Tag Archives: Children

Kid cuffing brings police chief apology

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee police chief has apologized after his officers arrested 10 elementary school students, some of whom were handcuffed, in a bullying and assault case.

Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr’s apology came after angry parents demanded action during a community meeting following the arrests at Hobgood Elementary School and other locations on April 15. It wasn’t clear exactly how many students were handcuffed.

The chief told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1T8LAWM) he was “so sorry this incident happened” and he thinks it could have been avoided.

Durr reiterated that an internal review is ongoing. He said the department would also review its handcuffing policy, which currently says officers should “take into consideration” whether to handcuff children under 12.

Durr, who started as chief on April 4, said at least one child involved in the bullying case is also involved in a larger criminal investigation.

“Remember there was a victim here too, so if my officer didn’t do their job that day, and we ignored the victim, what would this conversation be today?” Durr said. “That we failed to do our job.”

Records show that the children were charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another,” after allegedly witnessing and fight and not intervening.

The newspaper reports there are no plans to dismiss the charges.

Durr said the review would determine whether any policies had been broken or whether any new policies or training are warranted.

“I want to believe what happened here was an anomaly, because of the good work that I see,” Durr said. “Errors were made, and now we are going to correct them moving forward and fix them so they are not repeated.”

Black Caucus asks state, federal probes in handcuffing of Murfreesboro kids

News release from Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators
NASHVILLE—At a press conference today The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators called for a state and federal investigation into the handcuffing and arrest of several African-American children, aged 5-to-11, for watching a fight and not breaking it up. Lawmakers are also calling the complete expungement of the children’s arrest records.

Standing side by side with a group of clergy from Murfreesboro, as well as other concerned lawmakers, Caucus Chair Rep. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) said the Black Caucus has been conducting a year-long examination of the justice system in Tennessee and said this is another example of the unfairness that poor people and people of color face.
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Democrats seek federal probe of ‘unconscionable’ handcuffing of kids

The handcuffing of children at a Murfreesboro elementary school got the attention of state legislators Tuesday.

According to the Daily News Journal: More than 150 people called for action Sunday after parents said at least five students, ages 6 to 10, were handcuffed at Hobgood Elementary School on Friday. The students were arrested, accused of not stopping a fight that happened earlier off-campus and later released from the juvenile center on Friday…

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart gave a speech on the matter during Tuesday’s House floor session and the Caucus subsequently sent out this press release:

NASHVILLE—State Representative Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) has issued this statement: “Today I call on United States Department of Justice to immediately open an investigation into the reported arrest and handcuffing of children as young as six by the Murfreesboro, Tennessee police. There is no explanation for such inexcusable conduct perpetrated against young children who were peacefully attending elementary school when accosted, handcuffed and jailed. We need a full investigation into this unconscionable incident to safeguard the children’s federal and state civil rights and to determine whether those involved should be prosecuted for criminal misconduct. This is every parent’s nightmare and we need to make sure that it is never repeated.”

“There is no rational safety justification for this act in our society”, said State Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville). “We cannot begin to imagine the fear and confusion experienced by these young children. This experience will undoubtedly remain with them as they mature into adulthood and negatively mold their views of law enforcement officials. It is truly unfortunate that the inappropriate acts of a few, who are not representative of the other brave men and women who honorably serve our communities, will create a new level of distrust between our communities and law enforcement.”

“The handcuffing of young elementary school children is so completely outrageous and contrary to good sense that those responsible must be immediately held accountable for their incompetence and inaction”, Rep. Stewart added. “We need to make sure that this never happens again in the State of Tennessee. The Murfreesboro police chief reportedly described the handcuffing of children as young as six as a ‘learning experience.’ That shows that he completely misapprehends the seriousness of this incident of excessive force against young children. Clearly he is not capable of properly investigating this matter or holding all those responsible for their actions.”

‘Spiritual treatment’ no longer an exemption from TN child abuse laws

The House gave final legislative approval Thursday to a bill repealing a controversial 1994 law that was at the center of a long court fight over the 2002 death of a Loudon County child whose mother refused medical care in favor of “spiritual treatment” and prayer.

Further from Richard Locker:

The bill repeals the “spiritual treatment” exemption to Tennessee’s child abuse and neglect statute. The exemption was intended to provide a shield from child abuse and neglect prosecution for parents and others if a child “is being provided treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets or practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner” of the church or denomination in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.

The repeal bill, Senate Bill 1761, is sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, a cardiac surgeon, and Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, a lawyer. It won unanimous Senate approval in March and an 85-1 vote Thursday in the House and now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who’s expected to sign it into law.

The exemption came into play less than a decade after its enactment, in the death of Jessica Crank, 15, of Loudon County in 2002. Her mother, Jacqueline Crank, was a follower of Ariel Ben Sherman, who conducted religious services under the name of the Universal Life Church in a rented house in Lenoir City.

Jessica became ill with what was diagnosed later as Ewing’s Sarcoma. Her mother and Sherman declined — after an initial visit with a chiropractor and later a walk-in clinic — to pursue doctors’ urgent referrals to hospitals for treatment. After the child’s death, her mother and Sherman were indicted on child neglect charges. Both were eventually convicted after courts ruled that Sherman’s group was not a “recognized church or denomination” covered by the exemption.

DCS meets improvement goals after 15 years of federal oversight

By Travi Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After 15 years of federal oversight, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has finally met all of the goals set out after a 2001 settlement to improve its treatment of foster care children.

Commissioner Bonnie Hommrich briefly teared up after a Monday hearing on the long-running lawsuit, when she spoke about all of the hard work that has gone into turning the agency around.

“I’m elated,” she said of the development.

Although the department still must maintain compliance with the goals of the settlement for a year before it can ask the court to release the agency from supervision, Hommrich said she was confident the improvements will continue, even after no one is looking over her shoulder.

“It doesn’t end today,” she said. “This goes on the next day and the next day.”

Improvements include reduced case loads, better training for case workers and a focus on intensive in-home intervention on the front end of cases.
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DHS defends child nutrition program from comptroller critique

At a legislative hearing, the head of the Department of Human Services Tuesday defended the agency’s operation of a food service program that has faced scrutiny following the release of several audits.

From The Tennessean:

Justin P. Wilson, the state’s comptroller, began a meeting convened by the Senate Investigations and Oversight subcommittee and likened the Department of Human Services to someone struggling with alcoholism.

“You can’t really solve a problem until you acknowledge that the problem is really there,” Wilson said, after ending a nearly 40-minute presentation outlining a series of audits his office performed that revealed significant problems with the department’s handling of food programs that provide nutritious food to children at risk for hunger.

Wilson argued that Human Services was currently operating with a handful of controls providing oversight of its operations, which he said were akin to having a building having just a few smoke detectors. Wilson suggested the department needed an entire sprinkler system in order to move forward.

During her portion of the presentation, Commissioner Raquel Hatter pushed back against the allegations that the department didn’t believe there were problems.

“On some level, we have been misinterpreted or misunderstood,” she said, adding that Human Services has made improvements on a variety of its functions, including an increase in the number of meals provided in food service programs and bolstering accuracy and timeliness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

While facing questions from Sen. Bo Watson about the fact that the comptroller found issues with the department’s handling of the program dating back to 2011, Hatter told the panel that they have made improvements in recent years, while pointing out that the job requirement for the person handling the program has changed.

The panel also heard from Monica Jones, who is overseeing the food program, who vowed to work to correct the agency’s handling of the initiative.

The hearing was called in response to three critical audits released over a two-week span by the Tennessee comptroller late last month. One audit released March 29 questioned $11.4 million in spending by DHS, most of that on its food programs. It described multiple violations of federal regulations and basic accounting practices. These included a lack of documentation for monies spent on food, a lack of verification that the agencies DHS contracts with are eligible to participate in the food program and staffing shortages at DHS that threatened its ability to provide oversight and prevent potential fraud, waste and abuse.

AP story on demise of TN ‘fetal assault’ law

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Brittany Hudson was pregnant, addicted to painkillers and afraid of a Tennessee law that calls for the arrest of mothers of drug-dependent babies. She eventually gave birth without medical help, on the side of a road in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Hudson’s dilemma, doctors say, was one of many unintended consequences of the Tennessee Legislature’s decision in 2014 to become the first and only state with an explicit criminal offense for these addicted mothers.

The law was meant to deter drug abuse by threatening mothers with up to a year behind bars, while allowing them to avoid jail and have their assault convictions removed if they got drug treatment. It was also an experiment with a “sunset” clause, meaning it will expire this July because the law’s supporters lacked the votes to extend it.

The problem of drug use and pregnancy is worsening nationwide, with a drug-dependent baby born every 25 minutes in the U.S. at a cost of $1.5 billion in additional health care, according to a Vanderbilt study. And states can’t just arrest their way out of it, said Dr. Stephen Patrick, a neonatologist who co-authored the study.

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Another audit criticizes DHS child nutrition program

For the third time this month, the state Comptroller’s Office has released an audit critical of a child nutrition programs overseen by the Department of Human Services, reports The Tennessean. In this one, $11.4 million in spending is questioned.

Most of the spending questioned in Tuesday’s audit involved food programs for low-income kids. The programs have been pored over by lawmakers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and have been the subject of an ongoing Tennessean investigation. Last week, the Comptroller issued two separate reports on private agencies now under criminal investigation for pocketing tens of thousands of dollars in food program funds that never made it to children.

The $80 million food program is intended to provide meals and snacks to kids who lack access to nutritious food in a Tennessee, where one in five children is at risk for hunger. The funds come from the federal government, but DHS is responsible for overseeing the programs. DHS contracts with private agencies, providing the money for food purchases distributed in child care centers, after-school and recreational programs.

Tuesday’s audit called into question more than 10 percent of the food program’s annual operating budget, based only on a review of a small sample of private agencies participating. The audit described multiple violations of federal regulations and basic accounting practices, including a lack of documentation for monies spent on food, a lack of verification that the agencies DHS contracts with are eligible to participate in the food programs and staffing shortages at DHS that threatened its ability to provide oversight and prevent potential fraud, waste and abuse.

In several examples cited in the audit, DHS provided cash advances for food purchases to agencies that never requested them. In one example, DHS provided a $311,993 cash advance to an agency whose entire annual operating budget was $124,000. In another example, an agency receiving an un-asked-for cash advance said it was waiting for DHS to ask for it back.

The audit places responsibility for the oversight failures on DHS management, including its commissioner, Raquel Hatter.

Hatter — through spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin on Tuesday — declined an interview request… Jarnagin sent a statement from DHS that said, in part: “It is important to note that while State Audit has questioned costs in their findings, it does not mean that the questioned costs are specifically the result of fraud, waste or abuse.”

Audits find misdeeds in two child nutrition operations

In separate audits released today, the state Comptroller’s office has found misdeeds afoot in two child nutrition programs — on in Nashville, the other in Clarksville.

The news releases are below, along with a statement from the Department of Human Services disagreeing with some of the auditors’ comments.
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Haslams host Easter event for 65 kids

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam today welcomed more than 65 children from Boys and Girls Club of Middle Tennessee and Fannie Battle Day Home to the Tennessee Residence Great Lawn for the 6th annual Tennessee Residence Easter Egg Roll.

Keeping tradition alive, the day’s activities included a live performance from children’s musician Steve Lee, face painting, a bunny hop bounce house, and, of course, Easter egg rolling.

“Bill and I truly enjoy hosting children at the Tennessee Residence, and the Easter Egg Roll has become a special tradition,” Mrs. Haslam said. “We want this to be a memorable experience for them to celebrate the Easter holiday and take away fun memories of their state’s executive residence.”
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