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Kyneddi Miller presser was long on words, short on accountability

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Kyneddi Miller presser was long on words, short on accountability

Jun 12, 2024 | 5:55 am ET
By Andrew Donaldson
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Kyneddi Miller presser was long on words, short on accountability
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Media members were allowed to attend an in person news conference hosted by Gov. Jim Justice's Chief of Staff Brian Abraham on Thursday, June 6, 2024. Justice has not held an in-person press conference since before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Office of the Gov. Jim Justice | Courtesy photo)

The Governor’s Reception Room at the West Virginia Capitol is designed to project a sense of importance. White columns and paneling contrast with herringbone wood floors, lit by large, draped windows, adorned with state and American flags perfectly angled for presentation. The staging of a podium manned by a lawyer in a suit, and the seal of the Governor of West Virginia gracing the draped table with important state officials sitting behind it. The rest of the room filled, in the words of West Virginia Watch reporter Amelia Knisley, with “the most press I’ve seen at anything in years at the Capitol.” A scene specifically choreographed to project competency and official concern against the criticisms that necessitated this event.

A scene about as far removed from Cameo Road, Boone County, West Virginia, as one can get. Cameo Road, which is a 15-minute car ride to the closest point a Google Streetview car has ever come. Where a now-retired state trooper and still-unnamed Child Protective Service workers became the crux of the story proffered at the precisely placed podium and officially trimmed table in the Capitol. Where 14-year-old Kyneddi Miller died in an emaciated, skeletal state back in April. Cameo Road, where Miller’s mother, grandmother and grandfather lived, and are now charged for their alleged involvement leading up to her death.

The weeks of questions, non-answers, conflicting stories, changing explanations, insistent reporting, and combative state officials marked the road from Boone County back to the Governor’s Reception Room press conference. Gov. Jim Justice was not present, despite his own comments, walk backs, and deflections having central roles in the events between Miller’s death and the gathering of press and political appointees to discuss it. Gov. Justice’s Chief of Staff Brian Abraham manned the podium to officiate what was supposed to be an answer session to questions about the state’s involvement in the Miller case before and after her body was discovered.

What the assembled press got instead was a guided meditation on exculpatory minutia, a relentless circle of legalities, technical details, curious coincidences, and blameless happenstances. The trooper should have called, not driven the 25 minutes to the county CPS office. Previous CPS visits to the home were not directly related to Miller’s death. An informal referral is not a formal referral. Mistakes were made but no one did anything wrong. There were “nuances” that could have been followed up on, but it is no one’s fault they weren’t.

Could’ve. Should’ve. Would’ve.

However, Abraham explained, the homeschool paperwork was not properly done, so focus on that and get the legislature to do something there. Enforcing homeschool rules will now become the focus of the folks that want to do something following the death of Kyneddi Miller. But focusing down on just one aspect of the Miller case will functionally result in the totality of the system that failed her so badly going unchanged, unchallenged, and unaffected.

Which is the problem when mistakes were made but no one is to blame; accountability and meaningful change become impossible. Abraham gives the game away by briefing on an investigation but offering no official report, while at the same time bristling at accusations the state is not forthcoming. Nothing on paper to be picked apart and dissected for more conflicting information, more gaps in responsibilities, more failures, “nuanced” or otherwise. No official document to feed a story that would just go away if the pesky press would stop focusing on it.

Underneath the lawyer-speak, talking points, and carefully crafted narrative that was presented inside the grandeur of the West Virginia Capitol lies an unavoidable truth. There is no version of the events, from Kyneddi Miller’s death until this press conference, where the “why” and “how” of the teenager’s death wasn’t secondary to the control of information to the press and public by the same state officials who were charged with Miller’s welfare, education, and protection. The actions speak far louder than the words, especially as the words kept changing.

All of which leaves us with a child dead on the bathroom floor, failed by everyone, without a real chance at life or any semblance of answers in death. We are left with a state government full of projected competency and official concern while accountability is kicked down the well-worn road of little meaningful change. In a representative democracy, we get the government we deserve. Or, more to the point, that we tolerate.

Shame on us.