Girl who died of abuse could have been rescued

gavel element

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas agency says it tried unsuccessfully to gain custody of an 18-month-old El Dorado girl five months before the child died from injuries and malnourishment.

The state Department for Children and Families filed an affidavit Oct. 17, 2011, with the Butler County Attorney’s Office seeking custody of the child, Jayla Haag. A Butler County prosecutor thought the state lacked evidence, according to a timeline that DCF provided to The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/1fciPp8 ).

The disclosure from DCF comes as it is facing a lawsuit from Jayla’s father accusing the state agency of failing to protect her even though the agency knew she was living in a drug house and being abused. A coroner ruled the child’s death a homicide.

Along with “multiple contusions of the head, trunk, and extremities,” the autopsy report said, Jayla’s six lower teeth had been forcibly removed. The autopsy report also said her growth had declined in the three to six months before she died, “consistent with malnutrition and neglect.”

At 18 months old, she weighed 17 pounds, about what a child half her age would normally weigh. When Jayla was admitted to the hospital, she also tested positive for methamphetamine and amphetamine.

Randy Rathbun, the lawyer bringing the lawsuit against DCF, said the agency should have done more.

“Here, there’s all this evidence that was stacked up, and for some reason nothing was happening,” Rathbun said.

Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney said the decision by an assistant prosecutor not to pursue DCF’s request to put Jayla into state custody was “the right call.”

“I would have made the same call. I believe it was responsible to make” based on information at the time, Devinney said. “Do I feel terrible that we didn’t have grounds to take this child into protective custody? Absolutely. But we can’t forecast abuse or homicide. There was just a lack of sufficient evidence.”

Devinney said of Jayla’s abuse that it appeared “things went downhill rather quickly … and extremely dramatically.”

Alyssa Haag, the girl’s 24-year-old mother, pleaded guilty to reckless involuntary manslaughter in her death. Haag is in a Topeka prison and could be released as early as March 2015.

In September 2012, a Butler County judge dismissed a first-degree murder charge against Justin Edwards, Haag’s boyfriend, because Jayla’s autopsy had not been completed then. Devinney said at the time that a murder charge could be re-filed after he received a completed autopsy report with a finding on a cause of death.

With Edwards in prison for the drug case and possibly due out in late August, Devinney said last week he has time to complete a thorough investigation and possibly re-file a charge against Edwards in Jayla’s death.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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