Suspensions for DHS workers in Lawhorn case

Jamarion Lawhorn. (Undated courtesy photo)


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — At least two Department of Human Services workers have been disciplined for their inaction in the case of a 12-year-old Kentwood boy accused of stabbing a 9-year-old to death.

In December, a Target 8 investigation found the state failed to remove Jamarion Lawhorn from his abusive home about a year before the homicide.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, 24 Hour News 8 obtained employment files and discipline records for two Children’s Protective Services employees.

The records show both were given five-day suspensions without pay and ordered to take additional training. Both suspensions list ‘Neglect of Duty’ as the reason for the discipline.

The state found the CPS employees failed to notify law enforcement, a requirement under the law, to signs of abuse on Jamarion, who was 11 at the time.

The files also indicated CPS workers dropped the ball when it came to interviewing other children in his mother Anita Lawhorn’s care.

Following Target 8’s December investigation, the state watchdog Office of Children’s Ombudsman found DHS made mistakes including violating the state’s Child Protection Law by not removing him from his mother’s care in 2013.

Connor Verkerke.
(Connor Verkerke.)

Jamarion is accused of stabbing 9-year-old Connor Verkerke to death on a Kentwood playground less than a year later. He was still living with his mother and her husband — both of whom now face charges for allegedly abusing him — at the time. Court documents say Jamarion admitted to the Aug. 4, 2014 stabbing and said he did it because he wanted to die and take someone with him.

Prompted by the Target 8 Investigation, the Ombudsman forced changes to ensure CPS and its workers follow the law.

In an email to 24 Hour News 8, DHS spokesman Bob Wheaton said confidentiality laws prevent the agency from commenting on personnel matters.

Wheaton did discuss changes made in the wake of the Ombudsman report.

All Children’s Services supervisors and first-line staff were provided mandatory training on child safety planning and assessment; policy regarding instances in which it is mandatory to file petitions for termination of parental rights; and coordinating investigations with the Center for Child Protection, law enforcement and prosecutors, Wheaton said.

The supervisor and worker who were involved in Jamarion’s case received additional training.

Wheaton said actions taken statewide included providing reminders of the mandatory termination requirements to all child welfare supervisors during a monthly teleconference update from the CPS program office. Mandatory petition requirements are part of the training now being provided to all child welfare staff members.

Wheaton says the training is mandatory. Staff members must attend sessions by December.

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