On Friday, Gina Meier-Hummel, secretary of the state Department for Children and Families, met with the family of Evan Brewer.
Evan was the 3-year-old boy whose body was found encased in concrete in his mother’s home in September. Evan’s mother and her boyfriend were later charged with first-degree murder in Evan’s death.
Videos show that Evan was tortured before he died. He was kept nude on a concrete floor with a belt around his neck and his hands tied behind his back.
This happened despite the efforts of Evan’s father, who, for months, suspected his son was being abused. He repeatedly tried to get the Department for Children and Families, police and the court system to protect his son.
The Department for Children and Families trumpeted Meier-Hummel’s visit with the Brewer family on Friday with a news release.
The release indicated the meeting was triggered because a judge had lifted a seal of the department’s records in the file of Evan’s case. It said Meier-Hummel “expressed condolences, listened to the family’s concerns and provided the family its own copy of the file.”
The release boasted about efforts to reform the Department for Children and Families that have taken place since Meier-Hummel was appointed in December.
It quoted Gov. Jeff Colyer as saying, “Accountability and transparency will ultimately transform both our system and our responses to families …”
The news release is nothing but an offensive example of political spin. The story it tells is a distortion of the truth.
That’s because the family of Evan Brewer should have had the records from Evan’s case file long ago. State law has allowances for parents to receive records regarding their children outside traditional Kansas Open Records Act procedures.
Yet the Department for Children and Families refused repeated requests for the records from Evan’s father, Carlo Brewer, according to Shayla Johnston, Carlo Brewer’s cousin, who is also an attorney.
“It’s blatantly obvious that parents have access to their children’s files,” Johnston said.
A judge did place a seal on the records in Evan’s file, but it had nothing to do with Carlo Brewer’s attempt to gain access.
The seal came in response to a Kansas Open Records Act request by The Wichita Eagle/Kansas.com.
It came after an attorney for the Department for Children and Families engineered a hearing on The Eagle’s request without notifying The Eagle of the hearing. As a result, our attorney, Lyndon Vix, had no chance to argue for release of the records.
The only reason a judge lifted a seal on the records was because of extensive legal efforts by Vix.
The Eagle filed its records request on Sept. 11 and finally got the records on March 2.
Meier-Hummel’s department – which supposedly has a new-found spirit of transparency and accountability – did nothing to facilitate the release of the records.
In fact, it only threw up further roadblocks after the judge ordered that the records be released.
The records were initially sealed at the request of the Wichita Police Department, which said release of the records would interfere with its investigation into Evan’s death.
After Evan’s mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder, many details from Evan’s Department for Children and Families case file were made public in an affidavit associated with the criminal case.
Vix, The Eagle’s attorney, then took steps to revive The Eagle’s records request. He worked with a lawyer for the city and with the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, both of which agreed not to object to the release of the records since charges had been filed and many of the details in Evan’s files were already public.
On Feb. 15, a judge ordered that the records be released.
But, still, The Eagle had to wrestle with the Department for Children and Families to get the records. A department lawyer required The Eagle to file yet another open records request, which Vix did.
The department used delay tactics for 12 days after the judge’s order.
Then on Friday, The Eagle was required to pay $305 for labor and other charges before the department would turn over the records. This, even though the records had already undergone thorough review and been redacted.
And now we know why the Department for Children and Families delayed. It knew what the records would show. It needed time to conduct a plan for damage control.
It’s not a coincidence that Bill Gale, the department’s Wichita regional director of family services, was dismissed on Tuesday, just a few days before the release of the records.
The records show the department was contacted at least eight times with detailed reports of Evan’s abuse but failed to take steps that could have saved his life. They show a department employee failed to pass along information about a new report of abuse to the appropriate people.
That brings us to late Friday afternoon, when Meier-Hummel met with the family of Evan Brewer to graciously offer condolences and deliver Evan’s case file. And Meier-Hummel’s office offered a news release with her and Gov. Colyer bragging of their grand efforts.
Meier-Hummel and Colyer should be ashamed to have used such a situation for their political gain.
They owe Carlo Brewer and the rest of Evan’s family an apology, not just for the state’s failure to protect Evan, but for their blatant attempt at public posturing on Friday.