Greenville child welfare case ‘slipped through the cracks’

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 12:30 am on Saturday, December 31, 2011

STANTON — The Michigan Department of of Human Services (DHS) placed one of its supervisors on paid leave for three months after an incident involving Montcalm County Juvenile Court.
Susan Greenfelder, the former child protective services supervisor for Montcalm County DHS in Stanton, was placed on paid suspension June 9 and removed from suspension Sept. 9. She received her hourly wage of $27.10 throughout the three-month suspension.
DHS Services Program Manager 15 Linda Needham claimed Greenfelder “compromised her integrity due to her desire to travel to Traverse City for the weekend,” causing “a breakdown of trust and credibility,” according to a DHS document.
However, Greenfelder’s attorney, Robert G. Huber of Lansing, said his client “got flamed” by her own supervisors for following orders.
Greenfelder, a five-year employee of DHS, has since transferred to another DHS office in Traverse City. DHS officials have declined to return repeated messages seeking comment.
The Daily News obtained a copy of Greenfelder’s personnel file and disciplinary and grievance file with a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Child abuse
DHS received a March 2 complaint about physical abuse and prescription medication abuse involving two young siblings. DHS official Nicole Luster — who was a new DHS employee and still on probation — visited a Greenville apartment on March 3, where an 11-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl were living with their mother and a registered sex offender.
DHS received a second complaint March 5 about sexual abuse at the home. Luster visited the apartment again on March 10 after making numerous attempts to contact the children’s mother.
According to later court testimony from Luster, “The living conditions of the home are unsafe for the children, debris is scattered throughout the home, animal fecal matter and urine is on the floors of the residence, clothes are strewn throughout the home, dirty dishes are in the sink with murky-colored liquid and some sort of bugs are swarming around in the kitchen.”
Luster reported the mother was aware the boy was being sexually abused by other men in the home. The mother also was sharing prescription medications with others and the children were aware of this.
Luster reported she offered DHS services to the mother, who appeared to have mental health issues. The mother refused.
Luster was involved in a car accident on April 16. DHS official Nikki Cole attempted to visit the Greenville apartment, but was denied access by the mother. DHS officials Oscar Carona and Ashly McClerin visited the home May 9 and found conditions to be the same as Luster reported.
Luster didn’t visit the home again until May 20, more than two months after her previous visit. The conditions had deteriorated even more and Luster filed a petition the same day asking Montcalm County Juvenile Court to take jurisdiction over the two siblings.

May 20 court hearing
Luster filed the court petition on a Friday afternoon, May 20.
Judge Charles Simon III immediately issued an emergency pick-up order to remove the children from the home.
The emergency order required that a hearing must take place within 24 hours, so Simon scheduled a court hearing for 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, May 21. He ordered that the DHS supervisor of the case attend that hearing.
A Saturday court hearing costs Montcalm County additional funds, as it requires opening the courthouse, bringing in a security guard, a court reporter, a prosecutor and a judge.
The judge wanted to know why more than two months passed before DHS officials alerted the court to the child abuse.
“Why are we here two and a half months later? Why now? Why not March 10th?” Simon told The Daily News of his first impressions. “I wanted an explanation. I wanted to give her (Luster) an opportunity to explain why a case of this significance was being brought before me now.”
Luster told the judge she had been in a car accident and also explained she had wanted to give the children’s mother a chance to make improvements to the living situation before removing the children from the home.

May 21 court hearing
Luster’s supervisor, Greenfelder, was at the May 20 court hearing. According to her attorney, Huber, when Simon ordered that the DHS supervisor of the case attend the May 21 hearing, Greenfelder understood the judge to mean not her but a DHS official who had firsthand knowledge of the case.
Huber said Greenfelder had a ruptured ear drum and had been at Sheridan Community Hospital the night before the court hearing. He said she couldn’t hear the judge very well at the May 20 hearing.
Huber said Greenfelder talked to her colleagues, who had also been present at the May 20 hearing, and there was some confusion as to who was supposed to attend the May 21 hearing. Greenfelder said she spoke with Program Manager Timothy Click from the  DHS in Ionia County about the matter.
DHS official Kiplynn Moore volunteered to attend the May 21 hearing, because she was involved in removing the siblings from the Greenville apartment and would have been able to answer the judge’s question as to why the case ended up being an emergency removal.
Greenfelder and Moore spoke with Click again and agreed it would be appropriate for Moore to attend the Saturday morning hearing.
When Greenfelder didn’t appear at the May 21 hearing, Simon issued a show cause order asking why he should not hold Greenfelder in criminal contempt of court.

Suspension and investigation
Greenfelder was placed on paid suspension June 9 by DHS. Huber filed a July 21 motion to dismiss the contempt charge, which Simon granted.
“Frankly, the purpose of contempt is to get someone’s attention and I think in this matter her attention has been gotten,” Simon said.
The DHS launched an internal investigation into Greenfelder’s conduct. The allegations against her included neglect of duty, behaving in an inappropriate manner or a manner that may harm or adversely affect the reputation of the department or the State of Michigan and conduct unbecoming a state employee.
“I felt the judge wanted the supervisor who had knowledge of the case,” Greenfelder told DHS officials during the internal investigation. “The reason he wanted me was because I was Nicole’s direct supervisor and he didn’t know that I had no firsthand knowledge of the case/petition. He said several times he wanted the supervisor there to explain why and I was not that supervisor. Kipp (Moore) was that supervisor.”
Click said Greenfelder told him the judge requested a DHS supervisor attend the May 21 hearing, but that the judge had not named her specifically. Click said Greenfelder had no firsthand knowledge of the case, but Moore did, so Click agreed Moore should attend the May 21 hearing.
DHS officials concluded Greenfelder was at fault for not attending the May 21 court hearing as ordered by the judge.
DHS officials also expressed displeasure about several Daily News articles published about the contempt of court charge.
“The article and the negative publicity that arose from the article was detrimental to the progress that the county DHS has made with the community in improving its public image as agency with outstanding workers and management of good integrity, professionalism and honesty,” stated a document signed by DHS Services Program Manager 15 Linda Needham.
The document stated Greenfelder caused a breakdown of trust and credibility, deliberately misrepresented the facts to Click and compromised her integrity due to her desire to travel to Traverse City for the weekend.

DHS officials decided not to discipline Greenfelder, who eventually transferred to another DHS office in Traverse City.
“This whole thing has just been devastating to her,” Huber said of Greenfelder. “She got flamed by these managers. If Click hadn’t made that call to send someone else to the hearing, she (Greenfelder) would have been there and there’s no question about that. It’s just a tragedy. This is one of the weakest cases I’ve ever seen against any client I’ve represented in the last 28 years, if not the weakest, and that’s why it fell apart. This is the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened to her.”
After the two Greenville siblings were removed from their home on May 20, they were sent to stay with their grandmother in Gowen. Due to issues with their grandmother, on July 12 the boy was sent to stay with foster parents in Sidney while the girl was sent to live with her maternal aunt in Trufant.
The boy is a Type 1 diabetic and requires daily insulin injections. The girl is on medication for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
The siblings were allowed to return to their mother’s care last fall.
Simon said this case is not typical of the court’s relationship with DHS.
“In my opinion, other than this case, they’re doing a real good job,” Simon said. “This case slipped through the cracks.”

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