Privacy of Kentucky child abuse investigations heads to court Agency’s redaction of youths’ files pr

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Privacy of Kentucky child abuse investigations heads to court Agency’s redaction of youths’ files pr

Starting Monday, the cabinet will have to begin explaining such redaction in court, as Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd weighs whether the reasons for redaction are allowed under the state Open Records Act. Shepherd previously ordered the cabinet to turn over to The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald Leader about 140 files in cases where children died or were seriously injured as a result of abuse or neglect.

He gave the cabinet permission to redact limited information, including Social Security numbers of those involved. But the newspapers contend the redaction was broader than that and did not include information on specific documents withheld or reasons for the redaction, as required by the judge’s order.

Jon Fleischaker, who represents The Courier-Journal, said some of the reasons the cabinet provides for withholding information defy logic. In several instances, the cabinet redacted information that has already been made public, including in press releases and court files.

“For some inexplicable reason, they are trying to hide information that is generally available to the public,” Fleischaker said.

Cabinet officials say, however, that the cases share similar privacy issues, so similar redaction is made throughout the files they turn over. Details in the 50 cases they gave specific reasons for came from social workers involved in those cases, said Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the cabinet.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said allowing the public to know about child abuse cases is an important part of protecting children.

In a public courtroom, Jeff Noble was tried and convicted of manslaughter in the 2010 death of 20-month-old Destiny Tincher. He already is serving a 10-year sentence.

Yet the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services is withholding some details from its investigation of the case — including some already accessible in other public documents — arguing that it is acting out of concern for the mother’s mental health and because it may give Destiny’s father information “that could escalate the hostilities between the families.”

Starting Monday, the cabinet will have to begin explaining such redaction in court, as Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd weighs whether the reasons for redaction are allowed under the state Open Records Act. Shepherd previously ordered the cabinet to turn over to The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald Leader about 140 files in cases where children died or were seriously injured as a result of abuse or neglect.

He gave the cabinet permission to redact limited information, including Social Security numbers of those involved. But the newspapers contend the redaction was broader than that and did not include information on specific documents withheld or reasons for the redaction, as required by the judge’s order.

Jon Fleischaker, who represents The Courier-Journal, said some of the reasons the cabinet provides for withholding information defy logic. In several instances, the cabinet redacted information that has already been made public, including in press releases and court files.

“For some inexplicable reason, they are trying to hide information that is generally available to the public,” Fleischaker said.

Cabinet officials say, however, that the cases share similar privacy issues, so similar redaction is made throughout the files they turn over. Details in the 50 cases they gave specific reasons for came from social workers involved in those cases, said Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the cabinet.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said allowing the public to know about child abuse cases is an important part of protecting children.
“This is about looking at a series of cases and asking, are there lessons to be learned?”

Destiny died in May 2010 after sustaining a head injury inflicted by Noble, who was dating Destiny’s mother. Noble was convicted of second-degree manslaughter in December 2011.

Destiny’s father, whose name was also removed from the file, was not involved in the abuse against his daughter. But after her injury, her father was given custody by the court and he made the decision to take her off life support.

In at least three cases, the cabinet said family members do not have all the details of the incident and releasing the information could be harmful.

Cabinet officials have said they are blacking out passages in the files under a protocol devised to protect the privacy of some of the parties involved. At next week’s hearing, the cabinet is expected to explain those concerns to Shepherd. The newspapers selected 20 cases in which they want specific reasons for information being withheld.

The judge will hear testimony, and additional depositions and briefs may be filed after the hearing. Shepherd will then rule on the appropriateness of the redaction made.

In some cases, the cabinet argued that certain information could be painful or embarrassing to families.

In the 2010 death of Michael Cowherd, for example, the cabinet said that while there was initial media coverage, the release of more details “could cause additional trauma to the family.”

But Fleischaker said pain is inevitable in these cases and is not a reason to keep information from the public.

“When you have a child killed, that’s painful,” Fleischaker said. “That doesn’t mean we deal with it privately. It’s not secret.”

And in many cases, Fleischaker said families and others involved in these cases already know the information being withheld. “The pain is not in the information,” he said. “They already have the information. They’ve suffered the loss.”

In one case in which 9-month-old Karlie Mellick died after she was beaten by a man living with her mother, the cabinet said they withheld information from the public because the “mother could be harmed by repeated media coverage of the 2009 murder.”
 

By | 2016-10-25T17:47:11+00:00 July 30th, 2013|News|0 Comments