Expert finds JCPS broken leg case was abuse
A pediatric abuse expert has concluded that "near-fatal child abuse" caused the two shattered femurs that a 16-year-old student with autism suffered in 2014 at a Jefferson County public school and is urging police to further investigate the life-threatening injuries that occurred when the boy was physically restrained by a teacher's assistant.
The injuries are "consistent with an acute physical assault," said a report this week by Dr. Melissa Currie, chief of pediatric forensic medicine at the University of Louisville.
Meanwhile, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad has launched an "administrative review" of the department's investigation, which Brian and Kim Long, the parents of the injured boy, Brennan Long, have criticized as inadequate and incomplete. The Longs have called on Louisville police to reopen the investigation.
Police spokeswoman Alicia Smiley said Tuesday the department would have no comment while its Professional Standards Unit reviews the case.
The Courier-Journal, which first reported the injuries earlier this year, reported last week that Louisville police initially declined to investigate the case. Police supervisors instead sought to refer it to school officials and only assigned a detective to it after Currie protested and school security staff said Louisville police should handle it.
Currie, in an Aug. 13 update to her initial report on the case, also calls for authorities to investigate "the culture at Binet School" – the school for disabled children where Brennan was injured – after receiving allegations of excessive restraint, a "code of silence" and other problems.
"While the latter may or may not be a law enforcement issue, it is clearly an issue of child safety going forward," her report said.
In her report, Currie said staff accounts that the boy was restrained using an approved technique to safely manage students "is without question an implausible explanation" of the injuries the boy suffered.
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Investigations by Louisville Metro Police, state child protection officials and Jefferson County Public Schools failed to explain the injuries or substantiate abuse. No one was charged in the case, and the teaching assistant involved in the restraint – who was temporarily suspended – has returned to work at Binet.
Currie's initial report from last year said her office did not have enough information from the investigations to reach a conclusion about the cause of the injuries.
But in her updated report, Currie cited the analysis of a U of L biomedical engineer who found that more than 500 pounds of pressure per leg would have been required to fracture each femur, the longest and strongest bone in the human body. She also noted police may not have interviewed all witnesses.
"Our team respectfully requests that law enforcement pursue interviews of any additional witnesses in order to gain a better understanding of what happened in the classroom that day," Currie's report said.
Metro Council member David James, a retired Louisville police detective who is chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said he believes the case deserves more attention.
"I believe the police department needs to re-investigate the case," said James, who has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience. "It appears that a student was injured and it appears that the police department may not have done all they should have done."
James said if police officials aren't interested in further investigation, he may take the matter up at a future Public Safety Committee meeting.
JCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Brislin reiterated earlier comments, saying that the incident was thoroughly investigated by three independent agencies and that "JCPS personnel cooperated with authorities and provided information to investigators."
Currie's findings are likely to rekindle the debate over the 2014 injuries to Brennan that have never been explained.
"We are encouraged that physical evidence and scientific facts are no longer being ignored," the Longs said in a statement. "Truth enables accountability and the investigative authorities to this point have not pursued the truth."
JCPS paid the Long family $1.75 million this year over Brennan's injuries. But his parents said they are still determined to find out what happened to their son and to advocate on behalf of other children, especially those with special needs.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Education has announced a review of JCPS student-restraint practices and how the district documents such restraints. State Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt, in a July 20 letter to JCPS, cited discrepancies in reporting restraints and the injuries to Brennan as among his concerns in calling for the review.
Currie's updated report includes a reference to a letter from a former Binet teacher that laid out concerns at that school.
Patty Card, who taught part time at Binet from 2005 through 2008 after she retired as a special education teacher for JCPS, wrote a letter to Currie in May saying she was "horrified by what I saw" while working at Binet.
In her letter, Card said Binet had a "code of silence" when it came to reporting possible issues at that school – a phrase that internal auditors used in a report in May that looked at how JCPS reports the use of seclusion and restraint in schools.
She also detailed an issue she said she saw eight or nine years ago at the school where staff used a bus restraint harness to put a child on a bus for a "time out" in 85-degree heat. She said she saw staff standing outside the bus while the child was restrained inside and that the child wore a bus restraint "the entire school day."
Card, who said she taught special education students for 27 years at various JCPS schools before working at Binet, said in an interview that she remains troubled by what she witnessed at the school, particularly frequent physical restraints she said weren't necessary.
"I was horrified and nobody would listen to me," said Card, who said she repeatedly tried to bring problems to the attention of supervisors.
Brislin, the JCPS spokeswoman, called Card's assertions "baseless allegations from a disgruntled employee who was not rehired by the school."
The issue of student restraints at Binet also came up during a Nov. 25, 2014, interview with Seth Stillman, Brennan's teacher at Binet, by Louisville Detective Eric Boswell, who was investigating the case. Stillman told Boswell that Binet students were frequently physically restrained, up to 10 times a day at the school for about 80 children.
"We go hands-on every single day," Stillman said, according to records of the investigation.
Contact reporter Deborah Yetter at (502)582-4228 or at email@example.com and reporter Allison Ross at (502)582-4241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.