By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Nashville judge on Friday said that after seeing case files of children who were killed as a result of abuse and neglect, it’s clear that some social workers with the state Department of Children’s Services should have done more to protect them and questioned whether the young victims would ever get justice.
“There have been balls dropped by several individuals,” Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy said at a hearing where she released 42 records of cases of children who died or nearly died after being under the supervision of DCS at some point earlier. In all, the documents totaled about 1,600 pages. An attorney for media organizations that sought the information was in the process of making copies for each outlet, so the files were not immediately available. But the judge said they were difficult to read.
“If you have children it just gets to you,” she said of the records. The judge did not describe any of the circumstances in the files that she said disturbed her.
Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday directed the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to let them view files of the agency’s probe into allegations involving 10th District Attorney Steve Bebb of Cleveland, reports Andy Sher. Seven members, including Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, voted in favor of the resolution. Two members, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, abstained.
A similar effort in the House stalled at least temporarily after Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, blocked approval of nine bills and resolutions on various matters, only one of which involved Bebb, by the three-member Delayed Bills Committee. Approval requires all three members.
House GOP leaders say they intend to put that back on track today.
Reached by telephone Tuesday night, Bebb said, “I really don’t want to make any comment right now.”
The effort to obtain the TBI’s investigation of Bebb comes after Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on March 25 released his long-awaited report on Bebb and alleged misconduct in the 10th Judicial District, which includes Bradley, Polk, McMinn and Monroe counties.
Relying on the TBI investigation, Cooper criticized Bebb’s office for poor judgment, mismanagement and deficient record keeping. But Cooper said he found no prosecutable evidence against Bebb on allegations of prosecutorial and financial misconduct, speaking untruthfully under oath and other offenses.
Bell and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, had called on Cooper to investigate following questions raised about Bebb last year in a Times Free Press series.
“This is not an issue I take up lightly,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, told colleagues late Tuesday afternoon. “It is not an issue that is meant to reveal information that is confidential. But it is a serious issue and it’s important for the Judiciary Committee to exercise its oversight ability.”
In an echo of state Senate action Wednesday, a House resolution has been filed saying that body intends to ask for the state investigative file into 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Bebb’s office, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, filed HR 60, which states the intent of the House Criminal Justice Committee to review results of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s four-month investigation. The Senate passed a similar resolution Wednesday.
The lawmakers’ action this week follows the release last week of Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper’s long-awaited report on the TBI investigation he commissioned in August.
The TBI and comptroller’s office probed allegations raised in a Chattanooga Times Free Press series and elsewhere of financial and prosecutorial misconduct in Bebb’s office, among other issues. Cooper’s report found that Bebb used poor judgment and mismanaged the office but stated that there were no prosecutable criminal charges against him.
Shipley, who sits on the House Criminal Justice Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that the General Assembly has oversight authority over district attorneys general.
“Therefore we have responsibility to make a fully informed decision and determine if further action by this body is warranted,” Shipley said.
The chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee is Cleveland Republican Eric Watson.
In a statement through Shipley’s office Thursday, Watson recused himself from the resolution and review.
“Rep. Watson is part of the law enforcement community in the affected judicial district. He has therefore removed himself from the process,” according to the statement.
House lawmakers didn’t vote on the resolution Thursday. It could come up next week.