Police work the scene after Johnathan Johnson, 17, was shot to death as he walked to his school bus stop on 10th Avenue North last month. Eric Goodner was arrested in Johnson's death after eluding police for weeks. / Samuel M. Simpkins / File / The Tennessean
Written by Brian Haas and Anita Wadhwani, The Tennessean
The Department of Children's Services was supposed to be keeping an eye on Eric Goodner on April 11, the day police say he fatally shot a fellow Pearl-Cohn High School student.
But DCS had not seen or talked to the teenager since February, even though Goodner was under a home supervision program after being released in December from the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center.
That April morning, police say, Goodner shot classmate Johnathan Johnson, 17, as he walked to his school bus stop on 10th Avenue North. Goodner was arrested on a homicide warrant Wednesday after eluding police for weeks.
Commissioner Jim Henry was unavailable to comment Friday about DCS' role in monitoring Goodner, said DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth. And, Sudderth said the agency was legally unable to discuss the level of supervision Goodner was supposed to receive and whether caseworkers followed through properly.
Goodner's mother declined to comment Friday after a juvenile court detention hearing.
Juvenile Court Magistrate J. Michael O'Neil said Goodner should be detained until a June 28 hearing during which prosecutors plan to ask the juvenile court to transfer the case to criminal court so Goodner can be tried as an adult.
DCS' involvement in Goodner's life became public Friday during the juvenile detention hearing.
DCS caseworker Kewonnie McNeil testified that Goodner was in Woodland Hills until December, when he was released to "aftercare" home supervision. He was supposed to attend school, stay out of trouble and check in with his caseworker.
But McNeil said that Goodner didn't keep up his end of the agreement. She said she last saw him in January and last reached him by phone Feb. 27. After that, she said, his family members couldn't tell her where he was.
Testimony in court Friday did not include details onwhat attempts DCS made to locate Goodner between Feb. 27 and April 11, when Johnson was shot. When asked late Friday, DCS spokeswoman Sudderth said she was not legally able to discuss with The Tennessean what actions the caseworker or other DCS staff took to notify law enforcement or attempt to locate Goodner.
DCS caseworkers are supposed to make between one and four face-to-face contacts per month with youths on aftercare status, depending on the level of supervision that DCS determines they need. Those levels range from "very high" to "low" for youths who aren't in the custody of the agency.
Sudderth said she was legally unable to reveal the supervision level determined for Goodner.
Caseworkers must make at least one of those visits to a youth's home each month, according to DCS policy. The youth's primary caretakers also are required to meet with the caseworker once per month.
And, caseworkers must make two telephone contacts monthly to youths classified as needing "very high" levels of supervision, and one phone call per month to all others, the agency's policy states. The policy also says that a caseworker may request a waiver in writing of the requirement to visit a youth "in the interest of personal safety."
At the hearing, McNeil couldn't say whether Goodner attended school or how his grades were because she said the Pearl-Cohn computer system was down when she asked. School officials have said Goodner last attended school at Pearl-Cohn on Feb. 13.
DCS is required to make a school visit within 30 days of a new aftercare case and continue monthly contact with school officials to monitor attendance and behavior of the child at school, according to agency policy.
Sudderth said DCS was legally unable to provide information on how often the caseworker contacted Goodner or his family face to face or by phone after he was released from Woodland Hills.
In response to a question about what the agency does when a caseworker can't find a youth, Sudderth said, "We could go to court to file a violation of probation." DCS policy states that a youth who has absconded for more than 72 hours could be considered in major violation of his probation, prompting a review by a supervisor to determine whether DCS should file a violation petition with the court.
Sudderth said she was legally unable to detail whether DCS took that step in the case of Goodner.
Prosecutors didn't probe whether DCS should have been more aggressive in pursuing Goodner's whereabouts. Instead, they used his disappearance from under DCS' supervision to convince Juvenile Court Magistrate O'Neil that Goodner should be detained indefinitely.
Prosecutors declined to discuss why Goodner had been sent to Woodland Hills. It is one of three state-operated detention centers for delinquent male youths ages 13-19. It is typically reserved only for youths who have committed multiple or violent felonies.
Sudderth said the agency was not legally able to provide details on Goodner's placement at the Nashville detention center.
Over the past year, DCS has been faulted for systemic problems, including its failure to accurately account for the deaths of children in its care; missed calls at its child abuse hotline; poor communication with private agencies that provide much of the foster care and treatment services to children in state custody; and a spike in violence at Woodland Hills.
Earlier in the day, police charged Goodner's cousin and his girlfriend with being an accessory after the killing. Police said Nicholas Goodner and Quantrese Leyta Upkins let Eric Goodner stay with them after the fatal shooting since at least April 17.
Police arrested Upkins but were still looking for Nicholas Goodner on Friday.