Medill Justice Project investigation leads to freedom for Oregon woman in rare medical child abuse case


Source: Jeanne Kuang/Medill Justice Project

Kate Parker of Grants Pass, Oregon speaks to members of the Medill Justice Project. Parker, whose case the investigative reporting class worked on last quarter, was released from court supervision Wednesday.

Jerry Lee, Assistant Design Editor

After being arrested and separated from her family for nearly two years, Kate Parker has been reunited with her children after an investigation conducted by the Medill Justice Project.

Parker faced 43 charges and possibly more than 30 years in prison for what was believed to be Oregon’s first ever criminal medical child abuse case, according to the Medill Justice Project’s reporting. However, following publication of the organization’s investigation into Parker’s case, prosecutors moved to drop all major charges and work toward a settlement, which culminated in Parker’s release from court supervision Wednesday.

“We were able to document the very first moments of the mother’s very sudden freedom,” said Medill Prof. Alec Klein, the director of the Medill Justice Project. “It was a pretty incredible moment to witness after an investigation and a testament to the great work of Medill students.”

Parker’s story began in September 2013, when prosecutors accused her of subjecting her children to unnecessary medical treatment. This included the administration of high doses of narcotics and the manipulation of neurosurgeons to perform surgeries on her then 7-year-old son, which the prosecution labeled acts of criminal mistreatment and assault, according to the Medill Justice Project’s original article.

However, less than a week after the publication of the article, which contained records and interviews that contradicted much of the prosecution’s findings, prosecutors notified Parker and her attorneys that they would dismiss the assault and mistreatment charges based on the surgeries performed on her son.

Tiffany Harris, one of Parker’s attorneys, said she appreciated how the Medill Justice Project accurately covered the details of the case.

“It was high quality journalism, not to sensationalize or sell the news but to probe the issues and really get to the truth,” Harris said.

Ten students in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences are credited for the original article, “A Mother’s Care.” Students went on multiple trips to interview Parker’s family, her attorneys, medical child abuse experts and Parker herself. The work also involved combing hundreds of pages of documents, particularly medical records, said Medill senior Rachel Fobar, a student who participated in the investigation.

“It’s a great way to combine journalism, which we’re already all passionate about, with actually helping people and having a concrete effect,” Fobar said. “If we hadn’t written the story, (her release) might not have happened.”

After Parker’s release on bail in October 2014, she was monitored by a GPS ankle bracelet away from her family. However, it was only Wednesday that she was freed from court supervision altogether, after a settlement was reached with prosecutors.

“The Medill Justice Project is hopefully a valuable opportunity for students to do real-word investigative reporting,” Klein said. “They’re doing all the things that I used to do as an investigative reporter.”

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