State Improperly Withheld Records In Child's Death

Oct 15, 2012

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services violated the state open records law by not releasing records containing information about the death of an eastern Kentucky toddler, the state attorney general's office concluded in an opinion released Monday.

Assistant Attorney General Amye Bensenhaver concluded in the opinion that the agency should have provided the records to The Mountain Citizen, a weekly newspaper in Inez.

The newspaper had requested records that would shed light on the 2-year-old boy, who died a year ago. The agency provided the newspaper with some documents that had information redacted. Newspaper editor Gary Ball then appealed to the attorney general.

"Neither Mr. Ball nor this office could ascertain what records were withheld and why," Bensenhaver wrote. "Such obfuscation is clearly impermissible."

Bensenhaver cited recent court rulings that said information about cases involving deaths or serious injuries of children the agency has placed in foster care should be fully disclosed.

The records The Mountain Citizen sought involved the toddler who the Cabinet for Health and Family Services had placed with his aunt and uncle in Prestonsburg in September 2011.

State officials had a long list of redacted information, including "confidential information" and "unsubstantiated reports," in the records that were finally turned over the newspaper.

Ball received records detailing the child's removal from his mother's home, criminal background checks on his aunt and uncle, an evaluation of their home, and a social worker's observation of the child's interaction with his aunt and uncle. He contended that he was entitled to "the investigative files" regarding the child's death.

Bensenhaver said "the information withheld exceeds the scope of permissible redactions under the Open Records Act and that the cabinet's response to his request was deficient."

Bensenhaver said her opinion was guided by rulings from Franklin County circuit court and the Kentucky Court of Appeals in similar open records cases.