In an abrupt reversal, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced on Friday that he will seek to terminate the parental rights of Cynthia Kiewatt, who kept her 2-year-old son in a motel room turned drug den.
The county had said earlier this week it would offer Kiewatt, 43, a plan to reunify with her son, but Freeman called that a mistake.
"I'm in charge of this office, and it was my mistake and I'm taking total responsibility," Freeman said. "I'm the captain of this ship."
Freeman said because of the Kiewatt case, his office will review past cases to see if similar mistakes were made, and be more aggressive in terminating the rights of parents who repeatedly abuse their children.
"In similar cases like this Kiewatt case, when you have a mother or a father, multiple kids taken away and multiple problems, chance after chance, then we need to step forward right then, and say, 'no you're done,' " Freeman said.
Kiewatt, 43, has a history of drug abuse, prostitution and maltreating her children dating back to 2001, leading to the involuntarily termination of her parental rights to two older children, court records show. Under state law, that made her "palpably unfit" to be a parent to any future children, and would have allowed the county to immediately terminate her parental rights to her 2-year-old son.
But during a court hearing on Tuesday, Assistant County Attorney Erin Goltz said Kiewatt could get her child back if she followed a plan of drug treatment, stable housing and other steps. The county also recommended that Kiewatt get supervised visits with her son.
In explaining why that decision was made, Freeman said in a statement to the Star Tribune on Tuesday "the law and case law come down strongly on the side of keeping families together and it has been our experience that expedited termination cases can be very difficult cases for this office to prevail and must be analyzed with that in mind."
Freeman said Friday he attributed his change of heart to new information about the case since Tuesday, including learning "all the problems with this mother." He blamed a lack of communication in an overworked office for not knowing about Kiewatt's history.
"My sense was that this mother had already had two kids taken away, and this mother had every chance she should ever get and perhaps more," Freeman said. "I wanted this office to move more directly."
The county could have terminated the parental rights to the boy when he was born in 2013 with high levels of opiates and cocaine in his system and placed into foster care.
Instead, the two were reunited a few months later while Kiewatt was in drug treatment. In December 2014, the county got a report that Kiewatt posted pictures of herself posing in lingerie on prostitution sites, saying she was available "24/7." The county rejected an investigation, saying the complaint "does not meet the definition of abuse, sexual abuse or neglect under Minnesota law."
In January, Hennepin County got fresh concerns that Kiewatt was abusing drugs and neglecting her son, which she denied the next month when she met with a child protection worker. After telling Kiewatt that her case would be transferred to another child protection worker, Kiewatt and her son vanished.
They were missing until Sept. 16, when Bloomington police got a report from a Northwood Inn motel clerk that a guest appeared to be high and had a young boy with her. Kiewatt was found in a room with other addicts filled with heroin, cocaine and meth. The boy was asleep on a bed just feet away from a syringe filled with heroin.
The boy again went missing after police handed him off to a family friend at the suggestion of Kiewatt. He was found a week later and is in protective custody with Hennepin County.
Freeman said his office will ask to terminate Kiewatt's parental rights to the boy at a hearing next Thursday.