October 18, 2018
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Top legislators call for probe into Maine response to reports girl was being abused

Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, listens to arguments at the Maine State House in Augusta.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau and the top Democrat on the legislative panel overseeing the Department of Health and Human Services have requested investigations into reports that the agency was notified that 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy was being abused.

Gov. Paul LePage said probes began immediately after Kennedy’s death, though that may not satisfy lawmakers who want to spearhead their own investigation.

[What we know so far about Marissa Kennedy’s death]

The requests came on Thursday and Friday after numerous reports of people and agencies saying they had contacted DHHS with concerns about the Stockton Springs girl, who died on Feb. 24 after her mother and stepfather allegedly beat her regularly for months at their home. Sharon and Julio Carrillo are charged with murder.

On Thursday, Bangor Superintendent of Schools Betsy Webb said that the district made reports “on a number of occasions” to the department while Kennedy was a student at Fairmount School during the 2016-17 school year.

“The people of Maine need to have confidence that when serious cases of child abuse and neglect are reported those reports are fully investigated,” Thibodeau said in a written statement. “We must be assured that reports of child abuse are not falling on deaf ears. I implore the governor to investigate this fully and provide the Legislature and the public a report of his findings.”

In a letter to LePage on Friday, Thibodeau wrote that the governor’s “personal attention” to the matter, in addition to a review of the case that is already required in law, would help reassure the public “that reports of child abuse do not fall on deaf ears.”

[12,198 calls to Maine’s child abuse hotline went unanswered in 2016]

LePage’s office said Friday afternoon in a written statement that investigations internally at the Department of Health and Human Services and by “cross-governmental entities” began immediately after Kennedy’s death.

“All findings and recommendations of the investigations will be reported to Gov. LePage for his review and action,” reads a statement from the governor’s office.

The Child Death and Serious Injury Review Panel, which was established in 1992 to review cases like Kennedy’s, includes the state’s medical examiner, health care professionals, forensic and mental health clinicians, law enforcement officers, representatives of the legal community and child welfare workers. DHHS is also conducting a review of the case record and conducting interviews with employees who were involved.

A second request for an investigation came on Friday from Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, to the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee.

Hymanson, who co-chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, also asked for “a full review of the child protection process” in Maine, citing Kennedy’s case and the December death of 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset. Her grandfather’s fiancee has been charged with murder.

[Affidavit: Maine girl, 10, allegedly killed by parents suffered months of violent abuse]

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the watchdog panel, said Friday there are “a number of possible avenues” for a probe, including his committee’s investigative arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, and the attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, said Friday morning that she understood Thibodeau’s calling for a probe but said her office must tread carefully while it is investigating the case, largely because two other children were in the same household as Kennedy was.

“In this case you have two younger children and we have matters pending regarding those children,” Mills said. “It’s a difficult needle to thread to allow an inquiry at this time or to authorize the release of any records or information. There are statutes on how and when you can disclose information in cases like this.”

Mills said the Kennedy case is “reminiscent of the Sally Schofield case.” In 2002, Schofield was convicted of suffocating Logan Marr, a 5-year-old foster child, with duct tape. The landmark case led to widespread reforms throughout the DHHS reporting system.

The seriousness of the issue is likely to cause widespread ramifications, including in the race to replace LePage. Thibodeau is vying for the Republican nomination, as is Mary Mayhew, who was Maine’s health and human services commissioner from 2011 through May 2017. On the Democratic side, Mills is also a candidate.

DHHS has not responded to questions from the BDN about Webb’s statements or allegations from neighbors of the girl’s family who said they also reported witnessing physical abuse, neglect and intense fighting in the family’s home.

LePage’s staff did not respond to questions about Thibodeau’s demand Friday morning.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.

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