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Child welfare worker resigns in Dyess child death case

Involved in 'inappropriate relationship' with dead toddler's father

Jun. 22, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Tamryn Klapheke died of neglect. The resignation of a CPS investigative supervisor marks another turn in the complicated story in the death of the child.
Tamryn Klapheke died of neglect. The resignation of a CPS investigative supervisor marks another turn in the complicated story in the death of the child. (Photo courtesy of Klapheke family)
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A Child Protective Services worker who helped investigate the August death of a toddler at her family’s home on Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, resigned in late May after officials there learned she had an inappropriate relationship with the child’s father.

Senior Airman Thomas Klapheke was deployed when 22-month-old daughter Tamryn died from neglect. Tamryn’s mother, Tiffany Klapheke, will stand trial in September on a charge of felony injury to a child.

The resignation of CPS investigative supervisor Tiffany Gann marks another turn in an already complicated story of the death of a child that didn’t have to be.

A Dyess senior airman who lived in the Klapheke home at the time of Tamryn’s death is awaiting court-martial for allegedly failing to report the neglect of the girl and her two surviving sisters.

The Child Protective Services division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had opened — and closed — three investigations of the Klapheke family in the two years leading up to the August afternoon emergency responders found Tamryn malnourished, covered in waste and unresponsive. A case worker closed the final investigation just days before Tamryn died without conducting a required home visit.

CPS wasn’t the only agency looking in on the Klaphekes. The Dyess Family Advocacy Center had also been involved with the family since 2010; it closed an investigation in December 2011. Both seemed to point to each other in the months after the death: The base advocacy center said it had tried, unsuccessfully, to reach the CPS case worker multiple times and CPS said it believed Dyess was checking on the Klaphekes.

Two months after Tamryn died, the Abilene Police Department announced it was looking into whether Child Protective Services employees tampered with or fabricated evidence. No one has been charged so far. But the allegations rocked the Texas agency, with the head of the Department of Family and Protective Services resigning in November.

CPS launched a fourth investigation of the Klaphekes after Tamryn’s death. Investigative supervisor Tiffany Gann was assigned to the case, in which CPS determined Tiffany Klapheke had medically and physically neglected her children. It also found that the both Tiffany and Thomas Klapheke had either placed or failed to remove their children from a harmful situation.

Sometime that fall, Gann entered into an “inappropriate relationship” with the senior airman, CPS spokesman Patrick Crimmins said.

Crimmins said officials became aware of the relationship May 23. Gann, who had been employed with CPS since 2010, later resigned. Crimmins said he could not elaborate on the nature of the relationship or provide a more specific time frame.

Another employee assigned to the Klapheke case resigned for failing to report the relationship, Crimmins said. Two more CPS specialists were disciplined for their knowledge of the relationship. Of the four employees who resigned or were disciplined, the two who resigned were involved in the Klapheke investigation.

According to memorandums sent to the two CPS specialists still with the Department of Family and Protective Services, policy prohibits “even the appearance of favoritism, prejudice, undue influence or impropriety.” Employees who may be called to testify in court “must ensure that their conduct maintains their individual credibility as a potential witness,” the memo continued. “This policy extends beyond regular work hours and includes activity that may occur outside DFPS offices.”

Both CPS specialists knew about the relationship between Gann and Thomas Klapheke through social interactions with the senior airman, the memo stated. Thomas Klapheke filed for divorce following his wife’s arrest. A website set up in memory of Tamryn in September said he planned to raise their two surviving children and requested donations for their care.

Dyess spokeswoman Capt. Trisha Guillebeau said the Air Force cannot comment on what, if any, actions it plans to take against Thomas Klapheke for his alleged relationship with the CPS investigator.

“As a matter of policy, the Air Force does not discuss the details of ongoing investigations or speculate on pending or possible administrative or disciplinary actions involving service members,” Guillebeau said in an email.

Tiffany Klapheke is scheduled to stand trial September 30. She faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted.

No court-martial date has been set for Senior Airman Christopher Perez, who is accused of failing to report the neglect.■

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