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Fired Family Services worker wins arbitration

An arbitrator has ruled in favor of a Clark County Family Services employee who was fired in connection with the department’s handling of a hotline call warning that a 7-year-old boy was being abused two days before the boy died.

Family Services employee Jadon Davis was fired for not following hotline policies. The county announced the firing in January. However, an arbitrator has ruled in his favor, according to an email that Family Services Director Lisa Ruiz-Lee sent to county commissioners on Friday. County officials on Friday were unable to say when Davis will return to work or how much back pay he’s owed.

Seven-year-old Roderick “RJ” Arrington died on Nov. 30, 2012. Las Vegas police say his stepfather, Markiece Palmer, 35, beat him for lying about reading a Bible verse.

Officials at the boy’s school suspected abuse and called the Family Services hotline. But no one showed up to investigate and RJ went home, where police say he was whipped and beaten by his stepfather and mother, Dina Palmer, 27. Both face charges of first-degree murder and child abuse in connection with the case which is set to go to trial in December in Clark County District Court.

“As you will recall we did multiple reviews of this case, including convening a special multidisciplinary child death review with our State, public safety, and education partners,” Ruiz-Lee wrote in the email to county commissioners. “We ultimately determined the hotline and CPS Policies were sound and effectively protected children, if followed by staff.”

The Clark County Department of Family Services has previously acknowledged some of its staff failed to follow policies in the matter.

In a statement, the county department on Friday said reviews of staff conduct and management of the matter showed “egregious errors” at the hotline level concerning information collection and the assignment of response times. Officials also stressed that all hotline and child protective policies and procedures are adequate for child safety when followed.

“We stand by the original decision to take disciplinary action against this particular employee and are evaluating the arbitration findings to determine appropriate next steps,” the statement said.

The county didn’t elaborate Friday on what those “appropriate next steps” may be.

“I am greatly disheartened by this decision,” Ruiz-Lee said in a prepared statement. “Not only did this finding disregard our decision making, it also returned the employee to us with no disciplinary action in place. As an agency, we are responsible for protecting our community’s most vulnerable population. Our department policies must be followed to help us do exactly that.”

County Commissioner Susan Brager said she didn’t participate in the arbitration process so she doesn’t know what the decision was based on. Family Services looked at its internal processes and Ruiz-Lee took the incident very seriously, Brager said.

“It’s a horrific situation,” she said of the boy’s death. “Hopefully everyone learns from this situation and this never happens again.”

Donna Coleman, co-founder of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance and longtime child advocate, said the system needs more accountability, adding that the problem “runs deeper.”

“If a doctor in the emergency room didn’t know what he was doing, would you let that doctor go back to the emergency room?” she asked.”There’s no accountability. If he is not going to take responsibility, then who is?”

Coleman questioned whether Davis’ supervisors were also held responsible in the incident.

“Maybe a (supervisor) had a chance to take a different course of action and they didn’t,” she said. “So the real question is what was on the minds of these other people?”

In recent years, problems were identified in the Family Services’ hotline area, she said. In 2006, county officials found that the hotline system needed attention and hired a child welfare consultant to address the issues, which included under-staffing.

“My fear is that they learned nothing from this experience to prevent a recurrence,” Coleman said. “Every time there’s a child death, we have the same (response) from Family Services: ‘We are going to make sure this doesn’t happen again.’”

Bill Grimm, senior attorney for the California-based National Center for Youth Law, said it’s the agency’s responsibility to make sure its workers are trained. He questions whether the agency’s policies are up to date, and whether they help guide hotline workers to make the right decisions.

“You really have to learn the particulars,” he said, questioning how much of the problem lies with the agency versus the individual.

County payroll records for 2012 list Davis as a full-time employee who earned a base annual salary of $53,892.83 and a benefits package of $24,295.04.

Contact reporter Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.

Contact reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-405-9781. Follow him on Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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