April 27, 2005 in City

DeLeon sought help from high place

By The Spokesman-Review
 

When Mayor Jim West was a state senator in 2002, a top aide from his office intervened with Child Protective Services on behalf of a woman now under investigation in the death of her 7-year-old adopted son.

Brian Murray, a Senate aide to West at the time, told a social worker “he thought that (Carole Ann DeLeon) was a nice person and it was a shame that some ‘scum-bags’ have lots of children and we limit her,” according to CPS documents released this week.

Murray, who later became a state senator, said he never met DeLeon and only spoke with her on the phone. He said it was common for West’s office to respond to calls from constituents.

“It was always a priority to call the agency and find out what was going on,” said Murray, now a real estate agent in Spokane.

A city spokeswoman said the mayor was in Washington, D.C., and unavailable for comment.

DeLeon, who works as a paralegal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Spokane, and her 28-year-old daughter, Christina Burns-DeLeon, are suspects in the death of 7-year-old Tyler DeLeon, according to a Stevens County Sheriff’s Office report. Neither has been charged criminally, and the final cause of death has not been released.

An initial finding from the medical examiner’s office said Tyler, who reportedly had the flu, was severely dehydrated when he died Jan. 13, according to court records.

The state’s Department of Social and Health Services revoked DeLeon’s foster license April 8, stating that any child in her care “would be at high risk of abuse or neglect,” according to a copy of the letter. The agency also cited a 1988 sheriff’s report on a foster girl in DeLeon’s care who had bruises on her face and thigh and string marks on her wrists and was “very thin and was dehydrated,” according to the letter.

DeLeon’s attorney, Carl Oreskovich, did not return a phone call to his office Tuesday afternoon.

Murray said he based his impressions of DeLeon on a phone call with her, but he did not meet her and he “couldn’t pick her out of a lineup.” He said he did not remember the details of the phone call to the state agency.

West’s office contacted the agency in September 2002, one month after the region’s licensing supervisor blocked the placement of another child in DeLeon’s home because the home did not comply with state capacity guidelines, according to CPS documents.

According to state law, a single caretaker may only have four children. DeLeon was caring for six children at the time, according to CPS documents.

Penelope Oliver, the regional licensing supervisor for foster homes in Eastern Washington, said the agency allowed DeLeon to continue to care for the children and did not immediately remove any children. Instead, the agency gradually reduced the number of children in DeLeon’s care to comply with the law, Oliver said.

The regional office received administrative approval to keep the children at home, citing DeLeon’s “excellent parenting skills,” according to a Nov. 18, 2002, document.

“It is not in the best interest of these children to disrupt their current placement,” according to the document.

Oliver said the decision had been made before Murray’s phone call. At the time, West served as the Senate minority leader.

Oliver said she has occasionally received other calls from legislative offices about individual cases, “but I wouldn’t say it’s an everyday occurrence.” She said she does not remember receiving any other phone calls from West’s office.

Murray said he did not recall making the “scumbag” statement.

“That doesn’t sound familiar,” he said. “Maybe the caseworker had bad notes. I don’t know.”

Oliver said she believed the notes are accurate.

“That’s not a word I use,” Oliver said. “I can’t imagine making it up. The fact I put it in quotes indicates someone said it to me.”


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