1 year later, family seeks 'justice' in methamphetamine death of 2-year-old boy

Staff writerDecember 15, 2013 

Nathan Iverson

COURTESY PHOTO — Krista Leonard

The circumstances are unclear but somehow 2-year-old Nathan Iverson consumed enough methamphetamine to kill him a year ago.

No one has been arrested or charged in the Spanaway toddler’s death. The boy’s mother, with whom he was living when he died, said she didn’t know there was meth in the house. 

The boy’s family had been monitored since 2009 by the Children’s Administration, the division of the state Department of Social and Health Services that oversees child welfare. After his death on Dec. 6, 2012, a committee made up of state, health and law enforcement officials conducted a review of the case. 

It found state employees missed opportunities to work with an assistant attorney general to remove Nathan from his family and that more work should have been done to find the family when they went off the grid. 

Inactivity on the case from December 2011 to June 2012 concerned the review committee. The case had become high risk and more work should have been done to find the family, the committee wrote.

SEEKING JUSTICE

According to the review, a social worker might have received important information about Nathan’s health and safety by calling his doctor in the months before the toddler died. The physician had told the state months earlier that Nathan’s mother hadn’t been following through with her son’s medical treatment.

It is not clear whether officials decided any misconduct occurred on the part of the employees assigned to the case. When asked whether there had been repercussions for any of the workers, agency spokeswoman Mindy Chambers told The News Tribune to file a records request, which is pending.

Asked about the agency’s work on the case, assistant secretary Jennifer Strus replied: “Safety of children is the responsibility of everybody involved in a child’s life, including us. Drug cases are tough. They really are. Because a lot of folks who have drug issues vacillate between being clean and not being clean.”

When a social worker investigates allegations “if there isn’t any evidence of it when they get out there, there’s not a whole lot they can do other than offer voluntary services,” Strus said.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department is continuing to investigate the death, spokesman Ed Troyer said.

“We still have some work to do,” he said recently. “We’re still doing it.”

Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office is aware of the case.

“The instant the investigation is complete, we’ll review for charges,” he said. “The investigation is taking time. Where a child dies from a drug overdose, there needs to be accountability and justice.”

The News Tribune learned of concerns about Nathan’s death after a family member contacted the newspaper. 

“I feel that, had they done their jobs, Nathan would still be alive, plain and simple,” the cousin of Nathan’s mother Krista Leonard, said of the Children’s Administration. 

Leonard, a customer service worker who lives in Battle Ground with three children of her own, said Nathan’s relatives called the Children’s Administration repeatedly throughout Nathan’s life to report abuse and neglect.

“Pretty much where he lived and he died was deplorable conditions,” she said. “I treat my dogs better than that baby was treated. He was bounced around from drug house to drug house.”

Such allegations are documented in the review of Nathan’s death.

Leonard’s mother, Wendy Wright of Spanaway, gave a similar account of Nathan’s living conditions before he died.

“We’ve just been waiting for justice,” she said. “How does a little 2-year-old die from meth?”

Nathan’s father declined to comment for the story.

The boy’s mother, 25-year-old Alyia Iverson, talked to The News Tribune about her son’s death.

“He was sleeping in his bed, he fusses every night before he goes to sleep, I looked down, and I could tell he wasn’t breathing,” she said. “It flipped my world upside down to see my son like that.” 

The toddler was in a bed made out of blankets at the time, she said. 

There was no meth “in my room or in the house that I knew of,” she said, adding that she cleaned the room when they moved in.

“I agree that kind of house, we should not have been there,” she said. “Me and my son had been bouncing around before that. We finally had somewhere to be, so we could start doing better.”

After her son’s death, she said she got clean.

On the anniversary of Nathan’s death, Iverson posted his photo on Facebook with the words: “Gone 1 year today but not forgotten Love You Wild Boy.”

Drug-Use allegations

The Children’s Administration began monitoring Nathan’s family before he was born. The reason was redacted in the review of his death and state officials declined to provide more information; family members and friends were not interviewed as part of the review process.

Nathan’s parents tested positive for meth in the years before the toddler’s death, but a social worker determined the child’s mother had no substance abuse issues when the Children’s Administration first contacted her in June 2009. 

The review committee later said the worker should have asked for a drug test or tried to get more information about the alleged drug use by talking to more people before making the determination.

The state learned on July 31, 2010, that the woman had given birth to Nathan. Mother and child were living in Spanaway, according to family members.

In February 2011, the review stated, the state received allegations about the baby’s living conditions. Adults allegedly were smoking meth in the room where the infant was receiving breathing treatments and the home had garbage spilling onto the floor within reach of Nathan’s then-2-year-old sister.

Relatives told The News Tribune they didn’t know what sort of breathing treatments Nathan had been receiving.

The Children’s Administration deemed the allegations unfounded.

A similar report of unsanitary living conditions six months later was deemed founded. 

Someone – the review does not state who – reported there wasn’t enough food in the home, that it was unsanitary and that Nathan’s mother was using drugs and physically abusing both children,

An investigation at the time determined those allegations were likely true, according to the review.

The social worker assigned to the case asked the Sheriff’s Department to put the children in protective custody on Oct. 4. The mother was sober when sheriff’s officials contacted her, so the children were not removed. The social worker went to the sergeant in charge, who also declined the request.

“In that particular incident, there were no drugs, there was nothing there that we could have taken the kids,” sheriff’s spokesman Troyer told The News Tribune. “If there’s a history of problems, it’s usually done by court order.”

The review committee later said this was one point at which an assistant attorney general should have been brought in to discuss filing a dependency petition to put Nathan in state custody.

Instead, a DSHS meeting on Oct. 5 produced a plan in which Nathan would stay with his maternal uncle, and Nathan’s sister would stay with her father. He was encouraged to continue outpatient chemical dependency treatment and domestic violence classes but tested positive for meth a week later, according to the review. 

Lack of involvement

On Nov. 16, the agency learned Nathan had been returned to his mother after someone reported the children were hacking and coughing throughout the night. The unidentified person making the report said he took a crack pipe away from the mother.

Explaining the change in Nathan’s living situation, Chambers said: “When families agree to take steps to help protect children, dependency petitions are not always filed and Children’s Administration social workers work with families and rely on the relatives to notify us of changes to the living arrangement.”

Leonard said Nathan’s 25-year-old uncle did notify the agency. He called repeatedly to tell the state he had tried his best, but could no longer care for the baby, she said.

“He just took the baby for the night” but had the child a couple months, Leonard said. 

“He bought a car seat, shoes, a coat,” she said. Still, “it was never supposed to be a permanent thing.”

As a last resort, the uncle returned Nathan to his mother, Leonard said.

Nathan’s uncle did not respond to requests through family members to be interviewed for the story.

“He just has really extreme guilt,” Leonard said.

On Nov. 24, another report was made to the state concerning breathing concerns for Nathan and domestic violence between the mother and her boyfriend. The allegations were deemed unfounded, the review committee wrote.

The state lost contact with the mother that same month until June 2012. When officials met with the mother they again offered her parenting classes, chemical dependency services, among other programs. 

Services that would have provided near-daily contact with the family might have helped, according to the review. And the mother should have been offered services for domestic violence victims, the review committee said.

In June, the Children’s Administration decided they lacked evidence to file a dependency petition. In July, the mother tested positive for meth and marijuana. This is another point at which an assistant attorney general should have been involved, according to the review.

Nathan’s doctor called the state Aug. 6, 2012, to say the mother had not been following through with the toddler’s medical treatment. The social worker tried to find the family that month, and was unable to find them. 

Nathan died four months later, after a 911 call reported he was having trouble breathing. People living at the home at the time, including the mother, admitted to investigators that they were drug users, Troyer said.

The toddler’s uncle picked up Nathan’s ashes, Leonard said.

“He loved that baby,” she said. 

Sister’s situation

In February, several months after Nathan’s death, the state took custody of his now-5-year-old sister, Leonard said.

Relatives started asking about the girl and became worried after learning she was being cared for by friends of her father, who Leonard said they believed were using drugs. The family had thought the sister had been living with her father.

Family members are looking into the process of adopting the girl, Leonard added.

Alyia Iverson said she hopes to get custody of her daughter.

She said she has a list of requirements to complete to try to get custody of the girl, such as parenting classes, drug tests, and inpatient treatment.

She was able to visit her Sunday, she said.

“She was excited to see me,” she said. “I cried more than she did when I had to say goodbye.”

Nathan – a blonde haired baby with shiny blue eyes – was always visibly excited when his sister visited, Leonard said. But the girl can no longer be placed with families with small babies, Leonard said, because she allegedly tried to smother an infant with a pillow recently.

When asked why, she said she wanted the baby to play with her brother, Leonard said.

“The sad thing is, I think she will be too young to be able to remember her brother,” Leonard said.

The girl brought a teddy bear to her brother’s funeral, and Leonard remembered her saying: “It’s not for me, it’s for Nathan.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268

alexis.krell@thenewstribune.com

 

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