LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Police have launched a rare investigation of the Texas child protection agency after a 22-month-old girl died and her mother claimed her military husband's deployment overseas left her too stressed to care for their three children.
Abilene police Chief Stan Standridge said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the department began investigating the local Child Protective Services office after "certain CPS supervisors" refused to cooperate with officers investigating the Aug. 28 death of Tamryn Klapheke.
The girl died at an Abilene hospital after being found unresponsive at her home at Dyess Air Force Base. She weighed only 17.5 pounds and her body had chemical burns, indicating she had been exposed to human waste, according to a preliminary autopsy report from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office in Fort Worth. It said Tamryn suffered dehydration and malnutrition from a lack of basic care over a period of time.
Her mother, Tiffany Nicole Klapheke, faces three felony charges of injury to child. After her arrest, she claimed she was too stressed by her husband's deployment to care for their three young children.
Agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said a Child Protective Services caseworker assigned to investigate allegations of medical neglect against Klapheke closed the case soon after being promoted to supervisor and just six days before Tamryn died.
In doing so, the employee violated agency guidelines that require a final face-to-face visit and someone else to sign off on the closure, he said.
"You want to see the family again because you don't know what might have changed since you saw them," Crimmins said.
The employee hadn't seen the family in about 10 months when she closed the case, he said. She resigned a couple of weeks after Tamryn died. Phone numbers listed in the former caseworker's name were either disconnected or had a continuous busy signal Tuesday.
Her former supervisor, who oversaw the investigation of the allegations, has been disciplined, he added.
"It was a bad case, admittedly," Crimmins said, referring to how it was handled. "There's no question about that."
He said a criminal investigation of the agency was "rare" and that "we are cooperating fully with Abilene police."
Standridge and Taylor County District Attorney James Eidson declined to say what charges police are considering. However, Standridge said officers executed a search warrant on the local CPS office and a supervisor's home and car Tuesday morning after finding probable cause to suggest documents and other evidence existed to support allegations of evidence tampering.
Eidson said "there is more than one person" being investigated at the office.
According to the search warrant affidavit, a regional director, a program director and an investigative supervisor are suspected of tampering with evidence. A phone number listed for one of them had been disconnected by Tuesday, and there were no public listings for the other two. Their names are being withheld because no charges have been filed.
Klapheke remained jailed Tuesday in lieu of $500,000 bond. Jail records did not list an attorney for her.
Her two other daughters, ages 6 months and 3 years when Tamryn died, were treated for severe neglect at a children's hospital in Fort Worth, about 150 miles east of Abilene. They are now in foster care, Crimmins said.
There was a backlog of cases in the Abilene office at the time of the toddler's death due to a shortage of caseworkers, he said. Instead of 16 caseworkers, there were six.
There's a shortage of caseworkers statewide, he said, and chronic turnover is an issue. As of Oct. 12, the state had 1,495 case workers — more than 400 less than it should have, he said.
"We're, frankly, caught in a pretty vicious cycle," Crimmins said.
Klapheke's husband, Thomas, filed for divorce last week. His attorney's office said there would be no comment on the case.