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Documents show DHR said it would take over, former staff members say DHR dropped the ball

(WPMI) DEATH OF LEBRAWN RANKIN: Documents show DHR said it would take over, former staff members say DHR dropped the ball
(WPMI) DEATH OF LEBRAWN RANKIN: Documents show DHR said it would take over, former staff members say DHR dropped the ball

NBC 15 has obtained new information as we continue to investigate the death of an 8-year-old Mobile boy who died weighing just 23 pounds.

We told you Lebrawn Rankin’s story in August.

Staff members at his special education school called on the Department of Human Resources to investigate his failing health. The staff members suspected neglect and abuse, according to DHR documents.

DHR says it investigated. School staff members say the agency didn’t go far enough.

We have more paperwork showing pushback from DHR.

NBC 15's Rachael Wilkerson has documents showing DHR told staff members that it would take over control of the investigation.

Instead, Lebrawn's former caretaker says the department dropped the ball.

"People definitely felt DHR failed him," they said.

This former staff member at Augusta Evans special education school wants to remain anonymous because of this investigation.

Our source was heavily involved with 8-year-old Lebrawn Rankin and has a lot to say about him.

What started out as this happy boy who was always laughing quickly faded and Lebrawn, the former staffer says, was slipping away.

"It just got worse each week. He was lethargic. He was losing weight rapidly. He had visible signs of neglect and it just wasn't good," they said.

Concerned staff members, our contact says, had reached out to Lebrawn’s mother with concerns in the past.

"The mama had been spoken to before and nothing was resolved, so it was time to report it to DHR," they said.

And that’s what Lebrawn’s caretakers did. Staff members filed two complaints with the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

The first on February 5, 2018, states Lebrawn appeared to be losing weight and had reoccurring ringworm.

The next day, February 6, 2018, DHR sent a letter back to the school acknowledging it would begin an assessment of Lebrawn, including an interview with him at the school as part of its "thorough investigationto protect him.“

It's in this same letter school officials are told "Not to contact the parents of [Lebrawn Rankin] or any other person regarding this information."

This former staff member told NBC 15 DHR failed Lebrawn and believes DHR should be held accountable.

"We weren't hearing back from DHR or being interviewed. It was passed on to them so it was their responsibility," our source said.

Three weeks later, staff members filed a second complaint stating Lebrawn was thinner since the last DHR complaint and noted very poor hygiene.

"He came to school a few times and roaches were coming out of his wheelchair and coming out of his clothes," they said.

On March 26, 2018, records show a DHR caseworker went to Lebrawn's house and found nothing indicating neglect.

Lebrawn died April 6, 2018 weighing 23 pounds.

"If there is a message that you could send to DHR, what would that be?" NBC 15's Rachael Wilkerson asked.

"Do the right thing. Whoever this person was that made that visit, you know as well as we did that this baby did not die from natural causes," our source said.

The medical examiner apparently is unsure, too, that Lebrawn died from natural causes.

In the autopsy report, the examiner lists the manner of death as undetermined.

The possibility of neglect is noted on the autopsy report.

In August, we sat down with Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich.

She told us Springhill Medical Center, after receiving Lebrawn's body, notified her office because they were shocked about Lebrawn's condition.

She's fighting for Lebrawn in an active criminal investigation, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, she says the judicial system is significantly backlogged.

"So we are six months behind on presenting anything to a grand jury just due to COVID and then we were about four months behind just due to the backlog in the system, so now we are about 10 to 11 months behind," said Rich.

Two years later, there are still no answers in Lebrawn Rankin's death.

A lawsuit has been filed against the directors of the Mobile County Department of Human Resources.

The suit was filed by Birmingham Attorney Tommy James.

In a court filing Monday, November 9, Mobile County DHR's executive director denied allegations that Lebrawn died of negligence by the department.

NBC 15's Rachael Wilkerson called, emailed and texted for a response for this story, but she was told the department cannot comment at this time.

Wilkerson filed an open record request to review the department's policies on suspected child abuse and neglect.

She also asked for a copy of it's training policies. We will let you know what she finds out in a future report.