The state has agreed to pay the parents of a teen who died in the custody of the Department of Children's Services $250,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit brought by his father.
Kendall Oates suffered a seizure and died in May 2012 at age 18 at Woodland Hills Developmental Center in Nashville, a DCS facility for violent and criminal youths.
A Tennessean investigation in August found that Oates was sent to Woodland Hills despite two separate court orders from a Williamson County judge urging DCS to send him to a facility that could better take care of his medical needs. Kendall suffered a seizure disorder.
The newspaper's investigation also found:
• Oates may have lain sick or dead alone in his room for hours, undetected by a security guard who was supposed to check on him every 15 minutes but did not.
• DCS was supposed to administer anti-seizure medication to Oates daily, but an autopsy performed on the day he died found no trace of the medication in his bloodstream.
• Oates was supposed to always wear a lifesaving anti-seizure wristband, used to swipe a pacemaker-style device implanted in his chest at the onset of a seizure. Instead, the wristband was found after his death in a guard's booth, out of reach.
• DCS' own internal investigation, however, found Oates died of natural causes.
His mother, Diane Oates, had fought DCS' efforts to keep her son in custody in the year before he died.
On Wednesday, she declined to comment specifically on the terms of the settlement, but cried as she said:
"No amount of money replaces a child. I want him back. I want my son."
As part of the settlement, Gary Oates, who filed the lawsuit, agreed to keep confidential all records and interviews conducted as part of the investigation into Kendall's death or the lawsuit. He agreed to equally divide the settlement with Diane Oates, his former wife. He also agreed to hold the state harmless for any actions leading up to the death of his son.
Under the agreement, both sides agreed to keep under seal video footage taken inside the facility and videotaped interviews with the guard on duty the day Kendall Oates died, dormitory logs, DCS employee performance evaluations and all of Kendall's DCS records.
Through his attorney, Michael Smith, Gary Oates declined to comment.
DCS provided a statement that began: "First, we extend our condolences to Kendall's family."
A DCS spokesman noted that since the arrival of Jim Henry as DCS' new chief in 2013, the agency has instituted new measures including a more rigorous examination of child deaths, new strategies from other disciplines such as aviation and health care, and "frank discussions with our staff about how to improve safety and anticipate hazards."
105 died in 2012
Kendall Oates was one of at least 105 children who died in 2012 who had prior contact with DCS — children who were reported to DCS for abuse or neglect, as well as children like Oates, who were involved in the agency's separate juvenile justice system. That system saw 16 child deaths in 2012, an increase from six the year before.
Oates was raised in Brentwood, attended Ravenwood High School and entered DCS custody shortly before he turned 18 after a scuffle in which he smashed a cellphone and lunged at his father.
For adult offenders, typical sentences for similar offenses are probation and an expunged record. But Oates would spend more than a year in DCS custody — first in a series of group homes where he often lashed out at this caretakers, then at Woodland Hills, a high-security facility surrounded by barbed wire and reserved for teenage boys who have committed multiple or violent felonies ranging from drug offenses to armed robbery to rape.
He died five days before his 19th birthday — the day of his expected release from DCS custody.