Doe, the children’s maternal grandfather, was outraged. He testified that what the state saw as abuse, he saw as innocent issues he had witnessed firsthand. He also believed the state agency was employing storm-trooper-type tactics and was intent on taking his grandchildren away from their parents when they had done nothing wrong.
Bell’s audit was completed by early December 2011. The audit was then sent to DHS to await its response to questions and concerns identified in the audit. The state’s petition for custody of Doe’s grandchildren—held up, according to court testimony, due to the daughter and her husband’s increasing lack of cooperation with DCFS investigators and court orders—went to trial almost to the day when DHS sent its final response to the audit, in mid-January 2012.
Doe testified that a week before he took the stand, Bell told him he “had what he thought was the smoking gun, which proved my daughter’s innocence. This [hearing] should have never started in the first place, and he was shocked that we were sitting here right now. But [Bell] said, ‘I can’t interfere,’ and the audit has been effectively buried.”
No such evidence, however, was introduced to the court.
Business as Usual
Department of Human Services chief Palmer DePaulis scoffs at the notion the audit was buried, since, he says, DHS, which oversees DCFS, responded to the audit. DHS disagreed with all of the findings, except for one, upon which they had “previously identified the need for clarification.”
DePaulis declined to expand on his agency’s response. While the audit looked at specific practices by his agency, the audit is case-related. “We can’t talk about a case, we can’t share those details,” he said.
As to the audit’s findings, he says, “either we were doing what they were recommending or the recommendations were off-base,” he says. “Audits happen, and we respond.” Unless his department agrees with an audit’s findings, “it does not influence how we run our cases,” and such was the case with Bell’s.
The only copy of the audit DHS has is the one provided to the agency by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office after City Weekly submitted a records request to DePaulis’ agency. DHS spokesperson Sollis confirmed that all other versions of the audit had either been returned to the auditors or shredded. Whether it is normal practice for the audited agency to either return or destroy all copies they have of the audit was a question DHS referred to the auditors. Lead auditor David Pulsipher did not respond to several requests for an interview.
John Schaff is the auditor general of Utah. He heads up a 27-person-strong staff that handles audits requested by legislators or a committee. In addition, individual state agencies have their own internal audit groups. “It is my understanding the lieutenant governor had some concerns and took an auditor from the Department of Corrections and an auditor from the Department of the Inspector General’s office and had them do some work for him,” Schaff says.
Bell’s assignment of three auditors to the DCFS case “was not business as usual,” Schaff says. “Usually, audits are assigned through a carefully orchestrated methodology; our [legislative] committee would assign our audits.”
But, at the same time, “it’s not unusual to say […] let’s help the governor out, he asked for an audit, he wants independence. It’s all about trying to get the best information.”
Two of the three auditors Bell selected are well known to Schaff; he says they “have strong credibility” as auditors. He trained Bell’s audit team leader David Pulsipher, who heads up the Department of Corrections’ internal audit team.
While the audits from Schaff’s office are subject to a random peer review from auditors outside of the state every three years, who, if anyone, reviews audits such as the one Bell had done is a good question, Schaff says.
Not in My Family
The audit fieldwork ran from July 2011 to September 2011. The auditors spoke to six DCFS workers, two attorneys at the Attorney General’s Office and attorneys and experts on the specific type of abuse at the heart of the case. They also interviewed seven caseworkers from four surrounding states to see how other states approach the abuse.
Even though Bell had ordered an audit on one of Gov. Herbert’s own state agencies, DePaulis says caseworkers would have no reason to be worried about an audit looking into a case they are simultaneously working on. He puts his hand on DCFS director Brett Platt’s forearm. “This man would direct his caseworkers and staff that they should not be concerned about anything to do with an audit,” DePaulis says.
“We have their back,” Platt adds, noting that his workers “are used to living in a fishbowl.” They have to ignore the ill will their work can generate and “focus on the status of the case.” Whether it’s a family who referred allegations against someone—only to see no prosecution take place—or a family who finds itself the subject of an investigation, state services geared around protecting children inevitably generate tension, controversy and anger.
In the case of Doe’s daughter, the family became increasingly difficult for DCFS to work with. Judge Andrus ordered in August 2011 that the children be medically evaluated and the parents psychologically evaluated. Neither set of evaluations occurred, because, according to court testimony, the family, their attorney and the state could not agree on evaluators. Then, when evaluators were appointed, the parents failed to make or keep appointments to be evaluated.
The parents also began secretly taping the DCFS workers when they interviewed the children. Those interviews were supposed to be confidential. “After it was discovered the conversations were being recorded, the kids have been very closed off, unwilling to speak to us candidly,” one of the investigators told the court.
Lori Findeis, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in working with children who have been abused, acknowledges that there is a societal perception that child abuse “couldn’t happen in a nice family,” particularly in a family that is part of the social majority. Within any group that shares the same belief system, “it’s more difficult to believe someone you know and trust, who has the same moral values that you do, could perpetrate a crime such as child abuse.”
That disbelief can sometimes place abused children in a difficult position. What one DCFS investigator later told Andrus’ court with regard to a specific concern her agency had, might well speak for the entire investigation. “I believe [the children] love their mother and father very much and would feel torn on whether or not to report [whether their parents were complying with court orders].
When the audit was finished, Doe recalled, Bell had told him, “ ‘I don’t believe this.’ He said, ‘I’m being told there’s some very gross improprieties by DCFS in this whole matter.’ ”
Two days later, back on the stand, Doe repeated to Assistant Attorney General Thompson his recollections of Bell’s condemnation of the DCFS case based on his audit’s findings.
“Do you have anything to substantiate what you’re talking about?” Assistant Attorney General Thompson asked Doe.
“Greg’s word,” he replied.
Thompson asked Doe if he was aware DCFS had initiated its own audit of the case. He said he was not.
That audit had revealed that DCFS had, in fact, made a mistake—albeit not one that Bell’s auditors had caught—namely, they had failed to report the case to law enforcement.
Sweet Innocent Children
At the hearing, Assistant Attorney General Thompson represented the state and attorney Steve C. Russell appeared for the parents. Dr. Lori Frasier from Primary Children’s Hospital, an expert on child abuse, testified that she reviewed the documents of the case and found that abuse had occurred.
On Jan. 13, 2012, the third day of the hearing, Thompson announced that the parents had agreed to plead no contest to the charges of abuse by the mother and neglect by the father in failing to protect his children.
Five days later, Thompson told Andrus that she had been contacted by Bell’s office. Bell was a friend of the defendants’ family, she told Andrus. “The state was confronted [by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office] about whether or not the parents have voluntarily entered those pleas” of no contest.
That was because during the first days of trial, an investigator for the Davis County District Attorney’s Office was sitting in the back of court. Russell was concerned that “the evidence developed in these proceedings could be used” against his clients.
Regardless, the parents told Andrus their plea deal was of their own volition.
The judge now had the fate of the children in his hands. He could rule for them to stay with the parents, relatives of the parents, or he could place them in a foster home or an institution.
On the stand, Doe acknowledged that he believed, even after his daughter and son-in-law had pleaded no contest, that they had done nothing wrong. “We’re pretty straightforward here. We know right from wrong. Truth from lie.” He criticized the state’s handling of the cases. The things being said by DCFS staffers “were in some cases lies, in some cases distortion of the fact.” But either way, “The kids are sweet, innocent children. They don’t deserve what [the state is] trying to do.” He was mature enough, he added, “to draw a line and move on.”
On Jan. 20, 2012, Andrus ruled on the case. He criticized the parents for deciding that “their concerns trumped a court order.” He was particularly irritated by the mother. She knew “I wanted to monitor her behavior,” and yet she had done “exactly the kind of behavior that was concerning, and that she was accused of. Frankly, the mom just doesn’t get it.”
He labeled the mother “manipulative” and found that her children had endured abuse “they shouldn’t have had to go through.” So, he concluded, the children would be removed from the family and placed in DCFS custody.
Love and Bias
In the end, Greg Bell’s audit did not change the course of standard DCFS case management. Though no one interviewed would say it on the record, the pressure from above could have derailed the investigation. Given its timing and that it came from the second-highest executive office in Utah—it easily could have intimidated and kept DCFS from doing its job.
In his final comments, Andrus referred to one of the grandparents lying to a doctor about an affidavit. People get emotionally involved in a case, “not because they are bad or evil,” he noted, but rather driven by “zeal and the emotion of feeling, ‘Gee, there’s a wrong that has been done, and I need to right it.’ ”
The end result, however, was that “In this case, that love and that bias gets in the way of the truth.”