Sullivan County Grand Jury Recommends Sweeping Changes to Child Protective Services Following Tragic Death of 16-Month-Old

MONTICELLO, N.Y. – The tragic death of 16-month-old Akasha Luvert from a fentanyl overdose has not only shocked the small Sullivan County community of Liberty but has also ignited a dispute between former Acting District Attorney Brian Conaty and former County Attorney Michael McGuire. The disagreement centers around whether county officials could have done more to prevent the child’s death.

Luvert’s parents, 26-year-old Lisa Keitt and 41-year-old Jimmy Luvert, were charged with manslaughter and endangering the welfare of a child following her death. The family was under the supervision of the county’s Child Protective Services (CPS), and CPS workers had visited them just hours before the tragedy occurred.

In a news conference on May 18, 2023, Conaty accused McGuire of failing to protect Luvert. He claimed that the county attorney’s office had refused to institute removal proceedings, despite CPS workers raising concerns about the children’s well-being. Conaty alleged that McGuire had created a culture of apathy, discouraging workers from taking appropriate action to remove endangered children.

McGuire, in a news conference held on May 25, 2023, refuted Conaty’s accusations and defended his office’s handling of CPS cases. He argued that CPS had an obligation under the law to remove the children from their parents regardless of his office’s position. McGuire criticized Conaty’s comments as callous and misleading, accusing him of politicizing the tragic death of a young child.

Since the dueling press conferences, Conaty has been elected as the District Attorney and has started serving his first full term. McGuire’s term as County Attorney came to an end on December 31, 2023.

Conaty recently presented the findings of a grand jury investigation into Luvert’s death. The grand jury report recommends sweeping changes to how CPS cases are handled in Sullivan County. The report supports Conaty’s earlier statement that CPS workers had requested the removal of Luvert and her sibling from their parents on three separate occasions.

McGuire disputes these claims and has provided evidence, including email exchanges and text messages, to challenge the grand jury findings. He maintains that CPS investigations into the family’s circumstances were unfounded and that his office was not made aware of any removal requests.

The grand jury report also contradicts the findings of an investigation conducted by the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). The OCFS report lists several deficiencies on the part of CPS, including failure to monitor, inadequate caseworker contacts, and a lack of a comprehensive plan for the children’s safety.

McGuire believes that county officials are attempting to shift blame onto his office and avoid acknowledging the findings of the OCFS report. He argues that DSS officials, particularly Commissioner John Liddle, had the legal obligation to remove the children from their parents’ care if they believed they were in danger.

Conaty has scheduled a news conference to discuss the details and findings of the grand jury report. The case highlights the complex issues surrounding child protective services and the responsibilities of county officials to ensure the safety of vulnerable children.

In summary, the death of Akasha Luvert has raised questions about the actions of county officials in preventing her tragic overdose. Former Acting District Attorney Brian Conaty and former County Attorney Michael McGuire have engaged in a public dispute over the handling of the case. A grand jury report has recommended significant changes to how CPS cases are handled, while the state Office of Children and Family Services has identified deficiencies on the part of CPS. The differing perspectives and evidence presented by Conaty and McGuire underscore the challenges of protecting at-risk children and the complexities of child protective services.