The state legislature is preparing to approve an $875,000 settlement in a lawsuit in the case of a boy who was allegedly stomped to death by his father on Maui.
Zion McKeown spent part of his short life in state custody because his parents were deemed unfit. But despite warnings from his grandmother, the state eventually returned the boy to his mother, who eventually sent the child to live with his father, Kyle McKeown.
The grandmother, Maryann Rooney, had sought nearly $4 million on behalf of Zion's estate and Zion's sister.
"I really do believe that Zion needs to have some form of justice, and I believe CPS (Child Protective Services) did not protect this child," Rooney said in a 2012 interview, shortly after her grandson's death.
An autopsy showed that Zion died from severe blunt force trauma to the abdomen. Kyle McKeown and his girlfriend, Grace Lee-Nakamoto, were charged with second-degree murder.
"You never want to separate a child from a family unless it's totally necessary, but the worst thing of all is to not take the precaution and see one of these outcomes," said Sen. Josh Green (D), who chairs the senate's Committee on Human Services. He's also an emergency room physician.
Green said he didn't want to point fingers, but believes the Department of Human Services has a difficult job.
"Even as a physician, I worry," he said. "Am I doing harm to the family? Am I being over-reactive? These are normal questions that you ask yourself as a provider."
Zion had been returned to his mother, Rooney's daughter, in 2009. In justifying the settlement, the state Attorney General's office said both parents had a history of mental illness and violence against family members, along with criminal convictions for violence.
In 2012, Pat McManaman, the then-director of state Human Services defended her department. "This particular case, family court terminated jurisdiction over this child December 2009, so after a case is closed and the child is returned to his or her family the state really ceases its involvement," she said.
But the Attorney General's office said state Child Welfare Services failed to follow up on anonymous reports in February 2010 that Zion was being abused by his mother.
The settlement was reached through mediation. Maryann Rooney and her attorney declined comment until after the settlement is approved by the legislature. Meanwhile, Kyle McKeown is in custody and will go to trial in September, while Lee-Nakamoto has been placed on supervised release pending trial.