The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.
The number of Texas children whose deaths are blamed on neglect and abuse dropped in the 2017 fiscal year, down nearly 23 percent from the year before. That’s according to an annual report released by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
In the 2016 fiscal year, child abuse deaths in Texas increased by 30 percent.
Patrick Crimmins, a spokesperson for DFPS, points out that over the last five fiscal years, children ages three and younger accounted for nearly 80 percent of all confirmed child abuse and neglect fatalities in Texas.
“In some part it’s because these young children are at home,” Crimmins says, “and so they don’t go to school and they don’t go to daycare, many of them, and so there’s not the other sets of eyes and the other responsible adults taking care of them.”
Crimmins adds that it is often school officials and daycare workers who call in possible cases of abuse and neglect to the state agency. The report also points out that in about half of the fatality cases, the families had no prior involvement or contact with DFPS.
Dimple Patel, the associate director of public policy for TexProtects, says there is a big opportunity to improve outcomes for children in families that have had contact with DFPS. She says in 104 of the 172 confirmed child fatality cases in the 2017 fiscal year, there had been a prior history of involvement with Child Protective Services.
“We took a deeper dive into that number and looked at the number of cases where we actually actively offered services to the family in a program called Family Based Family Services,” says Patel. “38 of our fatalities either had a prior based Family Based Family Services case or an open case at the time of the child’s death, so for us that really speaks to the need to have higher quality services for those families that are at highest risk of abuse and neglect.”
The report says 52 percent of fatalities caused by abuse or neglect involved a parent or caregiver actively using a controlled substance. 23 percent involved a parent or caregiver with reported or confirmed mental health concerns. There were active domestic violence concerns in 17 percent of the fatality cases.
Officials say a former Harris County prosecutor withheld key evidence in a death row case. According to a statement from the Harris County District Attorney’s office, a previously undisclosed e-mail should have been made available to lawyers representing Alfred Dewayne Brown, who spent nearly a decade on death row.
Brown was a defendant in a high-profile murder case involving a Houston police officer and a store clerk. But his case was dismissed in 2015, shortly after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals determined he should get a new trial because of the prosecutor’s failure to disclose a phone record that could have been used to corroborate his alibi.
Brown is now involved in a civil rights lawsuit against Harris County.
Late last week, the Harris County district attorney’s office released newly discovered evidence to Brown’s lawyers – an e-mail between former Harris County prosecutor Dan Rizzo and a former Houston police officer suggesting that Rizzo was aware of the phone records prior to trial and failed to disclose them.