St. Johnsbury toddler death third in 3 months involving DCF contact

The housing complex in St. Johnsbury, where 22-month-old Mason Keithan lived with his parents, Alicia Mitchell and Vincent Keithan. Mason was found dead May 31, 2014. Photo by Laura Krantz/VTDigger

The housing complex in St. Johnsbury, where 22-month-old Mason Keithan lived with his parents, Alicia Mitchell and Vincent Keithan. Mason was found dead May 31, 2014. Photo by Laura Krantz/VTDigger

ST. JOHNSBURY – The Department for Children and Families was involved with the family of a St. Johnsbury toddler found dead Saturday morning, a neighbor said Wednesday.

Mason Keithan’s older sister was removed from mother Alicia Mitchell’s custody but the girl had recently been returning to the apartment for visits, neighbor John Sullivan, 52, said Wednesday.

Sullivan said he believes the parents were using drugs.

Mitchell and the boy’s father, Vincent Keithan, are “known drug addicts,” Sullivan said. “They shoot up anything they can get.”

State officials with knowledge of the situation also confirmed Wednesday that DCF had contact with Mason’s family.

If so, this would be the third child death in three months involving a family that had been connected with DCF. Dezirae Sheldon, 2, of Poultney, died in late February, and Peighton Geraw, 14 months, of Winooski, died in April. Police have ruled both of those cases homicides. Those deaths have prompted public complaints and at least four investigations into DCF.

Mason Keithan and his mother, Alicia Mitchell.

Mason Keithan and his mother, Alicia Mitchell.

Mason’s parents called 911 Saturday morning reporting that the 22-month-old was unresponsive, police said. Medical personnel ruled him dead before police arrived at the scene, police said.

A state police investigation into the death is underway. A post-mortem examination showed no signs of physical trauma, however the cause and manner of death are pending the results of a toxicology screening, police said.

Sullivan said DCF workers and police rarely, if ever, respond to the Mountain View Drive housing complex, despite repeated calls from him and others about the well-being of several children who live there. DCF should have removed Mason from the home, too, he said.

“DCF don’t do nothing up here,” Sullivan said.

DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone on Wednesday said the law prohibits him from confirming or denying whether DCF was involved with Mason or any of his family.

“The state’s attorney asked me not to discuss all the particulars of the case,” Yacovone said.

Caledonia County court documents reveal both parents have criminal records.

The couple were arrested in February for allegedly stealing bridge parts to sell as scrap metal, according to WCAX.

Keithan is serving a work crew sentence for petty larceny and was convicted in the past of domestic assault, disorderly conduct, unlawful mischief, possession of heroin, petty larceny and simple assault, according to the Department of Corrections.

Mitchell is not in DOC custody. In the past, she was convicted of leaving the scene of an accident, operating a vehicle without the owner’s consent and violating conditions of release, according to DOC.

Police on Wednesday would not confirm the name of Mason’s older sister nor would they comment on DCF’s involvement. Police have been in contact with Mitchell as recently as Wednesday afternoon, state police said.

Keithan has an open case in Caledonia County Superior Court for retail theft. He is accused of stealing a carton of cigarettes from Kinney Drugs worth about $80.

According to the police affidavit, Mitchell was with Keithan during the Feb. 1 drugstore theft.

Laura Krantz

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  • Jim Christiansen

    Time for the Legislature to get off it’s collective ass and start demanding answers from the Shumlin administration.

    How many more on your watch Governor?

  • Dave Bellini

    Ask the social workers what legal and policy changes are necessary and make the changes. The current structure is a colossal failure.

  • Kyle Kubs

    Typical bureaucratic failure, severely over “managed” and totally under staffed. Maybe stop paying Social Workers with six year college degrees like they were volunteers.

    • Nicole Boar

      Kyle, as a retired Social Service worker, you are spot on. If I had to do it over again I would have chosen another career. We put our life on the line visiting families with guns in the home, on drugs, whatever, and all for a very low salary with lousy benefits.
      we were told our “career” is a labor of love and caring and that should be payment enough…haha yeah really.

  • David Black

    When you live in a nanny state and expect the government to take care of you, what do you expect? Right away the government is to blame and lastly the parents or guardians.
    I have no quick answer, but neither does DCF Vermont.

    • Robert Joseph

      What do we expect after the Govs State of the State Address? No one is at fault for their life choices.

  • Keith Stern

    A visiting nurse visiting one tenant overheard the other tenants swearing and yelling at their kids. She said she was reporting it to DCF. That was 2 weeks ago. So far nothing.

  • Dan Thompson

    Another slanderous piece of writting against DCF, I am highly disappointed. There is zero evidence of criminal activity, zero physical evidence of trauma, yet VT digger writes a piece implying that DCF was responsible for the child’s death without waiting for the toxicology report.

  • Paul Capcara

    Over the last 10 years I’ve had extensive interactions with staff from the Brattleboro DCF office. I have found them to be compassionate, smart, hard working professionals who deal regularly with tragic and heart wrenching situations. My experience has been they are doing the best they can under incredibly difficult circumstances. They are genuinely good people doing good work and the office is well organized and led.

    Recently the statewide approach at DCF shifted to a much greater focus on keeping children with biological families. There are obvious pros and cons to that approach, but if anything needs further investigation and review it is who made that decision and why, and what has been the impact. I suspect some longtime DCF workers would have a lot to say about that.

  • Randi Morse

    I believe that most DCF workers truly do care, and I agree with Paul. We’re licensed foster parents and we were taught this: if a home is filled with feces and a child can step over the feces? They do not remove the child. This is outrageous to me! No, the home doesn’t have to be perfect (I have plenty of dust bunnies!) but really? Filled with feces and you don’t remove the child even while you’re simply trying to clean things up? It’s getting ridiculous!

  • Kathy Callaghan

    The DCF employees know what is wrong and what needs to be done. Ask them, not the leadership. Far too often, leadership doesn’t know what is going on until there is a crisis. Ask the employees what is needed for reform and then do it.

  • Paul Lutz

    While there may be issues with DCF and it appears the parents are junkies from the article, there are no facts to the cause of death.

    Is this a case of SIDS? What happen.

    I will say that if DCF thought there was enough of a problem to remove one child, why is an even younger child allowed to return unsupervised?

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Vermont is making national news with the first 2 deaths. No telling what publicity this death will bring.

    I am no fan of the ‘system’. All systems have deficiencies, incompetency, and corruption. BUT we need to face reality. There is no way that even the most dedicated DCF worker can predict the future correctly all the time.

    Throwing more money at the problem is not the total answer. There might be some things that would help a bit though. One suggestion is to involve grandparents and extended family. In other cultures extended family plays a far more important role.

    • Pam Ladds

      Rosemarie is correct. The disturbing thing to me, about this article, is the willingness to publish gossip, innuendo and hearsay comments. As if they were facts. Trial by media is not a good thing at any time. Looking for scapegoats does not solve problems or make it any easier for DCF or any departmental worker to prevent future disasters. I was a social worker both in another country and in another State. The job is brutal, demanding an impervious skin (damned if you do, damned if you don’t) and a crystal ball. I left that system after several years, totally fried. How about waiting for a few facts before rushing to judgment.

  • Fred Woogmaster

    The legislative committee established to look into DCF, subsequent to the first two tragedies, has conducted a number of hearings all over the state, as many as three towns in one day, listening to people talk about their experiences with DCF.

    In thirty years of work with “the system” I have never witnessed such an aggressive schedule or such intense listening about DCF. This is a great opportunity to understand how to do it better.

    When everyone, including those who work in the system, is displeased with the process and distressed by far too many outcomes, change is essential. Blame will not improve the situation.

    I saw a TV news clip of a committee hearing from St. Albans and while I know most of what they heard was unpleasant, this committee has the stature and determination to see to it that long overdue reform occurs,
    for the sake of the children: our innocent, precious gems.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      “…has conducted a number of hearings all over the state…” my statement was inaccurate.
      There has been one day of hearings thus far, in three separate locations.


    • Jim Christiansen

      There is a big difference between blame and accountability when we are talking about dead kids. Sadly, this administration and it’s supporters don’t appear interested in accountability.

  • walt amses

    Accountability is a two-way street Jim, this is your second post attempting to grotesquely politicize the death of a child to get at the Shumlin administration.

    • Jim Christiansen

      Sorry Walt. I don’t find anything political about dead kids.

      I reference the Governor only because he is in charge. The Shumlin administration is responsible for administering DCF, and DCF failed to provide the last line of protection for these children (which happens to be a major part of their mission).

      Bureaucratic tolerance for dead children is appalling regardless of party affiliation.

  • David Dempsey

    What law is it that commissioner Yacavone mentioned that won’t let him neither confirm or deny if there was contact with the family. Must be that Dick Sears and others who have confirmed that DCF employees had contacted the Masons before the death are breaking it. Another example of a political appointee who is out of his element.

  • Keith Stern

    The Veteran’s Home in Bennington, the food stamp program, the VHC website, DCF, and diverting money from ratepayers in the electric company merger; just how much incompetence and malfeasance will the voters of Vermont allow?
    Throw in his cheating his neighbor and Vermont has nothing to be proud of with Shumlin as governor.

    • Fred Woogmaster

      Over the years, I have worked with the social service systems in a number of states, including Maryland and Massachusetts. Some states do better than others; the task of protecting children in the social system we all live in, no matter where, – is extraordinarily difficult.

      If any individual has injured a child, or any individual with authority has failed to act in the most responsible manner – he or she MUST be held accountable for that action or inaction.

      While I agree with the spirit of your comments, Mr. Christiansen, outraged by these deaths, I believe your characterization – “bureaucratic tolerance for dead children…” – to be unfair and inflammatory.

      My outrage has grown greater as I have witnessed the growing inequities in our society, inequities that clearly contribute to behavior born of desperation and hopelessness.

      No matter what, there is absolutely no acceptable reason for one’s injuring a child or failing to protect a child! I agree, Mr. Christiansen, that accountability is crucial.

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