Category Archives: Cronyism

Malicious Prosecution Alleged in West Virginia

Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 12, 2015

(CN) – The disgraced former prosecutor for Mingo County, West Virginia pressed bogus child abuse charges against a special education teacher so his wife could get her job, the aggrieved educator claims in court.

The prosecutor in question, C. Michael Sparks, is currently in prison having pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to cover up evidence of illegal drug use and other misconduct by a now deceased former county sheriff.

In a complaint filed in the Charleston, West Va., Federal Court, Tina Grace says she was called into a meeting with the Mingo County superintendent of schools on Sept. 23, 2011, and confronted with allegations that she had been abusing special needs students.

Afterwards, and as required by law, the superintendent called the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, and reported the alleged abuse, thereby initiating an investigation of the matter by the state.

Grace was then suspended, with pay, for the duration of the inquiry, the complaint says.

As described in the court documents, two people providing the most negative information about Grace to investigators — C. Michael Sparks and his wife, Jennifer Sparks — who are alleged to have said she routinely bullied and belittled children in her care.

“Defendant Sparks’ wife … was the only teacher to provide critical comments about Tina Grace saying she had twisted a child’s cheeks, was not nice to kids, mentioning aides had complained about her disciplinary methods and also discussing those same incidents of some two years earlier involving a balancing device known as the ‘turtle’ and the use of hot sauce for disciplining an unruly child,” the complaint says.

Grace says Sparks’ motive was clear – she had two children in the school in which both she and Grace worked, but she also had the least seniority of any special education teacher there, meaning an impending consolidation of schools would likely result in her losing her job.

In addition, Grace says, she and Jennifer Sparks “had engaged in several verbal disagreements in recent years over various matters, including one where Mrs. Grace had replied something to the effect her coal miner husband was smarter than Sparks’ lawyer spouse.”

Grace says the only other people testifying against her were a personal friend of the Sparks, and a teacher’s aide whose husband worked at the county courthouse.

The state investigation turned up no specific findings of abuse, the complaint says. Nevertheless, about 10 days after the investigation ended, the district fired Grace. Days after that, she was indicted on a single county of battery, and two counts of child abuse.

“Defendant Sparks presented these matters to the grand jury initiating Tina Grace’s indictments,” the complaint says.

Grace pleaded not guilty to the charges, and she says what transpired from then on was nothing short of a sham trial. For instance, she says, “In a lame attempt to [cover up] his inherent conflict of interest in prosecuting Tina Grace, Defendant Sparks did not list his wife as a witness … although she had been the only teacher in the entire Mingo County school system to provide evidence concerning Mrs. Grace.”

Grace ultimately agreed to a deal in which she would drop an ongoing appeal of her dismissal from the school district in return for Sparks’ dropping the charges against her. Sixty days later, Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury expunged the record of the case. Thornsbury was later sentenced to 50 months in prison for his involvement in the scheme for which Sparks is now jailed.

Grace then filed an ethics complaint against Sparks with the West Virginia Disciplinary Counsel, which ultimately close the matter due to the fact Sparks’ license had already been annulled due to his other legal problems.

Grace has since filed to rescind the withdrawal of her grievance challenging her termination from the Mingo County Schools.

She seeks $1 million in compensatory damages, lost back wages and future wages on claims Sparks and his co-defendants derived her of her civil rights under state law, that the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to effect malicious prosecution, false arrest, and multiple counts of negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren’t Being Enforced

States tainted reports
Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren’t Being Enforced, numbers are intentionally tainted

Report Finds that Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren’t Being Enforced

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/01/27/381636056/child-abuse-and-neglect-laws-arent-being-enforced-report-finds

Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That’s according to a study by the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.

The numbers are grim.  Almost 680,000 children in the United States were the victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. More than 1,500 of them died.

Federal officials say they’re encouraged that the numbers are lower than they were in 2012. But children’s advocates say abuse is so often not reported that it’s impossible to know if there’s really been a decline.

“This is just something that’s chronically underreported,” says Elisa Weichel, a staff attorney with the Children’s Advocacy Institute, which published the report Tuesday.

She says abuse and neglect cases — especially those resulting in death — are often not disclosed as required by law. That lack of information has led to other problems in the system.

“It all boils down to having the right amount of data about what’s working and what’s not,” Weichel says. “And when your data is flawed, every other part of your system is going to be flawed.”

Her group has found plenty of flaws. The institute conducted a three-year study and found that not one state has met all of the minimum child welfare standards set by the federal government. Those standards include such things as timely investigation of reports of child abuse. The institute blames Congress and the courts for failing to get involved.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which reviews state programs, declined to comment on the report.

But there’s broad agreement among those involved in child welfare that the system is in desperate need of repair, agencies are underfunded, and caseworkers are often overwhelmed.

“Whether or not individual states can meet a reporting standard to us is not where the emphasis ought to be,” says Ron Smith, director of legislative affairs for the American Public Human Services Association, which represents child welfare administrators.

“It needs to be on making sure that the kids who need assistance are getting assistance, and the families that need assistance are getting the assistance,” he says.

Smith says state and local officials complain that they spend too much time filling out federal forms and trying to meet requirements that aren’t necessarily best for kids.

Instead, he says, they want flexibility on how to spend federal funds so they can focus more on keeping families together, rather than on helping kids after they’ve been abused and removed from their homes.

Ron Zychowski of Eckerd, a nonprofit company that runs child welfare services in three of Florida’s largest counties, agrees that change is needed. Eckerd has developed a new system to identify which of the 5,000 children under its care are at the highest risk of serious injury or death, so they can fix problems quickly.

“And I’m very pleased to report that in two years we have not had a child death from abuse or neglect in any of our cases,” Zychowski says.

That program is getting lots of national attention, including from a new commission set up by Congress to help eliminate abuse and neglect deaths.

But Zychowski warns, in this field, there’s no silver bullet.
“Bad people will do bad things to children,” he says. “We’re not going to catch them all, and we’re not going to stop them all.”

There was a horrific reminder of that earlier this month. A Florida man was accused of killing his 5-year-old daughter by throwing her off a bridge. Zychowski says the family was not in the child welfare system.