The Death Of Keenan Taylor

Thursday, November 8th 2007, 10:00 pm
By: News On 6

You may remember the story of a Tulsa boy murdered by his own father. The life of 2-year old Keenan Taylor was full of failures. Removed from his mother's care, killed by his father, and forgotten by the state agency that was supposed to protect him. Now a News On 6 investigation reveals how it happened and why something like it could happen again.

"Whenever he would ask for something, it was always a little soft voice, you know, 'can I have a drink of water?'" said Keenan Taylor’s grandfather Archie Taylor.

Archie says his grandson was a healthy 2-year-old the last time he saw the boy. That was just before Christmas of 2004. He says that is when the Oklahoma Department of Human Services gave Keenan a death sentence.

"When DHS put him in a different system, this kid lasted for six months. They gave him six months to live," said Archie Taylor.

Watch the video: Archie Taylor Says DHS Failed His Grandson.

December of 2004 was when the Oklahoma Department of Human Services convinced a judge to order Keenan removed from his mother's care. According to state records, Keenan's mother tested positive for drugs, and had just had a baby who tested positive as well. Based on those results, and on reports that she had neglected her other children too, the judge sent all six children to live with their fathers. Keenan lived with his father, Carlis Ball, for about six months. On June 9th, 2005, Ball called 911 to report Keenan had been badly burned. In spite of how Carlis Ball acted at the scene, investigators say Ball caused those burns. They say Ball poured boiling water on Keenan, and didn't make that call until almost a day later. Keenan died at the hospital, just nine days before he would have turned 3 years old. A Tulsa County District Court jury sent Keenan's father to prison for the rest of his life, for murder and child neglect.

Story timeline:

6/9/2005 Authorities Investigating Death Of 2-Year-Old Child In A Tulsa Apartment

6/10/2005 Tulsa Police Continue To Investigate The Death Of 2-Year-Old Boy

6/14/2005 Funeral Service Held For Burned Child

8/9/2005 Tulsa Father Will Stand Trial For The Death Of His Son

2/14/2006 Trial Underway For Tulsan Accused Of Pouring Boiling Water On His Son

2/16/2006 Carlis Ball's Trial Continues In Tulsa County District Court

3/27/2006 Father Sentenced To Life In Prison; Juror Talks About Trial

9/27/2007 Family Suing DHS After Child’s Death

“They told me that there was an accident and that Keenan was dead,” said Archie Taylor.

But Keenan's maternal grandfather says he knew right away Keenan's death was no accident. And that's part of why he's suing the Department of Human Services and six of its employees. He says Keenan died as the result of abuse and neglect, but also something more.

“I mean a lie is a lie," said Archie Taylor.

Taylor says the DHS caseworkers should have known Keenan was being abused. But he says the caseworkers never checked, and lied to cover their tracks. State investigators agree with him.

“This case was not handled according to DHS's established policies and procedures," said Lisa Smith with the Oklahoma Commission on Children & Youth.

The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth oversees all state agencies that deal with children, including the Department of Human Services. It released a report on how DHS handled Keenan's case. The investigation found evidence workers mishandled reports in the weeks just before Keenan's death, and even made them up. On May 20th, 2005, three weeks before his death, the case file shows a worker received a report that Keenan was being mistreated. According to the Commission, the worker did not enter the report into the system, meaning the allegation was never investigated. On May 24th, a caller told DHS, Keenan had severe diaper rash and open sores on his legs that Keenan was always hungry and thirsty, and the home smelled of urine. A DHS worker claimed to have visited the home just the day before. But according to the DHS worker’s report there was no signs of abuse or neglect, no sign of drug paraphernalia in the home, and adequate food. When a supervisor questioned the worker after Keenan's death, the worker couldn't find the case notes, could not recall specific information about the case, and never interviewed key people. DHS still doesn't know if the worker ever interviewed or even actually saw Keenan.

Excerpts from Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, "Review Of The Death Of Keenan Taylor" report.

The referral was assigned as a Priority I investigation on May 24, 2005. KIDS documentation indicated the referral was received a day after the worker had visited the home on May 23, 2005 (however, see chronological entry of June 10, 2005), because the DHS had received similar allegations in the previous referral dated May 3, 2005. The worker documented that he staffed the referral with his supervisor. Documentation indicated the worker had explained to his supervisor that the household was appropriate and clean, the children showed no signs of abuse or neglect, and there were no observations of drug paraphernalia or containers of alcohol. According to documentation, there was adequate food and the utilities were operational. The worker documented that he reported to his supervisor there were no issues present that would lead the worker to believe the children were at-risk. The documentation indicated the worker was told by the supervisor to document his information on a new referral; the referral was connected to the referral dated May 3, 2005. The worker documented that at the time, he did not believe the children were at-risk in the home and he had not confirmed the allegations. DHS documentation indicated the worker put an initial interview date of May 24, 2005, on the computer. However, the worker documented that the children were actually seen on May 23, 2005, the day before the referral was received. DHS documentation indicated the DHS did not initiate the referral as a Priority I investigation. The worker documented contacting the biological father, Child 3,
Child 4, Child 5, and Keenan; there was no documentation to indicate the worker contacted or attempted to contact collateral witnesses and the other absent parents for interviews. The worker did not document that a medical consultation was obtained to determine the injuries alleged in the referral of May 24, 2005. The referral was pending at the time of Keenan’s death.

June 10, 2005

As a response to Keenan’s death, the DHS County Director instructed the intake supervisor to review and discuss the investigative protocol and the intake worker’s actions regarding the May 2005 pending referrals. Following a discussion, the supervisor determined the 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.

July 30, 2005

An addendum to the Report to the District Attorney, dated July 30, 2005, stated: The above interviews/summary information was documented by worker, [name withheld]. He has since resigned, and the info has been found to be inaccurate. This Supervisor, [name withheld], changed [worker’s name withheld] findings from Services not Needed to, Confirm-Court Intervention Requested, based on the new referral received by the Justice Center on 6-9-05, [referral # withheld] in which the children were taken into custody and a Petition was filed. For historical documentation, however, this Supervisor did not want to change the info entered by [worker’s name withheld], but did want to close the referral out to prevent it11from going into backlog status. As no direction has been given to this Supervisor by [county director’s name withheld] or area Director, as to what to do with this 2month old referral, [supervisor’s name withheld] has decided that a written report will be produced and placed in the file, but he (worker) will not sign it. The same thing has been done with the companion referral to this referral, [number withheld].

To read the full Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth report, click here.

“Sometimes people fail us," said George Johnson, DHS communications director.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services says the system works on trust, and in this case the workers, who both resigned, broke that trust.

"If you got somebody watching this show and they have not been failed by somebody that they care about, like or love, then they just hadn't lived long enough," said George Johnson.

"The system, no matter what job, is only as good as the integrity and character of the individuals that work there," said Rep. Pam Peterson, (R) Tulsa.

State Representative Pam Peterson is the chair of the Human Services Subcommittee on Children and Families. She says the state Legislature is working to lighten the load for caseworkers, and says she supports paying the caseworkers more. But she says that won't fix the whole problem.

“I don't think government was ever meant to substitute for healthy families and I think what we're seeing in our country right now and our state that the family is so deteriorating, that the children are suffering, “said Rep. Pam Peterson.

Watch the video: State Representative Pam Peterson Says DHS Must Be More Vigilant.

The Commission on Children and Youth says another problem is confidentiality. State law keeps most DHS records secret. In fact, by state law, the Commission cannot automatically issue reports on abuse and neglect deaths, someone has to ask for them. The Commission says fixing that problem, and shedding more light on DHS, would send an important message.

"It’s not OK for parents to abuse children, and it's not OK for social workers not to do their jobs. And the public needs to know so they can hold parents and employees accountable," said Lisa Smith.

But even so, even the Oklahoma Department of Human Services admits there's no way to be sure that what happened in Keenan's case won't happen again.

News On 6 asked George Johnson, “How do we know something similar isn't happening right now?" Johnson responded, "We don't, because we still got 50- to 60,000 open cases, and unless you had somebody to stand over every single person's shoulder every minute of the day, to audit everything they're doing, there are no guarantees."

Watch the video: DHS Spokesperson George Johnson Discusses DHS's Workload.

"If they did it once, I feel that maybe they've done it several times in the past and just haven't been caught," said Archie Taylor.

Watch the video: Archie Taylor Says DHS Should Be More Responsive.

Taylor’s lawsuit does not specify how much money he's seeking in damages from DHS for his grandson's death. The case is set for a hearing later this month. He says he still doesn't understand why his daughter added the father's name to Keenan's grave marker.

Watch the video: DHS Death Investigation