A legislative committee voted Friday to subpoena four education agencies – including public schools in Bangor and Searsport – as part of an investigation into the death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy, allegedly at the hands of her parents.

The Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, or OPEGA, will issue subpoenas to the Bangor School Department, RSU 20/Searsport Elementary School, the Maine Department of Education and the department’s office of Child Development Services.

The subpoenas seek enrollment and attendance records and any reports of suspected child abuse, as well as documents from case managers.

OPEGA Director Beth Aschroft told members of the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on Friday that they were “friendly subpoenas” because the four agencies want to comply with the information requests. But because federal education laws restrict OPEGA and the Legislature’s access to confidential information, the four entities requested the subpoenas “so that they are within bounds here to turn over the records.”

“Everyone has been very willing to be cooperative and very responsive in turning around answers to my questions and my requests for input,” Ashcroft said of the multiple agencies OPEGA has contacted. “Everyone wants to make this go smoothly. The reality of it is that there is lots of little details to pay attention to in regard to confidentiality under federal and state law of many of the records that we are requesting.”

Kennedy was found dead at her Stockton Springs home on Feb. 25. Her parents, 51-year-old Julia Carrillo and 33-year-old Sharon Carillo, have been charged with depraved indifference murder in the girl’s death.

Police allege that the Carillos severely beat and abused the 10-year-old for months before her death. Numerous people, including staff at Kennedy’s schools, reportedly contacted DHHS or police about suspected abuse, but the girl was never removed from the home.

As the Legislature’s nonpartisan watchdog agency, OPEGA is charged with reviewing government programs and also undertakes larger investigations at the request of the Government Oversight Committee. Unlike legislative committees, OPEGA has the authority to issue subpoenas to compel agencies to hand over documents or people to testify.

FAST-TRACKED INVESTIGATION

The Government Oversight Committee voted on March 9 to request that OPEGA conduct a fast-tracked investigation into any failures in the government systems intended to protect children from abuse. In addition to Kennedy’s death, the investigators will probe agencies’ handling of the case of a 4-year-old Wiscasset girl, Kendall Chick, who died in December as a result of severe abuse. Police have charged Shawna Gatto, the fiancee of Chick’s grandfather, with depraved indifference murder in her death.

OPEGA also is seeking records related to Chick’s case as part of its subpoena of the Department of Education office of Child Development Services. OPEGA may also conduct a longer-term investigation into child protection and welfare programs depending on the findings of the expedited investigation now underway.

There is an ongoing debate about how much information should be released to the public regarding Marissa Kennedy’s death and what should remain confidential.

Ashcroft said her office is working closely with the Maine Attorney General’s Office to “help screen” records that may be part of the criminal investigations into the deaths. Records obtained through the subpoenas and other requests will be delivered to OPEGA and remain confidential, meaning they will not be released to the committee or the public.

“There are two issues here: one is what records can come to OPEGA staff, which may well remain confidential, and then which of those records can be made available to this committee,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the committee co-chair. “Those are two separate questions.”

CRIMINAL CASE

Ashcroft is confident that her office would be able to provide an overview of what happened and where there might have been a breakdown in government processes. But she said OPEGA, along with the Attorney General’s Office, will have to carefully vet what records can – or should – be released to the public.

“Even for information that we might be allowed to release under confidentiality laws, there is the consideration about what should be in the public arena given that the criminal case won’t have gotten very far yet down its path,” Ashcroft said.

DHHS officials have, to date, declined to publicly release details of Marissa Kennedy’s case, saying they are prohibited from doing so under state law. Attorney General Janet Mills has said she could authorize the release of some information, but that she would not disclose any details that could jeopardize the Carrillos’ right to a fair trial.

An attorney for Sharon Carrillo has accused police and prosecutors of tricking officials at a New York school that Carrillo formerly attended into releasing information about her.

DHHS also is conducting its own internal investigation into the handling of Marissa’s case before her death. Gov. Paul LePage said last week that he was “seeing major, major holes” in the child protective system and that he planned to issue executive orders or seek other changes to address those problems.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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