Lawsuit: Agencies failed boy who was tortured, fed to pigs

By Samantha Schmidt / The Washington Post

Adrian Jones’ short, tortured life was spent isolated from outsiders, confined in filthy, mice-infested houses where he was “home-schooled” by the parents who ultimately killed him, according to court documents.

But the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father and stepmother were meticulously documented, through dozens of surveillance cameras. As his family moved from place to place across Kansas and Missouri, his stepmother captured photos of the horrors, images stored online and later recovered by authorities.

His was a brief life of great suffering, as described by police and prosecutors. The story has been extensively reported by the Kansas City Star and other local media, including KSHB.

In several instances, Adrian was shown strapped to a table and blindfolded, or standing in neck-deep water in the family’s dirty swimming pool overnight. In other photographs, his mouth looks bloody and bruised, his teeth rotting, his hands swollen from being restrained, the Kansas City Star reported. In another picture, Adrian appears to be tied up with a plate of food in front of him, a bar of soap in his mouth.

Alongside one of the images, reportedly captured from a surveillance camera by the stepmother, there appeared two words: the boy.

During his final days in fall 2015, the young boy was trapped in a white-tiled shower stall and left to die, according to affidavits cited by the Associated Press. Prosecutors later said Adrian essentially starved to death. His body was fed to pigs, authorities said. The young boy’s remains were found in a livestock pen on the family’s property on Nov. 20, 2015.

His father, Michael Jones, told authorities he purchased the swine after keeping the body inside the home for nearly two weeks, the AP reported. A child told investigators he heard Adrian screaming “I’m going to die” through a vent and his stepmother, Heather Jones, telling him to “suck it up.”

Michael and Heather Jones both pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder and were sentenced to life in prison.

Investigators referred to the child abuse case as one of the “worst things” they had ever seen. His disturbing case prompted a state lawmaker to introduce legislation that would penalize adults who fail to report child abuse at home. In the Kansas City area, Adrian became known, hideously, as “the boy who was fed to pigs.”

But with his killers behind bars, Adrian’s family has been left wondering – could the state have done more to prevent the boy’s death?

Records in both Missouri and Kansas reveal a “seemingly endless series of reports and hotline calls” that informed social service and child welfare agencies of the abuse Adrian suffered.

So alleged a wrongful-death lawsuit filed in both states this week by Adrian’s biological mother, maternal grandmother and oldest sister. It contends that child service agencies failed to keep Adrian out of harm’s way.

“Despite all the warning signs, the hotline calls, and the evidence of the child’s mistreatment, they effectively allowed his father and stepmother to continue to abuse, torture, and ultimately murder the little boy, while they stood idly by, writing it all down,” the family’s lawyer claimed in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the state’s intervention was “limited” to instructing Adrian’s father and stepmother to sign a piece of paper agreeing to stop abusing the boy – “the legal equivalent of a ‘pinky swear.’”

“As it turned out, that signed paper might as well have been A.J.’s death warrant,” the family’s lawyer, Michaela Shelton, wrote. The lawsuit asks for $25,000 in damages.

Representatives from the Kansas Department for Children and Families declined to comment to the Kansas City Star. But a spokeswoman previously released a statement about the case, saying that the agency followed the family as Michael and Heather Jones “worked constantly to evade our intervention.”

“This family moved frequently between Kansas and Missouri, which greatly disrupted continuity of services and evaluation,” the spokeswoman said in a statement to KSHB. Officials in both states remained in regular contact, shared information and continued to talk to the family, the spokeswoman said, adding that child welfare workers thoroughly investigated each reported incident of alleged abuse and neglect.

“It is very difficult to assist families who are constantly transient, especially those who move across state lines and thereby deprive the State of any jurisdiction,” the statement read.

For Adrian’s first two years of life, he lived with his biological mother and siblings in Lawrence, Kansas. After the toddler was found at home unsupervised, he was removed from his mother’s home and placed in the custody of his father.

But within three months of Adrian moving in with his father, Kansas child welfare workers became aware of problems in the home. Hotline calls began pouring in with troubling information: His father had guns all over the house, his stepmother was observed to be high on drugs, according to the lawsuit.

Adrian’s siblings were reported to have suffered significant weight loss and a number of physical injuries, the lawsuit claims. Other calls reported evidence that Adrian was being beaten and choked by his father and stepmother. One hotline caller said Adrian had been spanked to the point where his buttocks were bleeding.

Adrian eventually underwent treatment for disruptive behavior and “parent-child relationship problem,” the lawsuit states. His father and stepmother reported that Adrian frequently wet the bed, stole and hoarded food, picked at sores and lit fires – characteristics that the lawsuit says are common in young victims of child abuse.

The family temporarily moved to Missouri, where hotline calls continued – one caller reporting that Adrian’s stepmother would beat “the living daylights out of the kids for no reason” and would sell “meth” out of the home, the lawsuit stated.

Records show that Adrian himself opened up about the abuse to child welfare workers. In a July 2013 interview with a Missouri Children’s Division worker and a police officer, Adrian – then age 5 – said his father would kick him so violently in the back of his head that a “little bone come out,” the Kansas City Star reported.

“My daddy keeps hitting me in the head and punches me in the stomach and my mom keeps pulling on my ears and it really hurts,” Adrian said. “Mommy and Daddy lock me in my room by myself. Mommy and Daddy can’t feed me.”

On another occasion, Adrian told a case worker that he was forced to stand in the corner and do jumping jacks and push-ups all day.

For a period of several months in 2014, Adrian was placed in a residential treatment center in Grandview, Missouri, having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was discharged on Sept. 4, 2014, on the condition that his father and stepmother follow an “aftercare plan,” including enrollment in school and therapy. The center did not follow up with Adrian after he was discharged, the lawsuit alleges.

A month later, Adrian’s stepmother emailed the boy’s therapist at the treatment center, saying Adrian was “getting to be too much all over again.”

Leading up to the boy’s death, his stepmother, Heather Jones, often posted angry rants about Adrian on a private Facebook page, and alluded to wanting to kill him, according to an affidavit obtained by the Kansas City Star. On Christmas Day 2014, the stepmother made a reference to wanting to simulate an episode of “The Walking Dead” in which a character shoots a child in the back of the head.

Three days later, Heather Jones posted that she “might be the next (redacted) and have to feed some pigs a body.”

Just over a year after Adrian was discharged from the residential treatment center, he died.

At Adrian’s father’s sentencing hearing, a detective nearly broke down in tears during his remarks, the Kansas City Star recounted. He said the torture Adrian went through was unlike anything he had seen in more than two decades in law enforcement.

The detective, Stuart Littlefield, recalled how Adrian was shocked with a stun gun by his stepmother. Littlefield paused his words for 20 seconds – demonstrating how long the shocks would sometimes last.

“Imagine the screams of a 7-year-old boy,” the detective said. “Twenty seconds is a very long time when you’re in agony.”

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