When the state approved a foster parenting license for Zack and Krystina Morris in 2008, the child-rearing record of the young couple, who had just moved from New York, already had a major black mark.
New York officials five years earlier had found that the Morrises provided inadequate guardianship for their 4-month-old son after the infant stopped breathing; was rushed to the hospital with a fractured skull, bleeding in the brain and other injuries; and was diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome, according to New York documents. The parents failed to offer any explanation for the injuries, the records show.
New York’s child welfare agency subsequently determined that the baby would be at serious risk of harm if he stayed with his parents, and a judge ordered the infant to be placed in foster care, according to the records. The family eventually was reunited.
As serious as the 2003 incident was, it apparently did not appear on the state Department of Human Services’ radar when the agency certified the Morrises as Hawaii foster parents, raising new questions about the vetting process used to determine who gets approved to care for some of the state’s most vulnerable children.
Zack Morris eventually was convicted of sexually abusing three foster children, all boys, who were placed in his care by DHS from 2009 to 2011. The victims ranged in age from 11 to 16.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser previously reported on documents from the criminal case and a 2014 negligence lawsuit filed on behalf of two victims, alleging the state didn’t heed numerous warning signs involving the Morrises before issuing them a license and renewing it several times.
But more recent court documents and other records reviewed by the newspaper have raised even more questions about the screening process, including whether DHS was even aware of the couple’s New York record when it approved the Morrises’ license.
The couple was the focus of two other New York abuse investigations, including one triggered when their son was hospitalized after a door supposedly fell on him, according to the records. The allegations were unconfirmed but still part of the couple’s New York file, which included the substantiated finding from 2003….
Less than three months after DHS placed the last foster child with the Morrises in July 2011, the agency issued a report describing Zack Morris as a “confirmed and untreated sex offender” and a threat to any child under his care, according to the court records. By then authorities had removed all the children, including his biological ones, from the home.
Morris was indicted a few weeks later, eventually pleaded no contest and is now serving a 20-year prison sentence.
Jacobs, the plaintiff attorney, said the Morris case revealed multiple problems with the state’s vetting process, leading to horrific outcomes for his clients. “It’s indicative of systemic failures of epic proportions,” Jacobs said….
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