State child-protection workers knew about the violent, abusive past of a Western Kentucky man more than a year before he killed his infant daughter, but they decided he posed no threat to his family.
Jesse Allison was convicted of reckless homicide by a Caldwell County jury last month in the September 2009 death of 7-month-old Ariel Allison. After refusing to provide the Lexington Herald-Leader with documents about the state's involvement with Jesse Allison and his family in March, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services released the records Friday.
The 135-page file reveals that child-protection workers discovered in January 2008 that Allison had been convicted in 2000 for beating his 3-month-old son in Virginia and for assaulting a girlfriend in Kentucky in 2003. Those discoveries were made as they investigated the mysterious death of another Allison daughter, 22-month-old Erin Allison.
In the Virginia case, documents obtained by Kentucky workers showed that Jesse Allison fractured the skull and broke the ribs of 3-month-old Matthew Allison, his son with a former wife.
Jesse Allison pleaded guilty to two counts of child neglect in 2000 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Virginia, but the sentence was suspended and he served probation instead, according to court records in Norfolk.
In a detailed statement to Norfolk police, Allison told police he hit and punched Matthew and bounced him on the couch "like a basketball."
"When he was in his colicky mood, I used to pick him up and squeeze his chest, turn him around and hit the back of his head, bounce him on the couch, face down, pinch his toes and his fingers," Allison told police, according to a transcript of his statement included in the cabinet's records.
Cabinet workers also knew that Allison had been investigated in 2001, when the child of another woman with whom he had a relationship suffered a skull fracture. Workers did not substantiate that Allison abused that child.
In the death of 22-month-old Erin, a medical examiner's report said the cause of death was undetermined but needed further investigation.
Erin, whose mother died during childbirth, had suffered from episodes presumed to be seizures caused by fevers and had a fever on the day she was found dead in her crib by Allison, the report said.
While medical causes could have led to her death, the report said "inflicted asphyxia cannot be ruled out."
"The presence of minor oral trauma and cutaneous petechiae (small red lesions on the skin) remain concerning, particularly in light of a previous child abuse conviction for this child's caregiver father," the medical examiner wrote.
No charges have been filed in Erin's death.
Despite the trail of abuse victims in Allison's past, the cabinet found in July 2008 that the 20-month-old son of his girlfriend did not need protection from Allison.
"This family is found not to be in need of services as there is no proof that Erin Allison was intentionally harmed, therefore there was no risk presented to" the girlfriend's son, a child-protection worker wrote in a July18, 2008 document.
Asked about the state's decision to not take action against Allison in 2008, cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said the case was "a sad and complex situation."
"More and more, we are finding complexities in family situations that we investigate," Midkiff said in a written statement. "The cabinet is working hard to improve protocols and increase training to provide safer environments for the children and families we serve."
The girlfriend and Allison later married, and she gave birth to Ariel Allison on Feb. 3, 2009, seven months after the state found that Jesse Allison presented no risk to his family.
When Ariel died seven months later, the courts removed Jesse Allison's stepson from their home and put him in the custody of his maternal grandparents until July 2010, when he was returned to his mother, records show.
Allison and Ariel's mother were required to complete psychological assessments and parenting classes. Cabinet documents do not name Ariel's mother, but Marae Allison testified against Jesse Allison in court, and media reports said she was divorcing him in 2011.
When Allison was charged in June 2010 with murder in Ariel's death, the court ordered him not to have any contact with his stepson, the documents showed.
Allison has maintained that Ariel's death was an accident, caused by becoming trapped between her mattress and the crib rail. He is scheduled to be sentenced in Caldwell Circuit Court on July 3.