Tuesday, December 7, 2010

State releases records in baby's death at meth lab; newspapers seek more

UPDATE, Dec. 8: The judge yesterday ordered the state to give him all the records on the case by 10 a.m. today, along with a document list to give the newspapers. He said he would decide what records to make public. For a detailed story by the Herald-Leader's Beth Musgrave, click here.

A toddler who died last year at a methamphetamine lab near Monticello drank drain cleaner, which is used in making meth, according to records released by order of Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Tuesday.

Attorneys for the Herald-Leader and the Courier-Journal are asking Judge Shepherd to hold the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services in contempt and to force it to release additional records related to the child's death still being held under seal.

The Herald-Leader had filed suit under the state's Open Records Act after the cabinet refused to release details in the death of 20-month-old Kayden Branham, right. The boy's father, Bryan Daniels, was charged with murder, and along with several others, with making meth. That trial is scheduled for January. Both the toddler and his mother, Alisha Branham, were under the supervision of the state system for abused and neglected children at the time of his death.

Both newspapers reported the records it received under Judge Shepherd's court order were incomplete, and some information contained in documents that were released had been redacted by the cabinet.

"The Herald-Leader strongly believes that the state should produce all records in this case, including any that reflect the cabinet's contact with the family and its conduct prior to Kayden's death," Editor Peter Baniak said in the newspaper's story. "Without such transparency, there is no way for the public to assess whether the state child-welfare system appropriately handled this case. That's why we took this case to court in the first place."

“They have not given us nearly all the records the judge ordered them to give us,” said Jon Fleischaker, a lawyer for The Courier-Journal. “I think there are major problems with their attempt to comply with the court order.”

In ordering the records released, Shepherd wrote, "It is not unwarranted for the public, and the press, to want to know what happened when a 20-month-old child in the care and legal custody of the Commonwealth of Kentucky winds up dead after drinking toxic substances in a meth lab."

For the full story in the Herald-Leader, go here. The Courier-Journal's story is here.

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