The Tennessee Conservative [By Kelly M. Jackson] –
In September of 2021 23-month-old Vincent Carter was brought into the emergency room via ambulance, after his foster mother Debra Barnes, stated that he was unresponsive because the infant had ingested and was “choking on a thick hair product” that she said was all over his mouth and face.
Reports indicate an extensive examination by intensive care physicians, which is where the child was taken after life saving measures were implemented, revealed that Vincent had “extreme swelling and bleeding to the rear of his brain.”
Vincent Carter died 3 days later. According to a medical examiner’s report acquired by local media, shows 2-year-old Vincent dying of multiple blunt force injuries to the head and neck.
His injuries were allegedly inflicted by his foster mother, who had been a caregiver with the state for 26 years. She committed suicide 2 days after being accused of the child’s death.
This story is significant, because if HB1695 passes into law, many more cases like that of little Vincent Carter, may never be fully known to the public, leaving the Department of Children’s Services in the state of Tennessee with the ability to conceal the facts of these kinds of cases from public consumption. And of course, accountability.
The bill, originally carried in the special session this past spring by Representative William Lamberth (R-D-44-Portland) and State Senator Jack Johnson (R-D27-Franklin), is now being carried by Representative Rebecca Alexander (R-D7-Jonesborough) and State Senator Shane Reeves (R-D14-Bedford, Cannon, Moore, & Rutherford Counties).
The summary text of the bill reads: “Autopsies – As introduced, specifies that reports of county medical examiners and autopsy reports of victims of violent crime who are minors are not public documents; allows a parent or legal guardian of a minor victim of a violent crime to consent to the release of the report of the county medical examiner or autopsy report of the minor victim if the parent or legal guardian is not a suspect in the circumstances of the minor’s death. – Amends TCA Title 10, Chapter 7; Title 38; Title 39 and Title 40.”
As the law currently reads, all reports of the county medical examiners, toxicological reports, and autopsy reports are public documents, without exception.
The bill, if made law, will add a caveat to any of those documents that pertain to minors who are the victims of violent crimes and will exclude them from public consumption with two new exceptions.
The exceptions enumerated in the bill are:
(1) The minor’s parent or legal guardian is not a suspect in the circumstances of the minor’s death and the parent or legal guardian consents to the release; or
(2) A court orders the release of the report upon a showing of good cause.
In other words, these documents will always be excluded from public access so long as the suspected responsible party for the death is not the parent or legal guardian of the child, and the parents or legal guardians’ consent to the records being made public.
Considering the State of Tennessee is the legal guardian of all children in foster care, any death while in the system is automatically suspect until an investigation is done to ensure all safety protocols were followed.
This fact alone would immediately disqualify any documents pertaining to that death as public documents, and therefore, inaccessible by media outlets that would then have the ability to expose possible negligence that led to the harm of the child.
Kids like Vincent could possibly never receive justice, unless someone went to court and filed for the ability to have access to the reports while investigations are being conducted, or to know if investigations are being conducted.
This process would be time consuming and costly.
The presumptive motivation for this legislative effort, which first saw the light of day during special session this past spring just after the shooting at Covenant School, is the parents of the victims of that crime are endeavoring to keep their child’s records from being made public.
However, if this legislation is passed, there are farther reaching implications that perhaps have not been considered for kids like Vincent – kids in the state’s foster care system.
Kids who would deserve justice just as much as any other child who is a victim of a violent crime. The latest data show that there are currently just over 9,000 children in the state’s foster care system.
Recent reports indicate the state has issues with being able to fully staff DCS, with a turnover rate that jumped from 16% in 2018, to 56% by July of 2022.
If you have an opinion for your those on the committee who will be reviewing this bill, you can click this link to take action.
HB1695 is being presented at 4:30 pm Tuesday 2/6 before the House Public Service Subcommittee.
About the Author: Kelly Jackson is a recent escapee from corporate America, and a California refugee to Tennessee. Christ follower, Wife and Mom of three amazing teenagers. She has a BA in Comm from Point Loma Nazarene University, and has a background in law enforcement and human resources. Since the summer of 2020, she has spent any and all free time in the trenches with local grassroots orgs, including Mom’s for Liberty Williamson County and Tennessee Stands as a core member. Outspoken advocate for parents rights, medical freedom, and individual liberty. Kelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.