Senator to review Lawhorn CPS findings

Jamarion Lawhorn. (Undated courtesy photo)

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A state senator whose committee oversees the state’s child welfare agency plans to review the findings of an investigation that found mistakes in the handling of the Jamarion Lawhorn abuse case.

Anita Lawhorn and Bernard Harrold in court for allegations they abused Lawhorn's son Jamarion. (Oct. 2014)
(Anita Lawhorn and Bernard Harrold in court in October.)

Lawhorn, 12, was allegedly the victim of abuse at the hands of his mom Anita Lawhorn and stepdad Bernard Harrold months before he stabbed 9-year-old Connor Verkerke to death in a Kentwood playground in August.

“I can’t imagine the pain, for both families and the communities as well, especially this time of year,” Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, told Target 8. “And to think that maybe there was something we should have done better or could have done to  make sure that something like this doesn’t happen again, that’s our priority.”

The state Office of Children’s Ombudsman last week reported that Kent County Children’s Protective Services made mistakes in how it handled the Lawhorn case, including breaking the state Child Protection Law.

That finding followed a Target 8 investigation that raised questions about how Kent County CPS dealt with abuse of Jamarion.

The biggest mistake: CPS failed to take steps to terminate the Anita Lawhorn’s parental rights in 2013 — as required by law — after substantiating allegations that she had abused Jamarion and had, years earlier, lost other children over abuse.

Connor Verkerke.
(Connor Verkerke.)

Instead, the state sent Jamarion to live with his dad in New York and reportedly was unaware he returned. Months later, on Aug. 4, Jamarion stabbed Connor Verkerke to death for no reason other than that he wanted to die himself.

It was only after the stabbing that CPS filed papers to terminate Anita Lawhorn’s rights to four children, including Jamarion.

When police arrested Jamarion, they found he was covered with scars. They also found he was living in a “deplorable” home with no utilities, no sheets or blankets on the beds, cocaine paraphernalia in the bathroom and little food in the kitchen, court records show.

The ombudsman’s report led the Michigan Department of Human Services to promise to change its statewide computer system so it automatically notifies workers whenever they’re required by state law to file termination papers.

Emmons, who chairs the Senate Families, Seniors and Human Services Committee, vowed in August to hold a hearing shortly after Target 8’s investigation. That has so far not happened.

“Our time kind of got away from us and we wanted to make sure that our ombudsman had time to complete their investigation and their report as well,” Emmons said.

Emmons said she plans to review the ombudsman’s report and discuss it with DHS officials to determine if this should lead to legislation. She said it could lead to a hearing.

“That should be our No. 1 priority, to make sure they’re safe, and if that is a process that needs to be altered to make sure that happens, then we need to have that discussion,” she said.

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