West Texas police are investigating the state agency that protects children for its alleged mishandling of a case involving Tiffany Nicole Klapheke, pictured, who claims her Air Force husband's deployment overseas left her too stressed to care for their three young children, one of whom died. (Taylor County Sheriff's Office via the AP)
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Police have launched a rare investigation of the Texas child protection agency after a 22-month-old girl died and her mother claimed her military husband's deployment overseas left her too stressed to care for their three children.
Abilene police Chief Stan Standridge said the department is investigating the local Child Protective Services office after a new supervisor closed the case six days before the child's death on Aug. 28.
Agency spokesman Patrick Crimmins said a caseworker assigned to investigate allegations of medical neglect against Tiffany Nicole Klapheke closed the case soon after being promoted to supervisor. In doing so, she violated agency guidelines that require a final face-to-face visit and someone else to sign off on the closure, he said.
"You want to see the family again because you don't know what might have changed since you saw them," Crimmins said.
The employee hadn't seen the family in about 10 months when she closed the case, he said. She resigned a couple of weeks after Tamryn Klapheke died.
Her former supervisor, who oversaw the investigation of the allegations, has been disciplined, he added.
"It was a bad case, admittedly," Crimmins said, referring to how it was handled. "There's no question about that."
He said a criminal investigation of the agency was "rare."
Phone numbers listed in the former caseworker's name were either disconnected or had a continuous busy signal Tuesday.
Standridge declined to say what charge the police department was considering, as did Taylor County District Attorney John Eidson.
But Eidson said he and police have discussed the investigation and "there is more than one person" being investigated at the office.
Tamryn Klapheke suffered dehydration and malnutrition from a lack of basic care over a period of time, according to the preliminary autopsy report from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office in Fort Worth.
When her mother was arrested following her death, she claimed she was too stressed by her husband's deployment to care for their three young children. Klapheke faces three felony charges of injury to child.
She remained jailed Tuesday in lieu of $500,000 bond. Jail records did not list an attorney for her.
Tamryn Klapheke died at an Abilene hospital after being found unresponsive at her home at Dyess Air Force Base. She weighed only 17.5 pounds and her body had chemical burns, indicating she had been exposed to human waste, the medical examiner's report said.
Klapheke's two other daughters, ages 6 months and 3 years at the time, were treated for severe neglect at a children's hospital in Fort Worth, about 150 miles east of Abilene. They are now in foster care, Crimmins said.
There was a backlog of cases in the Abilene office at the time of the toddler's death due to a shortage of caseworkers, he said. Instead of 16 caseworkers, there were six.
There's a shortage of caseworkers statewide, he said, and chronic turnover is an issue. As of Oct. 12, the state had 1,495 case workers — more than 400 less than it should have, he said.
"We're, frankly, caught in a pretty vicious cycle," Crimmins said.
Klapheke moved with her husband to Texas a couple of years ago from the Lexington, Ky., area.
Klapheke's husband, Thomas, filed for divorce last week. His attorney's office said there would be no comment on the case.