AUSTIN, Texas - In an eye opening report the Department of Family and Protective Services admits the agency failed to protect two-year-old Colton Turner. During the boy's short life, Child Protective Services or CPS received six reports and conducted four investigations into the allegations that Colton Turner had been abused or neglected.
"The bottom line is CPS knew or should have known that Colton Turner was in danger and didn't take appropriate steps to find or protect him," said Patrick Crimmins, spokesperson for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
As a result of the internal investigation the CPS has fired three employees over the mishandling of Colton's case. In each of the four investigations the agency found there were failures to follow policy and mistakes in judgment by caseworkers and supervisors.
"There were multiple red flags in this case that were not really paid attention to," said Crimmins about the failure of the agency in Colton's case.
CPS first opened a case file for Colton Turner on July 27, 2012 just a few months before Turner's first birthday. The agency received reports that Colton was being abused and neglected by a person described to CPS as the boyfriend of Colton's mother. The report alleged that Colton had scrapes and bruises and that there was drug use in the home. CPS ruled out abuse and neglect during an unannounced visit to the home. At that time the case worker reported that the home seemed to be in good condition. At this time the agency classified Colton's case as Priority 1 which is the highest priority with an allegation of physical abuse. CPS policy requires that a joint investigation with law enforcement take place and that did not happen. The case worker at the time also failed to reach out to another source for more information about the mother's boyfriend. The initial case was closed on September 11, 2012.
On March 23, 2013 CPS received a report Colton was abused and neglected. The reporter included concerns about possible sexual abuse and drug use by his mother. According to the internal review the case worker visited Colton's home twice and indicated he had no visible signs of neglect. During an interview with CPS Colton's mother agreed to a drug test and it came back positive for marijuana. The agency says she agreed to stop using drugs and entered into a safety plan with the agency. The caseworker says she could not determine if the occasional drug use impacted her ability to care for Colton. The policy violated in this case includes not addressing the possible sexual assault and not completing the case within 60 days. This case was closed on June 13, 2013.
Just four days after closing out an investigation the state agency received another report alleging physical abuse and neglect of Colton. Some of the abuse included a bad case of diaper rash. The report also stated that there was drug use in the home and believed the risk of sexual abuse still existed. A case worker assigned to Colton saw him on June 19th, 2013 and reported no visible injuries.
CPS did not see Colton from that day to December 18, 2013. Two case workers left the agency and a special investigator was assigned to the case.
The investigator, according to the report, tried multiple times to reach Colton. Some of the policies violated include not seeing Colton for extended periods of time.
What can't be explained is why Colton's case classification was downgraded to a less urgent status referred to within the agency as Priority 2. According to the report given his history and age it should have been classified as Priority 1. Also cited as a violation there were no photos of Colton in his case file.
The last time CPS saw Colton was on March 3, 2014.
On May 21, 2014 CPS received a report that Colton had slap marks and bruises on his body. The person who made the report indicated there were photographs but the agency says the case investigator never asked to see the pictures. About a month later, in June, another report was called into the agency that Colton looked sick in pictures posted on his mother's Facebook page. The investigation worker was on vacation according to the report and no one else picked up the case.
"We were getting good substantive factual reports from family members and we just didn't follow up on them," said Crimmins. "It's a very sobering situation and it has to be turned around," he added.
From May 21st to August 28, 2014 the agency admits no substantial effort was made to find Colton or his mom and her boyfriend. That's the time law enforcement officials say Turner likely died.
The agency says there was a lack of urgency on the part of the people working closely with this case.
According to court paper work Michael Turner led authorities to Colton's body in a shallow grave in East Austin. Turner's mother told police that the boy hit his head and had a seizure. Instead of taking Colton to the hospital his mom and her boyfriend told authorities they tried to care for him in a motel room. While the criminal investigation continues Michael Turner and Meaghan Work remain jailed charged with tampering with evidence in Colton's death.
What's next for CPS
CPS is taking steps to address the shortfalls within the agency exposed by the Colton Turner case. The agency is adding 13 master investigators and master investigator supervisor to help with the case load in Travis County. Travis County CPS reports the highest number of delinquent investigations in the state. There are at least 460 investigations that are at least 60 days old.
"The report gives everyone here pause. We are doubling efforts here in Travis County to make sure investigations from the very first step are handled appropriately," said Crimmins.
The agency is undergoing a transformation. Part of that Crimmins says is removing the bureaucratic clutter making it easier to process investigations quickly all the while reducing the case load.
CPS will also add special investigators from other parts of the state to temporarily help with delinquent and tough investigations.
"The Colton Turner case is exhibit number one why we need CPS transformation," said Crimmins.