State expands investigation into seventh child death

State officials looking into the deaths of six children who had been under the care of the Department of Children's Services' Shelby County office expanded their investigation Friday to include an infant who died earlier this week. Eight-month-old Dewayne Butler died of head trauma Tuesday at LeBonheur Children's Medical Center in Memphis, according to department spokeswoman Carla Aaron. He had been taken there earlier in the day, she said.

In April, the DCS Shelby County regional office had received two reports of abuse involving the baby but closed the case the next month calling the reports unfounded, Aaron said. "There was contact made with the (Butler) families and we're looking into the extent of those investigations," she said. Aaron said she believed homicide investigators were looking into Butler's death. A call to the Memphis Police Department was not immediately returned. DCS Commissioner Mike Miller was in Memphis on Thursday and Friday - along with more than a dozen members of his staff - to look into the child deaths and familiarize himself with the office operations. He said in a written statement that he was "profoundly disturbed by tragic outcome of the situation. "What we learn from this death and from the review of the Shelby County office will provide the information for change and improve our ability to protect children," he said.

The Shelby County office came under scrutiny this spring after a state audit was critical of the way taxpayer money was spent. Allegations then were made to Tennessee lawmakers and The Associated Press that the regional administrator also had tried to keep quiet the deaths of at least six children in homes where DCS child protective services workers had investigated abuse reports. The Shelby County administrator, Juanita White, has denied wrongdoing and declined repeated requests to talk to the AP. Former DCS workers said the cases were closed quickly and without adequate investigation, and that they weren't reported to local media. On Friday, the department issued a news release about Butler's death. Miller, who took office in January with the new Bredesen administration, said Thursday that he expects to issue a report on the department's investigation within two to three weeks.

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