Former MDHHS child advocate among those charged in child abuse investigation
Michigan’s attorney general is charging four mid-Michigan residents, including one former employee of the state agency meant to advocate for children, with child abuse.
The charges are split between two couples, Joel and Tammy Brown, and Jerry and Tamal Flore. The state alleges both couples either adopted or fostered nearly 30 children since 2007.
The child abuse charges stem from alleged incidents with eight of those kids.
According to the Attorney General’s office, the couples had previously faced prosecution in Clinton County over the allegations. But charges were eventually dismissed against the Browns, while the Flores’ charges were reduced.
Attorney Mary Chartier represented Joel Brown at the time.
“We previously had a multiple day preliminary examination, and the court found that the government had not met its burden for the case to move forward. That’s why the charges were dismissed—because of the evidence,” Chartier said in an email.
She continued, “We believe the same result will occur this time around. We won in court once, and we’re confident that we’ll do so again.”
And attorney David Kallman, then representing Jerry Flore, told the Lansing State Journal the case against his client's family was "pathetic" and "ridiculous."
In the new state charges, Attorney General Dana Nessel accuses Joel Brown of using his insider knowledge of Children’s Protective Services proceedings to get around the law.
“It is clear that many of the child witnesses in this matter were coached, and that the investigation was compromised. However, there was no real criminal statute that exists to prevent this from happening,” Nessel said during a press conference Monday afternoon.
Nessel said Brown worked in the Children’s Services Administration Office of Family Advocate, within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, prior to his termination after being placed on unpaid leave last year.
Nessel said Brown had worked within MDHHS, in various divisions, since 2002.
“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is committed to protecting children and expects employees to uphold that commitment as well. MDHHS will work with Attorney General Dana Nessel, the Legislature and others who will partner together to keep Michigan children safe,” a statement from MDHHS spokesperson Bob Wheaton read in response to the resurfaced charges.
Overall, Nessel alleges the defendants made around a million dollars off the children they were supposed to look after.
Nessel said the accused took advantage of a loophole in the system that provides payments for adoptive and foster parents.
“There is nothing statutorily requiring a person who receives funds from this program to prove that they are actually using the money for the child. And currently, the parents can do—quote, ‘Anything that incorporates the child into the home,’ with that money,” Nessel said.
If convicted of the most serious of the crimes they’re charged with, first degree child abuse, the Browns and Flores could potentially face life sentences.
They have until Friday to turn themselves into authorities.
Nessel used the opportunity to call on lawmakers to strengthen the state’s child abuse laws and extend the statute of limitations.
Currently, the state gives prosecutors six years after the offense to file charges.
State Representative Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) is minority vice chair of the House Criminal Justice Committee. He said he believes there’s a willingness to work on the issue.
“I think the Legislature has taken up the mantle and really taken up tough issues, so I’m excited to do that deep dive and learn about the child abuse laws and ensure that we are protecting kids,” Filler said.
He pointed to legislation lawmakers passed this year aimed at preventing future child sexual abuse in schools and in medical settings and crime victims advocacy bills as steps the Legislature has taken so far.
This story has been updated to reflect a correction by the state Attorney General's office regarding Joel Brown's former employment at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.