The Search for Peter Boy, Part 7: The Mistakes

The Search for Peter Boy, Part 7: The Mistakes
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

THERE ARE MANY who say Peter Boy's death could have been avoided — that he was not just the victim of abusive parents, but of a social services safety net that failed him.

That's why legal battles will continue, now that the criminal case is over.

The question: Should the state Department of Human Services, specifically Child Protective Services, also be held accountable in Peter Boy's death?

Peter Boy Kema's grandfather, Jimmy Acol, said it was agonizing knowing the 6-year old was in danger, and no one would intervene.

"Let the state learn a lesson on this," he said. "Do not let this happen again. "

Peter Boy and his siblings were happiest with their grandparents, Jimmy and Yolanda Acol. Home videos of the children show them smiling, laughing, playing.

But in 1994, Child Protective Services returned Peter Boy and then the rest of the children to their parents, Peter and Jaylin Kema.

That was despite clear warnings from psychologists, social workers, even other foster parents, including Erenna Chesebro. In 1994, after hearing the Kemas were getting their kids back, she wrote a letter to the agency voicing concern over the placement.

She didn't hold back.

"I'm here to tell you it's wrong!" she wrote. "This is where I say your system SUCKS!!!"

The two-page letter ends, "I just felt I had to say something on Peter Jr's behalf because someday he is going to find out what happened and he is going to wonder why no one helped him!"

Chesbro has since died, but in a 2007 interview, she described her reaction when Peter Boy's grandma called to say he was missing. "I told you. I told you!" she said.

Other letters from social workers expressed "concerns about the efforts" by the Kemas "to isolate the children from contact" with the grandparents. They said the Kemas suddenly changed their telephone number without telling anyone.

And they lied at every turn.

Month before Peter Boy died in 1996, Peter Boy's grandfather saw the child at a funeral in Kona. Peter Boy had bruises on his face and a large bandage on his arm.

When Jimmy Acol confronted his daughter, Jaylin Kema claimed it was just a cut and that a doctor examined it — both lies. It was the wound that would eventually kill him.

The grandfather went to the Kona CPS office that day, but the social worker there refused to help. He was told that the Kona office couldn't help because the Kemas lived in Hilo.

"In my way of thinking there is no such thing as, 'This is not my jurisdiction,'" Acol said. "It is, no matter where you are if somebody calls for help. That was the worst thing — nobody listened."

Earlier this year, a court-ordered report by Special Master Stephen Lane found what he calls "substantial evidence" supporting a lawsuit by Peter Boy's three siblings against the state Department of Human Services.

"It's very painful to know that this child was subjected to this kind of behavior over a prolonged period of time," Lane said.

Added Randall Rosenberg, the family's attorney: "There are no damages that can make this right. Frankly, we're just trying to get something for the survivors so that they can get closure. That's the purpose of this."

The statute of limitations for a "wrongful death" civil suit is two years. But because Peter Boy was not confirmed "dead" until recently, Rosenberg said that clock didn't start ticking until Jaylin Kema confessed to killing him in court in Dec. 2016.

DHS declined to comment on the special master's report or the expected civil suit, but officials did say they have made changes to their policies since Peter Boy's death.

CPS acknowledges re-unification with parents is still a priority, but the state will abandon that goal when a child is in danger. They also require face-to-face, monthly contact between social workers and the children.

And Kayle Perez, administrator of the Child Welfare Services Branch, said that if a child is placed for 15 of the last 22 months out of the home, "we move towards termination of parental rights."

Peter Boy and his siblings spent about 36 months with their loving grandparents before being placed back in the Kemas' home. If that policy had been in place in 1996, Peter Boy might still be alive today.


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