Top DCS staff members to review Choate's death

2011-06-01T20:00:00Z 2013-02-19T13:05:22Z Top DCS staff members to review Choate's deathBy Marisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

Three high-level staff members from the Indiana Department of Child Services will review the circumstances surrounding 13-year-old Christian Choate's death, a DCS spokeswoman said Wednesday.

DCS spokeswoman Ann Houseworth said the team will look for systematic issues that may have contributed to the boy's death.

Last month, Lake County police unearthed remains, believed to be Choate's, from a shallow grave in a mobile home park north of the intersection of Ridge Road and Colfax Avenue in Gary. Authorities are waiting on the results of DNA testing to positively identify the body.

"We are committed to improving Indiana's child welfare system," Houseworth said. "It can only be accomplished through objective self-evaluation and evaluation of our policies. Most importantly ... we want to truly figure out what happened to this little boy."

Court documents allege the boy was beaten for several years and kept in a cage for as long as a year before his death in early 2009. His disappearance went unreported until this past May, when a tip prompted police to investigate.

Houseworth said the executive managers of DCS' north and south regions, as well as the director of field operations, will review records relating to the teen boy and his family. The state agency's Lake County office will not be involved in the investigation, she said.

She said the team will review "any and all" information regarding previous or current assessments involving Christian Choate or family members. Houseworth said she was unable to comment Wednesday on the existence of any previous assessments.

Houseworth said DCS also will expedite the release of public records relating to the boy's death -- a rare but not unprecedented decision. The first records will be available later this month, she said.

"The public interest in this case has made it deserving of special attention," Houseworth said. "Our expedited examination of the case is in no way an indication that we think we did anything wrong. If we learn otherwise, we will acknowledge and address those issues."

The boy's father and stepmother, Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina Choate, face myriad charges relating to Christian's death, including murder, felony counts of battery, confinement and removal of a body from a death scene or altering a death scene, three felony counts of obstruction of justice and three felony counts of neglect of a dependent, Lake Criminal Court records show.

They also face a felony neglect of a dependent charge for allegedly depriving Christian's sister, Christina, of an education.

Both defendants are being held in Lake County Jail without an opportunity to post bail. Their criminal cases still are pending.

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