Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2001 /15 Shevat, 5761
Child-protection chief in grad
PLYMOUTH, Ind. | The director of the Marshall
County Division of Family and Children -- the
agency involved in the case of the 6-year-old
boy who was tortured by his father, Joseph
Grad, and Grad's then-wife, Carmen -- has been
Throughout our reporting on the case of the torture of the boy, official
spokesmen for the State of Indiana consistently said that the children's
protective agency in Marshall County was doing its job professionally and
But now the director of the county agency -- Stephen Neff -- has been
removed by James Hmurovich, state director of the Indiana Division of
Family and Children.
Hmurovich told us in an interview:
"We have determined after an investigation that there was a total breakdown
of our agency in Marshall County. It was so significant and so severe that we
had no choice but to remove Mr. Neff from his position.
"After our investigation of our division in Marshall County, I would not be
able to say to the citizens there that their children were safe. To me, that
means they weren't safe."
Readers of this column may recall that the 6-year-old Marshall County child
about whom we reported was locked repeatedly inside a lightless 2
1/2-foot-by-3-foot bathroom broom closet for 24 hours at a time, was
chained so that he could not sit down, was forced to eat food coated with
burning sauce, was deprived of liquids. When the child lost control of his
bowels, his captors would open the closet and rub his feces into his face.
Joseph and Carmen Grad looped heavy chains under the boy's arms to
prevent him from lying down in the closet for even a moment's rest. Kept out
of school so that virtually no one outside his home even knew he was alive,
the boy would wet himself when his bladder overflowed -- and then Joseph
Grad would open the closet and urinate on the child.
The Marshall County Division of Family and Children was called to the Grad
home when an alert deputy sheriff in Kentucky -- Todd Pate -- learned of the
torture, and contacted law-enforcement authorities in Marshall County. But
the caseworker told Marshall County Sgt. Gary Dunlap that the agency "did
not have enough to hold the child or have enough evidence to take to the
courts." The boy was left in the Grad home -- and only when Mr. and Mrs.
Grad took him out of Indiana were they arrested, and did the facts of what
was done to the boy begin to come to light.
Stephen Neff was dismissed as Marshall County director of family and
children not specifically or solely because of the Grad case -- but because of
an investigation that began after another case in Marshall County was
reported to state officials by the Chicago Tribune. We referred the case to
the highest level of Indiana government after a family in Marshall County --
fearful for the Indiana children involved in the case, unable to get Neff's
agency to investigate -- turned to a newspaper in another state for help.
(We will report on that case in the next column.)
Hmurovich said that the State of Indiana decided to conduct the most
thorough review possible of child-abuse cases assigned to the Marshall
"In my opinion, Mr. Neff stopped supervising and managing his office at some
point," Hmurovich said. "When complaints were coming in, they were not
being assigned or investigated in a timely manner. When a child may have
been in imminent danger, I cannot tell you that we were there to look into it."
Hmurovich said that safety and risk assessments for children reported to be in
danger "were not being done. They were not documented either in
computers, or in written files. In some instances, I know that nothing at all
was done. If I were a teacher grading papers, the grade I would give our
office in Marshall County would be an `F.'"
The judge in Marshall County assigned to children's protective cases --
Michael Cook -- was ill-served by the county agency, Hmurovich said,
because "by the things we brought to the attention of the judge, we gave him
the impression that we were doing things well. The judge did not know" the
true facts of some cases before him, Hmurovich said, because he was relying
on the county agency to give him accurate information.
"There is no way I can look the children of Marshall County, and their
parents, in the eyes and guarantee them that we were doing what we were
supposed to do to make sure the children were safe," Hmurovich said.
We requested an interview with Stephen Neff to discuss his dismissal, and the
allegations made against him by the state director. Neff's attorney said that
Neff declined to be interviewed; the attorney said that Neff is suing the State
of Indiana, asking to be reinstated as county director. (Indiana officials have
offered Neff another government job unrelated to the protection of children.)
Neff's attorney said that Neff is the victim of "political intimidation and
retaliation" by Hmurovich.
Hmurovich told us that Neff was removed for one reason: Doing so benefits
the protection of children in Marshall County. "My decisions focused on
children's safety, not Mr. Neff's livelihood," Hmurovich said.
Next: the case that led to the investigation in Marshall County -- and
how the Marshall County Division of Family and Children did not even know
how to locate the children it was supposed to be
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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