Grandmother of tortured KCK boy wants records unsealed, seeks truth about his death

Part 2 of 3

While it’s been nearly two years since Adrian Jones was tortured and ultimately killed by his father and stepmother, little is known about what the State of Kansas did or did not do to protect him.

In 2012, the Kansas Department for Children and Families removed Adrian and his siblings from their biological mother’s care.

Read Part 1 of the series: Surveillance footage captures last days of tortured KCK boy's life

 

Judy Conway, Adrian's grandmother

The 7-year-old’s grandmother, Judy Conway, wanted custody of the children.

Instead, the state gave custody to Adrian’s father, Michael Jones.

She often wonders what Adrian’s life would have been like if things had gone the other way.

“We live in pain and agony every day, wondering what could've been done, who could've stepped up to the plate more,” she said.

 

 

 


Fighting for the truth

Conway has been fighting with DCF for her grandson’s records since his death in 2015.

“I truly believe that there’s been numerous calls to DCF [before his death],” Conway said.

After the 7-year-old died, the 41 Action News Investigators spoke to several people who said they contacted DCF before Adrian was killed.

A former employee of Adrian’s father and stepmother said she witnessed the young boy being abused when he was forced to stand for hours with his hands in the air.

Heather and Mike Jones

She also said Adrian was often hungry and forced to eat plain oatmeal while his six sisters living in the house were given McDonald’s.

Conway said Michael and Heather Jones, Adrian’s father and stepmother, wouldn’t allow her to see Adrian or his siblings in the months leading up to his death.

She told the 41 Action News Investigators she contacted DCF twice to find out what her rights were as a grandparent.

Conway said the agency didn’t help.

Now, nearly two years after Adrian’s death, she thinks the department failed Adrian. But she can’t prove it -- the agency refuses to give her Adrian’s file.

“That has just blown my mind -- made me really terribly angry,” Conway said.

Speaking out

Dianne Keech, former deputy director of DCF, said she’s appalled by the lack of transparency from the agency.

"It's unconscionable, in my opinion, where there's a child death and that child as has a history with DCF," Dianne Keech said. 

“It’s unconscionable.  When there’s a child death and that child has had a history with DCF, that information needs to go to the family and the public and that agency needs to be held accountable,” Keech said.

After nearly two years on the job, Keech said she quit the department because of how it handles cases like Adrian’s.

“I've personally reviewed numerous deaths in Kansas where we've missed it,” she said.

Keech told 41 Action News Investigators child death cases are often kept secret from the public. She said during her time at the department, the agency’s attorney directed her to keep information from the public’s reach.

“She [the attorney] didn't feel like we should document anything related to a child death. She wanted to only have verbal conversations over the phone,” Keech said. “If we took handwritten notes we were instructed to shred them afterwards.”

“I've personally reviewed numerous deaths in Kansas where we've missed it,” Dianne Keech said.

The 41 Action News Investigators made several requests to the department for Adrian’s records. Each request was denied.

We also asked to meet with DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore about Adrian’s case. But the agency denied those requests too.

On Friday, May 5, Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) Secretary Phyllis Gilmore issued the following statement regarding allegations made against the agency following Adrian’s death.

“The death of Adrian Jones at the hands of his own father and stepmother is truly a tragedy, and our hearts remain deeply saddened by his passing. DCF had worked closely with the Missouri Department of Social Services in providing multiple services to the Jones family. This family moved frequently between Kansas and Missouri, which greatly disrupted continuity of services and evaluation. Nevertheless, DCF and Missouri officials remained in regular contact with each other regarding Adrian and shared information and location, when known. In fact, even during periods when the family was not residing in Kansas, DCF continued to reach out to the family regarding and inquiring about the welfare of Adrian. DCF thoroughly investigated each reported incident of alleged abuse and/or neglect regarding Adrian as well as requests for information and assistance from the family while they were residing in the state. DCF’s last contact with the family was while they were living in Kansas in February 2012, and it was reported at that time that the father and the stepmother had separated. It is very difficult to assist families who are constantly transient, especially those who move across state lines and thereby deprive the State of any jurisdiction. The agency is further discouraged when family members fail to assist the agency with protecting their relatives. The death of any child through abuse and/or neglect is always a tragic loss, but the circumstances surrounding Adrian’s last days are unconscionable as to how anyone could do this to an innocent little boy. DCF has not been able to publicly release Adrian Jones’ records, as they remain under seal pursuant to court order. It is our understanding that a motion has been filed to lift the seal. If and when that occurs, and we receive any Kansas Open Records Act Requests (KORAs), along with a copy of the order unsealing the records, DCF will release its records in accordance with the provisions of K.S.A. § 38-2212(f).”

Laws relevant to the case

A judge sealed Adrian’s files.  But in 2004 Kansas enacted a law stating when a child is killed or nearly killed from abuse, the files become public record.

(f) (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, except as provided in paragraph (4), in the event that child abuse or neglect results in a child fatality or near fatality, reports or records of a child alleged or adjudicated to be in need of care received by the secretary, a law enforcement agency or any juvenile intake and assessment worker shall become a public record and subject to disclosure pursuant to K.S.A. 45-215, and amendments thereto.

Despite the law, the 41 Action News Investigators discovered information is rarely released in those cases.

Since the law took effect, 15 media requests for information pertaining to a child’s death or near death have been submitted. DCF has fulfilled only two.

Because the department rarely releases information in those instances, there’s no way to know if the agency responsible for ensuring the safety of children in Kansas is doing its job.

“This is a public agency that the public is paying for. The public has a right to hold them accountable for the safety of children,” Keech said. “We should be demanding change, we should be demanding to know what happened and then get change to happen so this doesn't occur again.”

We asked DCF about Keech’s claims. In addition to denying our interview requests with Secretary Gilmore, department spokeswoman Theresa Freed refused to answer our questions in person or on the phone. She would only reply via email, and she denied Keech’s claims. Read Freed’s responses below.

These emails between 41 Action News Investigator Jessica McMaster and Kansas Department for Children and Families spokeswoman Theresa Freed are related to the abuse death of Adrian Jones in 2015. McMaster asked Freed about those claims; her questions are in blue and Freed's answers are in red.

 

While waiting for her grandson’s records, Conway has started a petition to get Adrian’s file released

41 Action News Investigators have learned there was another adult living in the Jones home during the time Adrian’s parents abused him.  See our confrontation with him in Part 3 of our series.

 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Editor’s Note: On May 5, Kansas Rep. Louis Ruiz introduced Adrian’s Act in response to the 41 Action News investigation that shed light on who’s required to report child abuse. If passed, Adrian’s Act would require adults living in a home where a child is being abused to report it to authorities.