Crime & Courts

Ex-DCF official sees missed opportunities by state to save boy encased in concrete

A memorial to three-year-old Evan Brewer sits in front of the house at 2037 S. Vine in September after his body was found.
A memorial to three-year-old Evan Brewer sits in front of the house at 2037 S. Vine in September after his body was found. File photo

On April 22, the Kansas Department for Children and Families received a report that 3-year-old Evan Brewer hit his head while taking a bath — and “had no pulse” before being revived.

Of all the reports called in to the state child protection agency about Evan in the year before he died, that report is the “point of no return,” says former DCF official Dianne Keech.

“If they don’t do the right thing there,” Keech said, “it seals his doom. They never recovered from that point on.”

The child protection agency missed opportunity after opportunity to investigate, “which would have allowed them to save him,” Keech said.

On Sept. 2, a landlord found Evan’s body encased in concrete in his south Wichita rental home. His mother, Miranda Miller, and her live-in boyfriend, Stephen Bodine, have been charged with first-degree murder in the child’s death.

The April 22 report sticks out among the missed opportunities to save Evan because it was a new allegation of near-fatal abuse, she said.

Too often, DCF took the word of the 3-year-old’s mother that he was OK, Keech said.

On March 2, DCF released to The Eagle 284 pages of records about Evan. The Eagle asked Keech to analyze the documents. Keech was a DCF deputy director from 2013 to 2015 in Topeka and served on the state Child Death Review Board during part of that tenure. For 16 years before that, she was as a court services officer in Wyandotte County assessing child-in-need-of-care cases. She now works as a child-protection consultant.

The Eagle also spoke with four former supervisors with DCF or its predecessor agency, SRS. Based on their understanding of the records on Evan, they also had concerns about how DCF handled his case. They wouldn’t speak on the record.

Keech noted that some of the information in the records was blacked out and that some logs appeared to be missing.

She counted six separate reports of abuse that the agency received from July 21, 2016, to May 14, 2017, before Evan’s death. Her analysis shows the agency failed to adequately address all safety and risk concerns with five of the six reports. She also found that DCF failed to collect all relevant information in at least four of the six reports.

“This is not Monday-morning quarterbacking,” Keech said. “This is how cases should be handled in the moment. I am reviewing this case based on investigative procedures that used to be standard for the agency.”

The person making the crucial April 22 report said Evan and his mother were domestic violence victims and that someone would “take life from them” before “bringing them back.”

His mother’s live-in boyfriend allegedly bragged about choking Evan and his mother and strangling the boy until he became unconscious, according to the records.

The report to the DCF hotline the night of April 22 should have prompted staff to call 911 to check on Evan that same night, Keech said. Staff should have sent a copy of the report to DCF administrators and flagged it as a “critical incident.”

Instead, she said, DCF placed the report on hold for six days. The case was closed April 28, records show.

Shayla Johnston, a Brewer family spokeswoman and attorney, agrees with Keech that DCF failed.

One option for DCF was to go to court and get an emergency order to remove Evan from his mother’s home, Johnston said.

Johnston thinks police and the court system failed Evan as well.

Both women agree that the system sometimes minimizes child abuse allegations when parents are in a custody battle.

Evan’s father, Carlo Brewer, was trying to gain custody of him while DCF was receiving the abuse reports. Carlo Brewer – son of gubernatorial candidate and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer – called in multiple reports, a police affidavit says.

With anyone who looks at Evan’s case, Johnston said, “You can agree that bureaucracy killed Evan.”

People gathered on South Vine in front of the house where 3-year-old Evan Brewer’s body was found in a concrete structure last week.

DCF said it could not comment on the case, according to Theresa Freed, the department’s spokeswoman.

“Given the Brewer family’s stated desire to pursue litigation against the Kansas Department for Children and Families, we are not in a position to address each point alleged,” she said in an email.

July 21, 2016

The earliest report of abuse to the agency came on July 21, 2016, according to the records. That was more than a year before Evan’s body was found.

According to the person making that report, Evan’s mother, Miller, was using methamphetamine and blowing marijuana smoke into her son’s face. She also reportedly stayed in bed and left her son to care for himself.

It appeared that DCF accepted the mother’s denial that she was using drugs, Keech said.

“I would definitely drug test the mom and possibly the child,” she said. Evan could have tested positive for marijuana and meth, she said. According to the records, the agency didn’t request a drug test of the mother.

Miller claimed that prescription drugs for her medical condition caused symptoms similar to those caused by meth use. But DCF didn’t verify her prescription use, Keech said.

A worker scheduled a 10-day follow-up visit instead of randomly visiting the home, “which would give the worker a better idea of daily function,” Keech wrote in her analysis. When the mother denied all allegations, DCF didn’t verify her accounts, so “it was impossible to adequately assess safety,” Keech said.

DCF concluded that the allegations were unsubstantiated. Keech noted that the agency deemed that Evan was safe and at a low risk based on his mother’s denial of the allegations.

“So they missed a lot of opportunities in their first intake to protect this child,” Keech said.

If DCF had addressed the substance abuse alleged more than a year before Evan’s body was found, she said, “they would have gotten to the bottom of this before that child died.”

Evan’s case highlights a broader problem, Keech said: “DCF does not care if parents are using drugs.” In Evan’s case, “DCF did not care if mom was using methamphetamine, as long as in their scheduled visit he was bonded to her. That’s the bottom line,” she said.

“There is no excuse for leaving a child in a home where parents are using meth. You cannot parent when you’re using meth. DCF leaves children in homes where methamphetamine is being used. That’s what killed Evan.”

March 20, 2017

This past March 20, DCF got a report saying a person was worried about Evan.

The boy had not been seen for three weeks, and his mother wouldn’t open the door, according to the records. The person who contacted DCF saw Evan through the window and said he had an injury from one side of his nose to the other and bruising and thought his nose was broken. There’s no indication he was referred for a medical child-abuse evaluation, Keech said.

A sign on the door said, “Do not disturb without appointment. No knocking on windows or you will be shot,” the records show.

Keech noted from the reports that there was a history of violence in the home when Evan was present. That Bodine had assault charges in Geary County. That Evan’s mother had used meth since he was born.

Despite those concerns, Evan “was deemed safe based upon the fact that his injury had healed and he did not appear afraid of his mother,” Keech wrote in her analysis.

She also noted that when DCF interviewed Evan on March 24, four days after the report, he first said “his mommy hurt him.”

He later said no one had hit or hurt him and that he wasn’t afraid.

It’s unknown whether he was interviewed in front of his mother. DCF didn’t interview the boyfriend or observe Evan with the boyfriend.

The mother said her son went to a doctor, who said the nose wasn’t broken. But Keech said there was no documentation that medical records had been requested to verify her account.

Miller also denied there was domestic violence. But Keech saw no documentation that DCF asked police about past domestic violence calls. A background check on the mother’s boyfriend found a 2004 aggravated battery conviction but found that it was a “strength” that he had no more convictions.

When DCF did safety and risk assessments, the findings relied only on what the mother said and limited observation of the child, Keech wrote.

A police affidavit released after Evan’s death shows that DCF did contact the police. On March 24, a DCF social worker identified as “K. Battle” spoke to “Detective Bauman” with the Exploited and Missing Child Unit “who stated Carlo Brewer reported Evan may have a broken nose.”

On March 24, the police affidavit continues, Battle met with Miller and Evan at her office. “Battle also noted a small abrasion on his back.”

By the time of the March 24 interview, the boy had already suffered torture, the police later learned.

The police affidavit, written after the homicide investigation started in September, described video images found by investigators and timestamped on March 12. That was the day before the father called 911. The video showed Evan being kept nude on a concrete floor surrounded by concrete walls, with a belt around his neck and his hands tied behind his back. He wore a heavy metal chain that appeared to be linked to something off camera.

April 22, 2017

On April 22 a caller told DCF that Bodine was beating Evan’s mother and dragging her across the house by her hair. The caller also said that Bodine was giving Evan a bath, that Evan fell back and hit his head, knocking him out. Evan had no pulse.

Keech determined from the records that after the April 22 report of “no pulse,” the report was “screened out for no further assessment.”

It should not have been screened out, she said, because it was a new allegation of abuse not previously reported.

A social worker contacted the mother, Miller, by email on April 28 and made an appointment with her for 4 p.m. May 2 to discuss the April 22 report. Logs for the meeting are missing from the records provided, Keech said.

The police affidavit gives this detail: Ten days after the April 22 report, on May 1, the social worker, Battle, went to the door at 2037 S. Vine. “Battle told Bodine she needed to speak with him. Battle reported Bodine replied ‘so,’ and closed the door.”

The affidavit doesn’t say how Battle responded after Bodine shut the door on her.

One option would have been to send police to try to get Bodine to open the door – “try to get them to produce Evan,” said Connie Mayes. She is a retired DCF social worker supervisor who served in the agency’s Wichita office from 1991 to 2013. Mayes is assisting a state task force on efforts to improve child protection services.

On May 2, the day after Bodine closed the door on Battle, Battle interviewed Miller in her office. Miller said Evan was with her sister in Oklahoma.

The social worker could have called the sister, Keech said. DCF also could have contacted a social worker in Oklahoma to check on Evan, Mayes said.

Neither DCF records nor the police affidavit say whether those steps occurred.

May 4, 2017

On May 4, DCF received another phone call about Evan.

A mutual friend said that the boyfriend choked Evan and revived him and completely controlled the mother. Evan “is really scared,” and his mother did nothing to protect him, the person told DCF.

And the person related other concerns: that the mother wasn’t appearing at custody hearings and was trying to hide Evan so his injuries wouldn’t be seen.

On a safety assessment form, DCF checked a box saying Evan was “Safe.”

DCF didn’t substantiate the choking had occurred. It couldn’t find Evan.

Still, “Child is deemed ‘SAFE’ despite serious allegations of abuse” and despite not being able to find the boy, Keech wrote in her analysis.

Looking at the records, Keech found that Evan and his mother couldn’t be found after four home visits, two phone calls and an email.

Keech listed “lost opportunities to contact others who may have had information,” including his day care provider and pediatrician, the mother’s employer, the mother’s sister in Oklahoma and the mother’s other relatives.

May 14, 2017

On May 14, DCF received another report about Evan: that Miller and (name redacted) were fighting, that (name redacted) was barricaded in a room, that (name redacted) was having accidents – wetting himself – because he feared walking past the adults’ bedroom to use the bathroom.

The report describes (name redacted) being fearful of looking at (name redacted.)

The records showed Keech that the case was “screened out,” which means it wasn’t assigned for investigation.

The reason is unknown. It’s not clear whether the report was forwarded to the social worker or supervisor “due to the fact that the record has been altered,” Keech wrote.

The Eagle has previously reported that a note in the May 14 file says the record was modified to inaccurately show that the reported information was communicated to the assigned social worker and the social worker’s supervisor – when neither knew of additional allegations before Evan’s body was found. The inaccuracy was referred for possible disciplinary action.

Johnston, the attorney and cousin of Carlo Brewer, believes the May 14 report to the state was the last one made before Evan was killed.

The Brewer family thinks Evan died between May 14 – when he was last seen alive by a family friend and the landlord – and May 26. On May 26, Miller bought concrete, threaded rod and a concrete trowel at a hardware store, a police affidavit says. Evan’s body was found buried in formed concrete.

The mother of 3-year-old Evan Brewer, Miranda R. Miller, 36 and her boyfriend, Stephen M. Bodine, 40, were charged with first-degree murder in the boy's death Tuesday afternoon. Bond for both Miller and Bodine was set at $500,000. (Video by Bo Rader / Wichita Eagle / Dec. 5, 2017)