Memphis) Lots of things have changed in Memphis in 10 years. Then, there are those things that have stayed the same.
“This has happened before,” says former Tennessee Department of Children’s Services employee Diana Lowry.
Children losing their lives under DCS’ watch, lawsuits, personnel overhauls, it’s a road one former worker says we’ve been down before.
“So you were sort of thinking, here we go again,” I ask? “Yes. It’s an ongoing pattern,” adds Lowry.”
June 17, 2003, a day Dewayne Holloway will never forget. “I was graduating from Tennessee Technical Center as an automotive technologist,” says Holloway.
Graduation was at Mississippi Boulevard Church. Holloway and his family were scheduled to attend, but after an argument, his girlfriend Lisa Butler and 8-month-old son Dewayne didn’t go.
“I turned my phone back on. It was Lisa. She was telling me that Dewayne had choked off his milk and he was in he hospital,” says Holloway.
Holloway made the quick drive to LeBonheur, “When I got there, my son was laying on the table and he was dead.”
It wasn’t because he choked.
Dewayne died after his mother Lisa beat him.
He suffered blunt force trauma to the head.
Lisa Butler is serving a life sentence for the murder.
What Holloway didn’t know at the time, was Dewayne’s death and the months leading up, would become the focal point of another investigation.
“I started making complaints in 2001 about some administration issues here in Memphis,” says Lowry.
Lowry, who eventually lost her job, said the local office was hiding fatalities.
While a probe into the deaths didn’t prove a cover up, it did reveal major problems with the way workers were handling cases in Memphis.
Cases like Dewayne Butler’s.
“That’s just like a red flag going up about child abuse,” adds Lowry about specifics of Dewayne’s case.
You see, Dewayne had visited Le Bonheur just two months before his death for a broken wrist and fractured skull.
Plus, there were follow ups in between.
DCS got involved.
Holloway was serving a 30 day jail sentence the first time Dewayne went to the hospital.
“They did the investigation, they said they were going to leave him in the home. It wasn’t even a month later, two months later, when the incident happened,” Holloway says.
The investigation, and later an auditor’s report showed DCS dropped the ball.
There were missed signs about the mother’s past.
A critical abuse call was screened out.
The report reads, “This was a preventable death.”
“I felt like they left him vulnerable,” Holloway says. “What would have been different,” I ask? “He would have been standing by me right now.”
Lowry contacted the On Your Side Investigators after seeing DCS wouldn’t clarify fatalities and later refused to hand over details.
She claims there’s a specific reason DCS is withholding information, and the protection isn’t necessarily for the children.
“I believe that they are delaying on releasing these cases because of the one year statute of limitations for lawsuits,” says Lowry.
Tennessee has one of the shortest statutes of limitations on wrongful death suits across the country.
Even for those who sue, proving DCS was negligent is pretty tough.
“On non-custodial children unless you can prove for a fact that the worker absolutely knew that the child would die, you cannot effectively sue,” Lowry adds.
Just ask Holloway. He sued DCS, but lost in front of the Claims Commission and Appeals Court. The ruling stated, “the state did not have care, custody and control…” of Dewayne.
Holloway later dropped the appeal after he and DCS reached a settlement.
Holloway said, “I wanted somebody to pay besides his mom.”
Lowry told WREG, “Because they’re not on the news, we don’t have pictures of the children. The public would be outraged if they knew about this.”
You certainly can’t forget a face like Dewayne’s and Lowry says that’s exactly why DCS should be forced to come clean, so maybe we’re having a different conversation 10 years from now.
“We can’t get them back. No, but we can do things to prevent children from dying in the future,” Lowry says.
The On Your Side Investigators requested an interview with the DCS Regional Administrator more than a month ago.
The state office has yet to respond to that request.
The media coalition goes back to court with DCS Friday.
That’s when the agency is supposed to hand over more files regarding fatalities.
More DCS stories