PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Department of Justice said Thursday it will not investigate whether politics played a role in the decision by regulators last year to keep quiet the death of an infant in day care.
Rep. Carl Wilson, the Oregon House Republican leader, requested an investigation last month in response to reporting by The Oregonian/OregonLive. The newsroom found that child care regulators chose not to include the death of 9-month-old William Cannon in an annual tally of deaths posted online.
William died in August during a contentious gubernatorial campaign and just days after the Democratic incumbent, Kate Brown, fought campaign attack ads that labeled her soft on day care regulation.
Brown has said her office did not direct regulators to keep William’s death quiet. State regulators said they did not disclose the death because they lacked clearance from Eugene police, who are investigating the case.
The Department of Justice said Thursday it “has no authority to conduct a civil or administrative investigation” into the matter. But Fred Boss, the deputy attorney general, told Wilson that prosecutors did review it to determine if a criminal investigation would be appropriate.
“That review did not reveal information that would support a reasonable probability that an investigation would lead to evidence sufficient to warrant criminal charges,” Boss wrote, adding that the office would take no further action.
William’s death has shined a harsh light on continued dysfunction in Oregon child care regulation. Officials in 2017 pledged sweeping reforms and better coordination following the death of a Portland infant and investigations by The Oregonian/OregonLive that highlighted lax enforcement and safety gaps.
Federal rules require the Office of Child Care to disclose annually on its website the aggregate number of day care deaths. But the agency did not include William’s death in its 2018 numbers.
Wilson, the Grants Pass Republican, last month asked for an investigation by either the Oregon or U.S. Department of Justice. Federal authorities say they will not comment.
Wilson questioned whether the Office of Child Care’s actions were “gross negligence” or a “calculated effort” by the governor’s staff to sweep the death under the rug for political reasons.
A spokesman for the House Republicans, Greg Stiles, confirmed Wilson received the letter Thursday.
“We’re disappointed they chose not to follow up and look into it,” he said.
The Oregonian/OregonLive has highlighted more day care problems since revealing William’s death.
The state’s chief medical examiner did not perform a forensic autopsy on William, leaving county and state officials pointing fingers over blame, the newsroom reported. A criminal case into William’s death remains under investigation and William’s mother questions if the lack of a forensic autopsy means official missed any clues.
Meanwhile, in response to questions from The Oregonian/OregonLive, regulators have now acknowledged that they previously did not disclose the day care deaths of two other children, from 2011 and 2012, citing inconsistencies in state data.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com