Judge blocks records' release for missing Kan. boy
EL DORADO, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas judge on Friday blocked the release of child welfare records of an 11-year-old boy whose disappearance went unreported for nearly a decade.
Three media outlets, including The Associated Press, filed an open records request with the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. The request was filed under a Kansas law that allows release of the agency's records when a child dies or nearly dies related to abuse or neglect.
Butler County District Judge Mike Ward ruled that since no "official determination" has been made that Adam Herrman is dead, the records would remain closed. If a homicide charge is filed, and there are allegations of child abuse, there would be a duty to disclose, Ward said.
When pressed by the judge, the office of Butler County District Attorney Jan Satterfield declined to say in open court if prosecutors believed the boy is dead. Satterfield said after the hearing she anticipated getting the case from the sheriff's office for prosecution by the middle or end of this month.
"We don't want to litigate the case in a records production hearing," she said.
Satterfield had previously made public statements that the boy's adoptive parents, Doug and Valerie Herrman, were suspects. The Herrmans say they are innocent, claiming the boy was a frequent runaway.
The Herrmans were foster parents who adopted Adam and two of his siblings.
The agency has confirmed that Adam was in protective custody for two days in 1996 after a report of physical abuse. He was returned to the Herrmans after authorities reviewed the evidence and found the report unsubstantiated.
The agency has said the Herrmans continued to receive adoption subsidy payments for Adam after he disappeared. Such subsidies generally are given in situations where the children are difficult to place or in cases in which several siblings are adopted by the same family.
Agency attorney Roger McDaniel told the court it took a neutral position on public release of the records, saying SRS Secretary Don Jordan is "generally in favor of openness."
The judge was not persuaded by arguments from media attorney Lyndon Vix that by notifying interested parties of the pending release of records, SRS had in effect made that determination.