Knight had trouble believing Peltier’s explanations. She came to know Eric as a quiet kid who craved attention and loved to be held and hugged. She never saw him bang his head on walls and rarely saw him misbehave.
Knight and other teachers began to note how Peltier treated Eric differently from her other children. She was forceful with Eric, would grab him and yell at him. She demanded that the teachers not show any affection to Eric, saying he didn’t deserve it.
Once, after one teacher bought him new shoes to replace ones that were so worn they fell off his feet, Peltier was enraged.
“She said he can’t have them until he’s a good boy,” the teacher, Karin Egdorf, recalled.
Both teachers said what they saw was not enough to report to child protection.
Even so, two reports were made to child protection in February 2011 that Eric was being maltreated. The county won’t say what was alleged or who alleged it, only that the allegations didn’t meet the criteria for a response.
Day-care director Brenda McDonald said the complaints could have come from other parents at the day care. They’d noticed Peltier’s rough handling of Eric, and McDonald encouraged them to report what they witnessed to the county and gave them the number to call.
The teachers’ concern about Eric grew as he continued to arrive at day care with bruises and bite marks. In July 2011, a hospital reported to the county that Eric’s arm was broken in a way that often indicated violence. The county opened an investigation.
“We hoped they would find out who was doing this,” Knight said.
The hospital case was assigned to Kelly Lurken-Tvrdik, a county child-protection worker. She had worked at the county for a year, after a decade of experience as an advocate at a St. Cloud battered women and children’s shelter.
Lurken-Tvrdik interviewed Peltier in July 2011.
“The reason that we got the report in the first place is because of the way that it was broken,” the social worker told Peltier, according to child-protection records filed in court. “It’s like someone twisting the arm.”
Peltier told Lurken-Tvrdik that she wasn’t watching the kids as closely as she should have been, and was in the basement of her mother’s home doing laundry when suddenly Eric came tumbling down the stairs, plopping down in front of her, according to a transcript of her interview with Lurken-Tvrdik.
“He does fall down a lot,” she told the social worker.
The county sent the report and Peltier’s story of what happened to Dr. Mark Hudson, a child abuse specialist at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. But they didn’t tell him about any of the six prior abuse reports, according to Hudson. Lacking other evidence of child abuse, Hudson concluded the break could have resulted from a fall down the stairs. He did express concern to the county about Eric’s black eye, which Peltier’s explanations could not account for, records show.
Lurken-Tvrdik determined that Eric wasn’t maltreated and the county closed the case. (She did not respond to requests for comment for this story.)
State law says any investigation or family assessment conducted by a county agency needs to be shared with law enforcement. Child protection didn’t tell police about Eric’s broken arm. Only one of the 15 abuse reports was passed on to police.
“Is that concerning?” said Jim Minion, the police chief in Starbuck at the time. “You bet.”