State’s DCS director resigns amid ethical scrutiny
The Associated Press September 24, 2012 12:55PM
Updated: October 26, 2012 6:13AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s top child-protection official resigned Monday amid questions of whether he violated his agency’s code of conduct through his involvement in a child neglect case involving his grandchildren.
Department of Child Services Director James Payne said he was stepping down immediately after a story published Sunday in The Indianapolis Star found he had worked behind the scenes to discredit his own agency’s recommendations in the case.
Payne — who has led the agency since its creation in 2005 — said Monday that the disclosure of information involving his grandchildren “without regard to its impact on those children is tragic beyond belief.” He said he was resigning immediately so that his family’s personal case wouldn’t be used to distort the work of DCS employees who have been credited with improving the agency.
Gov. Mitch Daniels praised the changes at DCS under Payne, a former Marion County juvenile court judge.
“The leading national authorities are unanimous in praising Indiana’s improvements in child protection, often labeled ‘worst to first,’ during Jim Payne’s tenure,” Daniels said in a statement Monday.
Daniels said DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan will serve as interim director effective immediately. Ryan declined comment Monday.
According to the Star, Payne’s grandchildren lived with him and his wife after being removed from their mother’s custody.
The Star reported Payne never stepped aside from his leadership role with the agency while involved in his grandchildren’s case and never notified Daniels of his involvement in the case or that he, at one point, was the target of an investigation into whether he slapped one of his grandchildren while in his care.
The Star reported that Payne was investigated and cleared by his own agency.
Payne wrote to the Star of the slapping allegation: “It never happened, never would, and the allegations were unsubstantiated by an out-of-state case manager.” Payne also told the Star that Daniels’ staff knew his grandchildren had been temporarily placed with him and his wife.
Payne told the newspaper that his only role in the case was “as a grandparent, father and husband,” and not in any professional capacity.
The case was rooted in a 2009 divorce filing by Heather Payne against John Payne, the director’s son, 10 days after her husband was arrested for drunken driving. Heather Payne sought and received a protective order and custody of their four children, including two fathered by John Payne.
John Payne alleged Heather Payne often left the children on their own for hours, and said the oldest, a 13-year-old, was responsible for watching the others.
In May 2010, someone called DCS and Noblesville police alleging she left the children alone to travel to Ohio. A DCS case worker took the children into protective custody and within hours placed them with James Payne and his wife.
The following November, DCS returned the children to Heather Payne, and a Hamilton County judge approved the move. That pitted DCS staff against James Payne and led to his involvement in helping write a legal brief that included a stinging attack on the agency, the Star reported, citing documents it reviewed.
Ryan, in an email to The Associated Press on Sunday, noted that since the children were returned to Heather Payne, “to assert that ... Payne influenced this situation with his professional position is absolutely false.”