Susan Randolph said DCS' policies on immediate protection agreements are vague and scattered. Randolph was shot three times and her husband, Todd, and a teen neighbor were killed in 2009 by the girl's father. / Anita Wadhwani / File / The Tennessean
By Anita Wadhwani, The Tennessean
A Department of Children's Services caseworker who failed to follow agency guidelines admitted backdating paperwork after a teen's death and provided testimony during a wrongful-death trial in 2012 that a judge called not very credible was never disciplined.
The caseworker continues to investigate child abuse claims for the state agency, a review of DCS personnel files found.
In November, DCS was found liable in the 2009 West Tennessee shooting deaths of Stevie Noelle Milburn, 15, and Todd Randolph, 46. The agency also was found liable for the critical injuries suffered by Randolph's wife, Susan, who was shot in the neck, chest and arm.
All three were the victims of Stevie's father, Chris Milburn, who later killed himself in the Dyersburg neighborhood where DCS had temporarily placed his daughter with the Randolphs. The girl was supposed to stay with the neighbors while the agency investigated allegations of physical and sexual abuse against Chris Milburn.
But it was the performance of DCS caseworker Martha Murray that Tennessee Claims Commission Judge Nancy Miller-Herron singled out in a 62-page ruling against the child welfare agency.
The case was unsealed on March 20 after state lawyers ended efforts to keep the findings secret. A week later, DCS Commissioner Jim Henry pledged to "take a close look at the circumstances surrounding this case in hopes we can learn from it and make our practices stronger. We owe that to these families and to our communities."
Closer look delayed
On Monday, DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth confirmed the agency still has plans to take a closer look, but not until after DCS launches a new internal child death review process, scheduled to begin in August.
Sudderth also provided The Tennessean access to Murray's personnel file following repeated requests over a seven-week period. Sudderth noted Murray's casework had been reviewed by her supervisor and other administrators all the way up the chain of command, including former DCS Commissioner Viola Miller. "There was nothing that warranted disciplinary action," Sudderth said.
Miller did not respond to a message seeking comment, and Sudderth did not respond to a request from The Tennessean seeking comment from Murray.
Murray has been a state employee for 35 years. State workers' performance reviews are not public record.
An attorney who brought the lawsuit on behalf of Susan Randolph called DCS' response "disappointing."
"I think what we've seen from day one are half-hearted efforts," said Brandon Bass with the Law Offices of John Day in Nashville. "We've seen from day one DCS praising their caseworkers, making public commentary through the media about what a great job they have done, despite very obvious wrongs and outcomes. These are not difficult problems to fix.
"In our case, we had a two-day trial with ample testimony, a judgment made, and the writing should be on the wall already for DCS to make every appropriate policy change and take disciplinary action. I fail to see why they are waiting until August of 2013 before anything changes."
Bass said he has tried in vain to set up a meeting with DCS leaders and Susan Randolph. Randolph's goal in filing suit was so DCS would change specific policies in its temporary placements of children during abuse investigations to avert future tragedies, he said.
In the Randolph case, the DCS caseworker had placed Stevie Milburn in the home of Susan and Todd Randolph for the weekend. The Randolphs lived two doors down from the Milburns.
The judge found that Murray believed Stevie Milburn's claims that her father, Chris Milburn, had brutally raped and beaten her, that he had a history of domestic violence, and that Murray had seen a previous DCS investigation note that said he "acts like a pedophile" around his daughter.
But Murray failed to put a "no contact" order in place, did not warn the Randolphs about the seriousness of the allegations against Chris Milburn, or complete the required written agreement and instructions to be given to temporary caretakers, the judge found. The judge also found Murray had filled out the necessary forms the day after the shootings.
The judge noted Murray had offered conflicting testimony during the trial about what she had advised the Randolphs to do. Murray said twice in a pre-trial interview that she had told the Randolphs to keep the girl's father away from her, but during the trial Murray acknowledged she told the Randolphs that visits were OK if one of them was present.
When asked on the witness stand whether she agreed her trial testimony was significantly different from her pre-trial deposition, Murray responded, "It may be to you."
Murray testified she failed to answer the Randolphs' calls seeking advice on what to do. She said at one point she had left her cellphone at work, and at another point that she noticed missed calls on her phone from Saturday night and Sunday morning. But she did not return those calls, the judge noted.
The judge found DCS liable for the maximum damages allowable for acts of negligence: $300,000 in the death of Stevie Milburn, $300,000 in the death of Todd Randolph and $275,000 for critical injuries sustained by Susan Randolph.