The state has reached a $2.1 million settlement with the family of a 3-year-old Tacoma boy who was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend after signs of possible abuse were reported to social workers.
Michael-Kekoa Ravenell’s father reached the agreement with the state Department of Social and Health Services on Thursday. The settlement has not yet been approved by Pierce County Superior Court.
The settlement covers the boy’s death, the loss to his father and injuries to his younger sister that were not discovered until after his death May 28, 2008.
The elder Ravenell’s attorney, Michael Pfau, said his client recognizes no settlement will bring his son back.
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“He viewed the lawsuit as necessary and the settlement as a good means to move on and focus on his daughter without forgetting his son,” Pfau said.
Kekoa, as the boy was called, died after he was hit, choked and thrown onto a bed so hard his head hit an iron rail and he lost consciousness.
Noah Thomas, who was dating Kekoa’s mother at the time, had been baby-sitting that day and told police the boy had grated on his nerves.
Thomas, now 27, pleaded guilty to homicide by abuse and was sentenced last year to 50 years in prison. He had previously been convicted of assaulting his child.
In the weeks before Kekoa’s death, his father called Child Protective Services and reported seeing a bruise near the boy’s left eye. Ravenell also noticed changes in the behavior of the boy and his sister. Two other relatives also reported signs of abuse.
A CPS investigation into those allegations was open when Kekoa was killed.
Kekoa’s father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the state last year, alleging social workers didn’t fully investigate the allegations of child abuse before the boy’s death.
The suit also contended DSHS hadn’t protected Kekoa’s sister, who also was abused. Doctors discovered she had a broken jaw that had been healing for some time after Kekoa’s death.
A state review of the boy’s death found that the social worker assigned to his case had too little experience and missed several steps while investigating the bruising reported by the boy’s father.
The review also found that the worker did not check Thomas’ background, which would have revealed the conviction. The worker had been on probation at the time and was fired.
The state agency has made changes since Kekoa’s death, officials said Friday.
Social workers and their supervisors are receiv- ing more training on how they assess the safety of children in their homes.
The training looks at whether the adults are able to protect the children and provides social workers with tips about what they are seeing in the homes, said Denise Revels Robinson, assistant secretary for Children’s Administration.
The agency also has expanded its focus on adults who have access to children. Before Kekoa’s death, social workers primarily looked at the parents.
Now, social workers examine all adults who have contact with a child, whether they live with them or are just frequent visitors, Revels Robinson said. The examination includes a background check.
“We are really paying more deliberate attention to any adult who has access to the children, even if the person does not live there every day,” Revels Robinson said. “That was a very critical lesson learned here.”
Ravenell’s attorney said the size of the settlement shows the state took responsibility for the mistakes in Kekoa’s case.
“It’s our sincere hope that they’ve made steps to rectify those,” Pfau said.
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/crime