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Failed to Death: Chandler Grafner

4:44 PM, Nov 11, 2012   |    comments
Chandler Grafner
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 PDF Document: fatality gray  PDF Document: lawsuit gray

Age: 7 yrs.
Born: April 12, 2000
Died: May 6, 2007
Location: Denver
Suspect in death: Josh Phillips and Sara Berry, foster parents

How does a child, locked in a linen closet with a litter box for a bathroom, starve to death, even as caseworkers have been assigned to watch out for him, and multiple people - including school officials - have called to warn authorities he was in trouble?

The case is notorious not only for the horrific way Chandler died, but because two caseworkers assigned to look out for him have been sued in civil court by his mother. The case is ongoing.

Chandler spent much of the last year of his life in the bottom of a linen closet, 35 inches wide and less than 18 inches high. He weighed 34 pounds when he died May 6, 2007, from starvation and dehydration.

Chandler's elementary school reported to Denver County Human Services that the little boy had not been at school for a month. Supervisors at the child-abuse division did not assign any investigation - saying there were no allegations of abuse or neglect.

He was dead a month later.

Arapahoe County child-protection workers first learned of Chandler in 2004, when they determined as "unfounded" an allegation that Chandler and his brother were neglected. The caller said Chandler, then 4, was not potty trained and was still drinking from a bottle.

In 2005, Denver County determined as "unfounded" an allegation that the boys' mother, Christina Grafner, was smoking around her child who had asthma. Later that year, Chandler and a 3-year-old neighbor were found walking along a busy street alone. This time, Christina Grafner was charged with child abuse and received one year of probation.

In all, there were at least eight "referrals" to child-protection workers alleging abuse or neglect.

The boys, appearing hungry and neglected, were taken into protective custody in 2006 after their mother was arrested for driving while high on drugs. They ended up with Chandler's former stepfather, Jon Phillips, and Phillips' girlfriend, Sarah Berry.

Phillips and Berry are now in prison after Chandler starved to death in their filthy closet.

A state review of Chandler's death found six violations of state regulation. Among them:

Jefferson County and Denver County did not communicate properly about Chandler when he moved from one county to the other in 2007.
Jefferson County failed to close its case in the state computer system when Chandler moved, making it look as if services were being provided even though they were not.
Jefferson County caseworkers had no record of a diligent search for other people - other than Chandler's former stepfather - to care for him after he was taken from his mother.

The supervisors who handled the case - and were sued by Chandler's mother - are still working at Denver Human Services.

Read the Fatality Review

Read the Federal Lawsuit

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