees in the report. However, a DHS attorney identified Granville L. Haynes II and Billie J. Mayberry as the two child-welfare specialists who resigned to avoid being fired for their actions in the case. DHS will not represent Haynes and Mayberry in the lawsuit, said the attorney, Richard Freeman Jr. The former employees could not be reached for comment. "I just cannot take any more of the pressure,” Mayberry said in her resignation letter.
DHS has asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing a state agency cannot be sued for civil rights violations.
Freeman, the DHS attorney, also told The Oklahoman that DHS cannot be held accountable for the wrongdoing of former employees whose actions were not in the scope of their employment.
"They were acting illegally — I would contend — based on our investigation,” Freeman said. "The two we are representing are a little higher up in the supervisory chain.”
Keenan died nine days before his third birthday. His injuries were so severe the casket was kept closed.
The boy's grandfather and his wife, Barbara Taylor, recalled Keenan as sweet and quiet.
"He was really fond of Spider-Man,” said Archie Taylor who blinked back tears during an interview at his home. "He loved Spider-Man.”
Contributing: Staff Writer Randy Ellis
The reportThe Commission on Children and Youth reported: •Keenan had been placed with his father on Dec. 23, 2004, after his mother tested positive for marijuana and cocaine. Ball was allowed to care for the boy even though he had been in trouble with the police and DHS before. He was caring for three other kids. •Complaints about the father were made to DHS in 2005 on Feb. 25, April 4, May 3, May 20, May 24, May 25 and June 7. •The accusations included claims that the father had whipped Keenan with a belt, that his children were dirty and smelled of urine, and that he was "smoking marijuana all the time.” •Many of the complaints were not even investigated. •DHS supervisors questioned whether the intake worker really checked on the boy on May 23, 2005, two weeks before the death. The worker reported he had found the apartment clean on May 23, 2005, the four children there showed no signs of abuse or neglect and there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol. •However, after Keenan's death, his body was found to have injuries at various stages of healing, and two other children in the home had a pattern of marks on their bodies consistent with abuse and neglect. •Confronted by a supervisor after the death, the intake worker "had difficulty in locating the case notes and could not recall specific information about the investigation.” •"The supervisor checked with people who were reportedly interviewed by the intake worker and determined that the worker never interviewed certain key people.” •"It remains unknown as to whether Keenan was interviewed or observed by the intake worker.”
In the lawsuitIn his lawsuit, the grandfather blames DHS for Keenan's death, saying workers failed to take steps to remove the boy from an abusive situation. The grandfather alleges Keenan's civil rights were violated. The grandfather's attorney, James Linger, said he learned about the faked records after filing the lawsuit last year. He said he found the evidence this summer when a Tulsa County judge allowed him to review almost 6,000 pages of confidential DHS records. He said he is not allowed to discuss what he found.
Carlis Anthony BallKeenan Taylor's father, Carlis Anthony Ball, 25, is serving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the boy's death.
Can a DHS worker be prosecuted?The Tulsa County district attorney has been asked to consider prosecuting a former Department of Human Services worker for allegedly falsifying records in a case where the boy was murdered, sources told The Oklahoman. The request came from the Oklahoma Child Death Review Board, which gets state funding to study all state deaths of children and some near deaths in order to make recommendations. The worker allegedly faked state records to show he had checked out accusations Keenan Taylor was being abused before the boy's death. The board's administrator, Lisa Rhoades, said she could not comment. District Attorney Tim Harris acknowledged he called Rhoades in August. The district attorney said he cannot discuss any communications with the board because of confidentiality laws. He said he would ask the appropriate law enforcement agency to investigate if the board has a concern. He also said he was unclear what charge could be filed. "I'm looking at the computer crimes statute to see whether or not anything would fit,” Harris said.
Are there other cases?The Department of Human Services has caught other employees faking records to show they made foster home visits that never occurred. Child-welfare workers are supposed to check on foster children at least once a month. One worker — fired in 2005 — shrugged when he was confronted about his dishonesty, records show. The worker said that when it "comes down to the end of the month and things are coming up against the wire I have to choose between who I can and cannot get seen, and I knew this was a good home, and I just did not get out there in the last few months,” records show.