Kan. Lawmaker Tackles Child-Abuse Reporting After Boy’s Death

TOPEKA, Kan. (CN) – Adrian Jones was 7 years old when he succumbed to months of starvation and torture at the hands of his father and stepmother. The Kansas City, Kansas, boy’s partial remains were discovered in the family’s barn on Thanksgiving Day in 2015, where police later learned his body had been fed to pigs.

Jerry Gorman, then-Wyandotte County district attorney, said it was one of the worst things investigators had ever seen.

Adrian’s stepmother Heather Jones, 31, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last year and is currently serving a life sentence. His father Michael Jones, a 46-year-old bail bondsman, pleaded guilty to the same crime in March and was sentenced to life in prison with the chance for parole in 25 years.

The horrendous crime compelled Kansas state Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, to introduce Adrian’s Act in the Legislature on May 12. The proposed legislation would penalize adults who fail to report child abuse taking place at home.

“I’ve followed it for some time, ever since I heard about the tragedy,” Ruiz said. “It broke my heart to see such disregard for life from the mother and father.”

The family kept a system of more than 30 surveillance cameras inside and outside the home, documenting their abuse of Adrian. One video shows the boy in shackles, wearing jeans and a T-shirt on a cold January evening, trying to eat food off the ground left for him by his parents.

Adrian’s great-uncle Willie Jones, 58, was living with the family during the time the abuse took place, but never reported it to authorities. Under current Kansas law, only mandated professionals like doctors, teachers and police officers are required to report suspected child abuse. Willie was not charged in Adrian’s abuse or death.

“There were no charges brought against him,” Ruiz said. “Even though he lived in the same house, he never reported what he saw. I don’t think that’s right.”

Ruiz said he began researching states that require any individual with knowledge of child abuse to report it to authorities. With the Kansas Legislature in the second week of its wrap-up session, there is doubt as to whether Adrian’s Act will be looked at this year.

Although the proposed legislation is not in bill form yet, Ruiz said he would like to see punishment to be based on the severity of the abuse.

“In Adrian’s case, I would like to see it be a felony,” Ruiz said.

Similar laws are on the books in 18 other states, including neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Judy Conway, Adrian’s grandmother, said the proposed law is a good start.

“If we can prevent this from happening to another child, I’m all for it,” Conway said. “Too many people don’t speak out when they should.”

The Kansas Department for Children and Families had visited the Jones family previously, according to Conway. When she asked to see their files on her grandson, she discovered they had been sealed. In Kansas, such records are usually made available after a child’s death.

“I was told that (the files) were sealed due to the upcoming trials,” Conway said. “But the trials are over now and I need to know if something more could have been done.”

In a statement, Department for Children and Families secretary Phyllis Gilmore said her department “thoroughly investigated each reported incident of alleged abuse and/or neglect regarding Adrian as well as requests for information and assistance from the family while they were residing in the state.”

Conway has spoken out against Kansas home-school laws that do not require any sort of check-ins or testing. Teachers or counselors who could have checked up on Adrian might have been able to stop the abuse, Conway said.

While she has received support from the public and legislators like Ruiz, Conway said she feels like she’s being ignored by other Kansas leaders. Conway handwrote a letter regarding Adrian to Gov. Sam Brownback, hoping to hear a response.

“I didn’t receive anything,” Conway said. “Months went by and I’ve heard nothing.”

 

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