The family of murdered 4-year-old Eric Dean has demanded the Republican Party of Minnesota remove an attack ad linking Gov. Mark Dayton to the toddler's death – and by mid-day Thursday, the party acquiesced.
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The ad in the GOP's campaign suggests the Dayton administration's decision to back a new child protection law made it "more difficult to investigate maltreatment cases," using a news story with Eric's picture in the background.
Yvonne Dean earlier made a plea through the Star Tribune for its removal, saying Dayton was not to blame for the boy's murder by his stepmother Amanda Peltier in February 2013, which followed 15 reports of suspected abuse from childcare workers.
You can watch the ad below. It was still posted on YouTube, including the portion referencing Eric Dean, as of about 12:30 p.m.
The spot is part of a late campaign blitz announced by the GOP on Wednesday, KARE 11 reports, in which it intends to spend more than $100,000 running ads against Democrats up to election day.
The law the ad references was passed this spring – more than a year after Eric's death – and prevents child protection services from using rejected child abuse reports when deciding whether to pursue a new report.
Yvonne Dean, the mother of Eric's father David, told the Star Tribune the family had not been asked permission to use the boy's image, and that they would have turned them down even if they had.
The Republican Party of Minnesota did not comment on the ad when contacted by the Star Tribune, though Jeff Larson, of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told the newspaper "there is no place in politics for this kind of advertisement."
A link to the video is still active on the Minnesota GOP website, in a statement announcing the party's six-figure ad campaign.
State's child protection system is 'overwhelmed'
Controversy over the ad came after the Task Force for the Protection of Children, set up by Dayton in response to the investigation into Eric Dean's death, met on Tuesday, which saw social workers in Duluth criticize the state's "overwhelmed" system, the Duluth News Tribune reports.
In the second in a series of state-wide meetings discussing improvements to Minnesota's child protection practices, childcare workers said caseloads are too large and staff overworked, according to WDIO.
Other issues raised at the meeting, the Star Tribune says, included concerns that too many abuse reports are screened out, reports of a disconnect between teachers and childcare workers when a child misses school, reports of a lack of foster care beds, and criticism of policies that appease rather than punish abusive parents.
David Vukelich, a child protection social worker in St Louis County, told the meeting's attendees he worked on 120 different cases last year, which he deems to be an excessive amount.
He said workers "spend a lot of time at their desks," the News Tribune reports, and called for extra funding to reduce working hours.
Recommendations are likely to be included in the task force's report that will be presented to Gov Dayton at the end of the year, with KDAL reporting that streamlining computer systems and increasing staff support are among the suggested improvements put forward.
The death of Eric Dean
Eric Dean died while in the care of his stepmother Amanda Lea Peltier in February of 2013, at her home in Starbuck, in western Minnesota. She subsequently was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
An investigation by the Star Tribune following his death revealed that childcare workers had reported suspicions the boy was being abused on no fewer than 15 occasions, yet the county's child-protection agency only investigated one, after a broken arm in 2011, and no action was taken.
The investigation into his death prompted urgent action to review Minnesota's child protection system, with Dayton creating the task force so it can put forward ideas to overhaul the current system, with suggested improvements set to be implemented in the 2015 Legislative Session.