The Sponaugle File: A History Of Neglect Inside The Kansas DCF

Leaked Kansas Department for Children and Families records show a disturbing case of neglect Part 1

  • In 2014 Joseph Sponaugle murdered a 3-month-old child

  • Records show that DCF knew the 3-month-old and another child were in a dangerous situation

  • Sponaugle was sentenced to an 18-years in prison in 2016

  • The Sponaugle file is the investigation of the murder conducted by law enforcement

Since the death of Evan Brewer there is evidence of serious neglect inside the Kansas Department for Children and Families. But how many children were victims of DCF neglect before the horrific discovery of Brewer’s body inside a “cement structure?” 

Over the years DCF have fought nail tooth and fist to seal documents related to children in the system, especially if it involves a death or abuse. Most recently, a judge sealed Brewer’s case after it was brought to attention that four reports were made DCF.

According to the Wichita Eagle, the City of Wichita requested DCF records related to Brewer be sealed. The Eagle requested the records to see how the “state responded to reports of a child being in danger.”

Under state law, if “child abuse or neglect results in a child fatality or near fatality,” state records about the child being alleged to be in need of care or found to be in need of care “shall become a public record and subject to disclosure.”

The Sponaugle Records

To give an example of what DCF negligence looks like from the inside, The Daily Haze managed to obtain Kansas DCF records related to a 3-month-old child who was murdered by 29-year-old Joseph Sponaugle in 2014. The records are from the investigation conducted by law enforcement into the murder committed by Sponaugle.

The Sponaugle file shows DCF knew the 3-month-old and another child were in a dangerous situation for roughly two years before the murder. The file will be released in full throughout a multi-part series. Below is the first release from these records.

Joseph Sponaugle Part 1

Joseph Sponaugle

According to records, on June 10, 2014, KBI Senior Special Agent Brian Carroll along with Pratt Police Department Detective Jeff Ward and Edward’s County Undersheriff Bobby Blackwell arrived at Sponaugle’s residence.

Sponaugle was asked to step outside. Once outside, he was informed a warrant was issued for his arrest and he was asked to place his arms behind his back. He was handcuffed and transported to EDSO by Ward.

Inside the interview room at EDSO, Ward provided a copy of the arrest warrant to Sponaugle and then explained the charges. Sponaugle’s warrant included 1st-Degree-Murder, Child Abuse, and Child Endangerment. According to the report, Sponaugle had no questions and was transported by Ward to Pratt County jail.

The arrest warrant states that Sponaugle knowingly killed the 3-month-old between January 11, 2014, and January 14, 2014, by means of shaking which resulted in “great bodily harm.” His charge of child endangerment is related to at least one incident that occurred between May 31, 2013, and July 31, 2013.

The 911 Call

Records show on January 11, 2014, at approximately 1:48 pm Sponaugle called Pratt, Kansas emergency dispatch. The following is a transcript of what Sponaugle said during the call.

Ah, yes, my name is Joseph Sponaugle and I have a little baby, she’s maybe umm…she was born in September, but umm, I tripped over something, I tripped over the edge of the couch and I, and she was in my arms cause she was screamin’ and I was feedin’ her and everything and I kind-of fell and she’s havin’ a really hard time breathin’…umm…she’s taking breathes but they’re really, really like…hard, like she’s, you know…she’s like really struggling to breathe, she’s taking really deep breathes…umm…I’m just, I’m just really…but I was, I was feedin’ her and I was, you know, walking with her, because she was upset and everything and I, we just moved in and our house is still kind-of getting unpacked and everything and I tripped over the edge of the couch and I accidentally fell on her, I tried catching myself, but, she’s like really takin’ really hard, deep breathes and they’re like, like she’s struggling.

Emergency response arrived on the scene at approximately 1:55 pm and made contact with Sponaugle. He led them to a sofa where the child was lying in a “supine position” and wearing only a diaper. The child was unresponsive, in severe respiratory distress, but had no external signs of injury. Emergency response provided artificial respiration and the child was rushed to Pratt Regional Medical Center in critical condition.

Significant Internal Head Trauma

Sponaugle told first response that he “tripped on a pink bouncy seat in the living room.” He then indicated that he fell on top of the child and when he got up the child was not breathing. Cpl McCarley made a note of Sponaugle’s “apparent calm and detached manner” while speaking of the incident.

Sponaugle had been alone with the child while his girlfriend, the child’s mother, Brittani Figueroa was at work. Police made contact with Figueroa at the emergency room and confirmed Sponaugle was alone with the child since 10:30 am when she left for work.

After being admitted to the trauma center, initial examinations showed the child was not able to breathe without artificial respiration and suffered from “significant internal head trauma.” The examining doctor stated that the injuries did not match the father’s description of what had occurred.

The child was airlifted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Wesley Medical Center still in critical condition. At Wesley, the trauma team discovered that along with severe head trauma the child also had a metaphyseal fracture of the upper left humerus, more commonly known as a “bucket handle fracture.”

Past Bruises

When asked about any prior illnesses or injuries both parents claimed the child had been healthy prior to that point. However, Figueroa did discuss two bruises that she discovered on the child.

The first bruise was reported to be on the upper right arm when the child was still a newborn. When Figueroa asked Sponaugle if he had caused the bruise, he denied it. Figueroa said she assumed the bruise possibly came from not swaddling the child tight enough which allowed his arms to flex inside the blanket.

The second bruise was reported to be on the left side of the child’s upper lip, near the crease of the cheek. When Figueroa questioned Sponaugle about the second bruise, he claimed it was possibly caused from the pacifier being in the child’s mouth and bumping the child’s head against the chest too hard.

January 14, 2014

On January 14, 2014, a doctor conducted a second brain survey. The child was determined to be brain dead, and the parents were notified. On January 16, the child was moved to a surgical suite where the heart and internal organs were retrieved for transplants.

It was determined that the level of injury was not consistent with the medical history of a fall. The child’s injuries were determined not to be accidental. How the injuries were sustained matched a large amount of force often seen in twisting or shaking.


Documents show on February 3, 2014, the Pratt Police Department served a search warrant to Facebook Inc. for information from Figueroa’s Facebook account. The warrant included a request for all “notes, comments, billing records, contact lists, calendars, e-mails, text messages, photos, videos, and wall posts and/or any other subscriber information associated with Facebook ID for a period of 09/30/2013 and 01/31/2014.”

On June 5, 2014, Ward requested all records from DCF related to Sponaugle and Figueroa. On July 7, 2014, Winfield DCF Supervisor Karen King responded with a series of cases that occurred for two years prior to Sponaugle murdering a three-month-old child. Sponaugle is serving an 18-year prison sentence he received in February of 2016.

READ: Part two of this series by clicking here!




About Meko Haze

Meko Haze is an independent journalist by day... and an independent journalist by night.

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