Family of abused boy who died last year gets Minnesota GOP to change attack ad featuring case

The Minnesota Republican Party scrambled Thursday to revise a television ad that accuses Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton of incompetence after the grandmother of a 4-year-old boy whose death was highlighted in the spot complained it was inappropriate.

Republican Party chairman Keith Downey said he would respect the wishes of Yvonne Dean and remove any images or mentions of her grandson, Eric Dean, who was killed by his stepmother last year after numerous reports of his maltreatment went unanswered by social services. The case exposed failings in Minnesota's child protection system.

The grandmother, who said she was a Republican, publicly complained that her family was blindsided by the ad that began airing Wednesday. It featured a photo of Eric, smiling through bruises on his face, next to a grainy photo of the governor. She said the party didn't warn her family that the case would be cited in the political ad or ask permission to use the photo.

"To use his death for political gain is wrong," Dean told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. The 57-year-old grandmother said her family is just trying to heal.

Downey released a statement saying he personally apologized to Dean for how the situation transpired and told her the ad would be changed. But he defended the decision to highlight the child-protection issue.

The ad was run independent of Republican gubernatorial nominee Jeff Johnson's campaign. After the GOP announced it would be revised, Johnson said it was the right call.

"This little boy's picture should never have been used in an ad," Johnson said.

The ad doesn't directly blame Dayton's policies for the boy's death, but it highlights a law — passed with bipartisan backing — that he signed this year that limits how past abuse cases figure into decisions to investigate new complaints.

"It was downright horrifying that he signed a law making it more difficult to investigate maltreatment cases," the ad said, as Eric's bruised image appears on screen next to a grainy shot of Dayton. "Incompetence has consequences."

Dayton campaign spokesman Linden Zakula called the ad "despicable."

Last month, Dayton ordered greater state scrutiny of the county-administered system for child protection. In doing so, he cited the Dean case, in which 15 separate abuse reports were lodged with Pope County social workers about injuries traced to the boy's stepmother, Amanda Peltier, who was convicted this spring.

Dayton said at the time that the photo of Dean smiling through the wounds "will haunt me for a long time."

Yvonne Dean's reaction to the ad was first reported Wednesday night in a Star Tribune blog post by Michael Brodkorb, a former deputy chairman of the state Republican Party.


Associated Press writer Gretchen Ehlke contributed to this report.