WREG Sues TN Department of Children’s Services

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(WREG) News Channel 3 has joined what has become the largest coalition of its kind.

A dozen media outlets are suing the Department of Children's Services for a violation of the state's public records laws.

The suit was filed in Chancery Court in Nashville Wednesday.

Read The Lawsuit

Despite open records requests, the agency has failed to produce documents related to child fatalities that occurred under its supervision.

WREG On Your Side Investigators have been researching child deaths in Shelby County for the past six months.

It all began with one simple, question.  We wanted to know why so many children in the area were dying, and what was being done to stop it.

This led to conversations with advocacy groups, lawmakers, law enforcement, the Health Department and DCS.

WREG has since learned the very agency in charge of protecting the state's children may not be doing enough.

The flag raising has become an unfortunate and all too familiar site in Memphis.

On December 6th, there was another one, for yet another child gone too soon.
The latest ceremony was in honor of Kalissa Pegues.

The four-month-old died in June, her own father accused of murder, and mom charged with abuse and neglect.

Reports show little, Kalissa suffered from multiple, blunt force trauma injuries.

It's senseless deaths like this one that prompted WREG On Your Side Investigators to begin researching child fatalities in the area.

Throughout the process, we learned 31 children across the state died during the first six months of 2012, who at some point had contact with DCS.

Carla Aaron, the Executive Director of Child Safety at DCS said, "One on this list is too many." During an October interview, we asked Aaron about the 31 deaths, specifics about Shelby County cases, and what else DCS could do to prevent them.

"What we found is although we had some involvement with some of these deaths, many of them were not due to something the Department did, or was negligent in doing," Aaron said.

This is the agency's position, but there is no way for us to really know that.

We requested full, case files for Shelby County fatalities from 2008 to the present.

DCS sent spreadsheets with summaries of the deaths, and circumstances surrounding them, but some of the information is conflicting and it leaves many questions unanswered.

The Department continued to refuse our repeated requests, citing "the disclosure process... requires sensitivity and balance."

Despite repeated emails and additional questions over the past three months, DCS still won't produce the documents, which leads us to where we are now.

WREG has joined forces with other journalists, fighting for the truth.

The lawsuit outlines how the agency is violating open records laws.

Other states have been much more transparent about such records and WREG is asking DCS to do the same.

The agency has 30 days to respond.

We will release that information when it becomes available.