OLYMPIA, Wash. -- It's a case Q13 News has been digging into since late November. On Tuesday, we continued to press for answers in the death of a 3 year-old Bellingham girl who prosecutors say was shaken to death.
But even before Hazel Homan's death, Child Protective Services was familiar with the little girl and her family.
That raises questions of what case managers knew prior to Hazel's alleged murder. As of Tuesday, the King County Medical Examiner`s Office had not determined the exact cause of death for Hazel.
But Bellingham Police say the girl died from injuries similar to Shaken Baby Syndrome. Kamee Dixon, the girlfriend of Hazel`s dad, has been charged with second-degree murder.
From the beginning, Dixon's attorney has been adamant that her client is innocent, saying that similar accusations of Shaken Baby Syndrome have put innocent people in jail.
Investigators say the physical and emotional abuse started happening sometime after June 2019 when Hazel was returned back to her dad after being placed in CPS custody.
Police say Dixon was the primary caretaker in the last 6 months of Hazel’s life.
After weeks of waiting for a response, Secretary Ross Hunter sat down with Q13 News for an interview.
Q13 News tried to find out if CPS received multiple reports about Hazel in the last 6 months of her life. Family members claim they did.
“The answer that I am going to give you about specific cases is that you need to run those questions, individual questions, through our normal public disclosure,” Hunter said.
Then there is also a clearly documented visit to the hospital in police reports.
Detectives say Hazel suffered from a significant burn to her hand and was taken to the hospital about a week later.
The hospital was required to report the incident to CPS, but family members say there was no follow up to that either. We questioned Hunter about the hospital visit.
“I can’t answer questions in specific cases without a legal review of what I am allowed to say about whom,” Hunter said.
But Hunter says it is not lost on him that a child died.
“I come to work every day and read these reports, it’s not something you forget,” Hunter said.
Hunter says the case is being reviewed by an independent investigator outside CPS.
“We review cases, fatality cases, we review near fatality cases,” Hunter said.
He also pointed out that CPS receives more than 120,000 reports every year.
“If every time we have a concern we remove a child, we damage an enormous number of children. On the other end of the spectrum, if we never remove children we leave children in situations that are incredibly risky. So our job is not to go to one end or to another end, our job is to find the right balance,” Hunter said.
But the question remains: How does the public know if they are finding that right balance without transparency?
“You can’t have transparency because all these kids have privacy rights, the parents have privacy rights, the foster parents have privacy rights,” Hunter said.
Hunter says the reality is there will always be bad outcomes to cases even when case managers are doing everything right.
“My job is to build a system that works better than the system I inherited,” Hunter said.
Hunter’s appointment as Secretary began in August 2017. He was brought into the role when CPS was made into its separate entity away from DSHS.
He says that happened as a way to improve things.
Q13 News did not receive the answers we were seeking. We did file a PDR with the department but the details may not be available until March.