Skip navigation

Special note:  There are pictures inserted into this post,  if you click on them you can see some of the documentation of my complaint, including the forged document.  I recommend seeing the picture titled actual Signature and then viewing the forgery, it is the only way you can see the difference between the two.  Also if you wish to view just the juicy parts of Allison Bakers Criminal Background Search see pages 3 and 4, she was charged with 8 counts of forging perscriptions to obtain a controlled substance.  These counts were Knocked down to misdemeanor drug possession, but why was she even working for DSS?

Allow me to apologize for the lengths of my posts in advance,  the only way to get the full stories out is to put all the information on here.  There is never a short version when it comes to CPS involvement.  Also, I am really interested in your comments, or if you have a story to tell, please feel free to leave a comment on this page.  I will read and respond to them all.  If you would like to email me, to share your story, comment on mine, or just to talk…my email address is lawdoll1@gmail.com

 

 

 
 
 
 NOTE: Social Worker 1, Allison S. Baker, has been charged with Felony Obstruction of Justice and is awaiting trial for forging my husband’s signature to a Safety Assessment that never occured. I name NCDSS in this complaint, because although I have complained about this repeatedly to them and sent them documented proof of the violations in this case, they have done nothing. NCDSS is directly responsible for the conduct of a county office according to case law that has, found and held, that NCDSS a principle, agent relationship exsist between North Carolina DSS and a county office. By not stepping in and responding to this matter, NCDSS has violated its duties and is therefore also responsible for the illegal activities that have occurred in this case. 

 

This is my story…Of course it isn’t the whole story, but it is without a doubt what I am most pissed off about at the moment.

CPS’s Failure To Protect My Stepdaughter

I am writing because I feel that the Wilkes County Department of Social Services has failed in its duty to protect my step-daughter. I have listed the reasons for this complaint as follows:

  • Forged and Falsified Documents
  • Failed to follow statutory investigation requirements/time limits.
  • Accepted a retaliatory report on us that had been screened out by another county.
  • Failed to disclose vital information during a physiological evaluation.
  • Failed to investigate reports of bruises and neglect.
  • Bias and discriminatory comments directed at me and my husband.
  • Retaliated against us for complaining about their violations.

 

My husband, and I made the initial report to the Wilkes County Department of Social Services on August 15, 2006 and for the first two months they did nothing, even though our report concerned unexplained bruises and dental neglect. The worker assigned to the case,Allison Baker did not go to the residence of my step-daughters mother until the last week of October. Two months after our initial report. I supplied CPS with pictures of my Stepdaughter’s teeth taken by the dentist and a statement written by him, stating that it was neglect.

After our initial report was made I spoke with our social workers supervisor Mary Henderson, who asked why my husband hadn’t taken his daughter to the dentist if we first noticed the cavities on December 17, 2005, I explained to her that my husband has standard visitation, he has his daughter every other weekend, dentist offices are not normally open on weekends and that he had informed her mother several times of the condition of the child’s teeth.

The first time that we had her on a week day we took her to the dentist. (June 27, 2006) I also explained to Mary Henderson that my husband was told that if he tried to take his daughter before then, on a date that was not scheduled for visitation, that he would be arrested. The mother did not take the child to the dentist although we carry dental insurance, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, effective date 7/05, The mother carries dental insurance Delta Dental, effective date 11/05 and the child was on North Carolina Medicaid until July 31, 2006, this to me is willful neglect on the mother’s part.

On August 21, 2006, I called the Allison Baker, and informed her that on my stepdaughter’s weekend visitation with us I had noticed small round bruises on her back in the vicinity of the waist line of her jeans. The social worker told me that the next time the child had bruises to get pictures, yet she still did not go to the residence and conduct an investigation.

On August 27, 2006, I met with the Allison Baker, at the Wilkes County Department of Social Services at 10:00am. I took with me the pictures of my stepdaughter’s teeth and a videotape of her in our care and footage of our home dated August 4, 2006 to present.

On October 14, 2006 I noticed that my stepdaughter had a bruise on her right side, on her stomach, dime sized and turning brown, so I looked her over and discovered more bruises on her. One on the back of her right leg right below her butt, it was dark quarter sized and another on the inside of her left upper thigh, this one looked like fingers, not finger prints, but full finger, three to be exact. These were not welts or red marks but actual bruises. I took pictures, as I had been advised by the Allison Baker to do; I also videotaped the bruises in case the pictures did not come out. Plus, it could not be disputed that it was truly my stepdaughter that way.

While I was videotaping the bruises on the upper part of her body, she leaned over rubbed the front of her shin and said, ‘These are normal bruises.‘ I took that to mean that the ones I was videotaping were not ‘normal’.

I then called the Wilkes County Department of Social Services emergency number, but was greeted by the message, ‘This phone is not answered and these messages are not listened to.’ I was, at this point, at a complete loss of what to do next, so I called the Surry County Sheriff’s Department who informed me that it was not their jurisdiction because the bruises occurred in Wilkes County at the child’s mother’s home.

On Sunday, October 15, 2006 I found the Allison Baker’s home phone number in the phone book and called her at home. I informed her of the bruises, that I had taken pictures and videotaped the bruises and asked her what to do. She advised me to call the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Department and make a report with the worker on call. Allison Baker did not come to our home, even though she was the assigned worker, she did not do anything. This social worker, aware of the bruises, did not go to the child’s school to check on her, until five days after I informed her of these bruises nor would she return my calls on October 16, 2006 when I tried to get the videotape to her.

I called the worker on call at the Wilkes County Sheriff’s Department; I specifically described the appearance and location of the bruises. I explained to the worker on call that we hadn’t noticed the bruises October 13, 2005, because we went to the haunted trail and did not get home until late. The worker on call said that she had to call her supervisor to see if this was urgent enough to send some one out to our house at that time, but called later and said that they declined to investigate it. The call was screened out because of an error that the intake worker made.

On October 23, 2006 I called the main office in Raleigh and complained about the way that Allison Baker and the Wilkes County Department of Social Services were handling this case. I was directed to someone else.

On October 24, 2006, Oscar Howard “Hal” Wilson, III a Social Worker Supervisor at the Wilkes County Department of Social Services called our home, believing that he was calling Phyllis Fulton in Raleigh. During his lengthy message to Ms. Fulton, which he left on our home answering machine, he released my name as the reporter, the child’s name, and basically admitted that it was improbable the child received all of these bruises from a haunted ‘hay ride, but…’ He also said that they were going to advice me to make another report. A report that I was later criticized for making.  

On October 24, 2006 I received a letter from the Wilkes County Department of Social Services dated October 15, 2005, that thanked me for my report of suspected child abuse…’The report was not accepted for investigation because the child is nine years old and is not stating that anything adverse has happened to her.’ This letter is signed by Deborah Koen, SWIII and Oscar Howard “Hal” Wilson, III is listed as Social Worker Supervisor at the bottom. ( He had clearly shown his compentenc level with the phone call above.)Now I fail to see how this report could have been screened out because the child did not state that anything adverse had happened to her and no one even spoke to her on October 15, 2006.

It was also stated during my phone contact with Wilkes County Department of Social Services that the child fell at the haunted trail and that was how she received the bruises. I informed them that her daddy carried her through the whole trail because she was scared, that she never fell and that if she had it still would not explain how she got bruises on such a diverse area of her body. I was treated like a liar.

I called a different supervisor Bill Sebastian on October 24, 2006 and complained about the fact that the report was screened out on October 15, 2006. He suggested that I file a new report with the Wilkes County Department of Social Services that would be assigned to a different team. I did file a new report on this date. I listed specific dates that my stepdaughter had shown up with bruises, the exact placement and size of the bruises. I also stated that her dental care had been neglected to the point that when we took her to the dentist on July 3, 2006 she had to have teeth I and J extracted. The new report was accepted and assigned to a new social worker, Ruth Parker as of this date, March 8, 2007, I still haven’t heard from her.

On October 25, 2006 I talked to the Allison Baker, who asked us to come in to her office on October 27, 2006 because she was now investigating us, although at the time of our phone conversation she did not tell us that there had been a report made against us. Allison Baker, also asked why I hadn’t told her that my husband had only been seeing his daughter regularly for a year, I told her that I did tell her that he hadn’t seen her for four years because her mother wouldn’t let him. I informed her that we had recorded phone calls between ourselves and the mother where my husband beg to see his daughter and told her I would bring her those tapes the 27the because the mother had not been truthful with her about the situation.

My husband and I met with the Allison Baker on October 27, 2006 at 4:00pm; it was at this time that we gave her the videotape from October 14, 2006. She viewed the tape at that time, did not really comment on the bruises and did not state that it was improper or show any concern over my videotaping the bruises on my stepdaughter.

Allison Baker had in her possession a report that had been made against us that contained things like…We had poison Ivy in our yard, trees growing in our gutters, dirty dishes in the sink, that we make the child sleep on the floor, eight children living in our home, the child had woke up with a rat on her chest, my daughter had left a bruise on child’s arm… I asked the her when this report was made and all she would say was that it was old, really old.  Then why didn’t they investigate it when it was made?  Another statutory law violation or an excuse to investigate us because we complained two days earlier?

I didn’t understand why she was even investigating it, the stuff contained in it was stupid and the social worker had already seen videotape of the inside of our home, dated August 4, 2006 and on up. Furthermore, why didn’t she come to our home and investigate it? Isn’t that the statutory requirement?

Allison Baker voiced concern and informed me specifically that no recording devices were allowed in the interview room. She also stated that she was covering her ass in case the District Attorney’s office became involved in our case, when we question why the DA would become involved she never answered the question.

At this meeting Allison Baker also stated that she had finally had a home visit at the mother’s home and the place was immaculate. I stated, ‘Yea but what about the trailer that she was living in two months ago when we made our report.’ The mother had moved by the time a home visit was done. The social worker also did not want to hear the tapes that proved that the mother was lying to her. Allison Baker restated at this meeting for us to get pictures of the bruises and did not say anything negative about the videotape I had made of the bruises.

On October 30, 2006 I spoke with James D. (Donnie) Bumgarner, Director of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services and voiced my concerns about the way this case was being handled. I was scheduled to met with the Mr. Bumgarner, October 31, 2006, but when I arrived I found out that I would be by myself in a room with not just the Mr. Bumgarner, but With supervisors Mary Henderson, Bill Sebastian, and Sonya Freeman. I felt that this was an intimidation tactic on their part, but I am not easily intimidated so I again voiced my concerns about the handling of this case.

I was told that since the child was not disclosing their hands were tied to which I replied, ‘So when shes older and all messed up from being abused are you going to tell her that if she would have disclosed you could have helped her, lay all the responsibility of the abuse on her shoulders, her fault you couldn’t help.’ I also told them that abused children do not always disclose and when they can’t speak for themselves because they’re scared and intimidated by the abuser, someone else needs to step in and be a voice for them. That’s what I am trying to do.

At the meeting on October 31, 2006 one of the supervisors, Sonya Freeman asked if my husband and I would be willing to come in for mediation with the mother. I said that we would, but voiced a concern about mediating abuse. North Carolina court doesn’t even allow mediation where there is suspected domestic or child abuse, so I failed to comprehend how Child Protective Services could.

On November 6, 2006 my husband and I showed up for the scheduled mediation, we were the only ones who showed up. Sonya Freeman was supposed to be there, but had an emergency with her son. The mother had apparently never been contacted about the date and time of the mediation. Allison Baker made excuses about why we were not called and notified that the mediation would not occur. We had to drive for forty five minutes to make this appointment, it was also my son’s fourteenth birthday, but we made it a priority to make this appointment.

According to Sonya Freeman when I spoke with her November 7, 2006 the Allison Baker was supposed to have called us and informed us that the mediation would need to be rescheduled, but she never did. The mediation was rescheduled for November 8, 2006, but my husband had to work that day and we could not attend. Furthermore, by this time we were so frustrated with, what our opinion appeared to be gross incompetence that we had developed a trust issue with the Wilkes County Department of Social Services and their ability to investigate this case.

On November 10, 2006 my stepdaughter came home for weekend visitation with a huge bruise on the inside/front of her right thigh that appeared to be a hand print, I did videotape this bruise. During this video she is making excuses for the bruise, ‘I usually get them from running into windows’, ‘I threw a bouncy ball and it came back and hit me in the leg’, ‘I must have got it from being kicked in Karate’. I again informed Allison Baker of the bruise and that I had videotaped it, although I waited until Monday to do so, because honestly what was the point of calling before then, they wouldn’t have responded anyway.

November 14, 2006 we went to court on our petition for change of custody filed in June 2006. This hearing was postponed until the Wilkes County Department of Social Services finished the investigation that we initiated. The Judge also issued an order that DSS submit their findings to him.

On November 20, 2006 I delivered a copy of the videotape to Sonya Freeman, when I spoke with Ms. Freeman on November 22, 2006 she stated that she could see prints on the child and that she was concerned by what she saw. She did not state any concerns about my videotaping the bruises.

On November 27, 2006 I spoke with Sonya Freeman who was now stating that the video was not very clear and jumped around, speeding up and down. I told her at points in the video I had recorded for her that I paused it and slowed it down so that she could see the bruises. I also believe that it was on this occasion that concern was voiced over my videotaping bruises on my stepdaughter. I made an appointment to meet with Sonya Freeman on December 5, 2006 at 4:30pm. Also somewhere around this date is when Wilkes County Department of Social Services stated that they couldn’t tell who was ‘telling the truth’ and decided to send all parties for a physiological evaluation.

On November 30, 2006 I spoke with Allison Baker, who on this date, for the first time, voiced a concern over the videotaping. I told her that she was the one who told me to get her pictures and proof of the bruises and that was what I had done. She stated get pictures.

On December 1, 2006 I faxed a letter to Allison Baker, I also faxed a written complaint to Donnie Bumgarner asking that the Allison Baker be removed from our case and requesting that our case be moved to a different county. I have never received a response from him regarding this request and complaint. In this complaint I stated my concerns about the handling of this case, that we believed there to be some kind of bias, coercion, or other unethical behavior occurring in this case, because we could not understand how given the demographics and evidence that we had submitted in this case WCDSS couldn’t see what was going on.

I think I need to mention that we are not the only ones who filed a report of abuse and neglect against the mother. The mother’s other daughter’s, dad and step mom filed a report August 10, 2006 alleging, among other things neglect and physical abuse. They have pictures of bruises on his daughter, but Wilkes Department of Social Services has never contacted them about their report, or viewed the pictures. They are participating in the physiological evaluation as is this daughter. They have major complaints against the Wilkes County Department of Social Services too.

I met with Sonya Freeman and Mary Henderson on December 5, 2006; at this time they voiced concern over my videotaping the bruises. They also made what I felt was inappropriate comments, such as saying that the father and mother didn’t even act human during the pick up and drop offs, how close could the child and her little brother be since they never see each other…(we schedule their visits together if we can.) I was even criticized for saying that children need hugs and that normal families hug and show affection.

During my meeting with Sonya Freeman and Mary Henderson they stated that the child was clearly uncomfortable during the videotaping. First if you see the video, she is uncomfortable, as am I. She doesn’t want her underwear to show and she is afraid that someone will come in, but she is also joking around and talking. In the second video she is trying to prevent me from recording the bruises and making excuses but she is joking around and playing as well. Plus she wore the same clothes the rest of the night (T-shirt and panties). I don’t think it is so much the fact that I am recording her, but the fact that I am recording the bruises that makes her uncomfortable.

I asked Mary Henderson and Sonya Freeman at this meeting if they thought the child would have been any more comfortable if someone from Social Services had took pictures of the bruises and they stated that she would not have been. I also tried to explain to them that the mother is so verbally abusive to my husband that he can not communicate with her that is why they don’t talk. If he says the slightest thing to her during the pick up and drop offs she causes a scene in front of their daughter and she does not need to see that. I also tried to explain to them that my stepdaughter will not even acknowledge us when her mother is present because she is so scared of her. Mary Henderson’s reply was, ‘Why should she have to?’ I could not get her to understand that the child is perfectly fine, comfortable, and happy with us when her mother isn’t around, but when her mom is around she becomes wooden.

After my meeting with Mary Henderson and Sonya Freeman on December 5th, I felt completely helpless and defeated. I was also angry because of the bias nature of their comments about my husband. It was at this point that we realized that we were not going to be listened to.

On December 9, 2006 the Allison Baker came to our house as part of her investigation, almost four months after the report was filed. We were found to have a safe home, which means that the report against us should have been found unsubstantiated, but as of this date February 27, 2007 it has not. She wrote a under Section 2 Safety Response, “1 (circled) Stepmom and dad, agree to not physically discipline the child and to use other forms of punishment. Neither on of us had ever used physical discipline on my stepdaughter…ever. According to DSS policy, Allison Baker was not allowed to use allegations on this assessment, but she did.

On December 11, 2006 I spoke with the Allison Baker about the date of the physiological evaluation, it was scheduled to begin January 5, 2007. On December 12, 2006 Allison Baker called and stated that she needed my husband to come in and sign papers giving his permission for his daughter to do the physiological evaluation. The social worker also informed me during this phone call that I should sit on the Child Abuse Prevention Team in Wilkes County.

My husband went and signed a consent/authorization for medical/mental health evaluation child medical evaluation program form on December 18, 2006. This form lists that the referral is made by authority of (check one) Checked is DSS Director—when acting as temporary guardian of child found abandoned or without natural guardian or when having been vested with parental rights by the adoption or termination of parental rights laws (G.S. 35A-1220). The Criteria marked does not fit this case. The parents in this case have joint legal custody of their daughter. The box that was checked was misleading in that it made my husband feel that the evaluation had been ordered and he had no choice but to allow the evaluation. This consent was therefore, illegally obtained.

On January 9, 2007 a new Wilkes County Social Worker,Renae Steele called and spoke with my husband. She informed him that Allison Baker was no longer employed at the Wilkes County Department of Social Services and that she had been assigned the case.

On January 17, 2007 Renae Steele came to our home and verified it as a safe home. I showed her the videotape of the bruises, and she asked at that time that I no longer videotape the bruises , instead we are to call her and she will come right out. I told her I had only videotaped the bruises on two occasions and had only done so because Allison Baker instructed me to get her pictures.

On January 24, 2007 my husband and I met with the Psychologist, Dr. James Powell, who informed him that a report had been filed against him. I called Renae Steele and left several messages; I also called, Keith Elmore, on this date and complained about the way Wilkes County had handled this case, he told me that he would go to WCDSS and look at the file and the pictures of Lydia’s teeth, but when I spoke with him again on January 26, 2007 he informed me that he did not veiw the file or the pictures and assured me that WCDSS would make an unbiased decision. Mr. Elmore advised me to call someone else, who advised me to call someone else in Raleigh, who had someone else call me.

January 30, 2007 I spoke with Renae Steele about the report against us that they had given to the Psychologist; because I do not believe it is a viable report. It does not meet the statutory definition of abuse or neglect. Renae Steele said that the initial report had been made to and screened out by Surry County Department of Social Service on August 16, 2006. (We live in Surry County) She further stated that Wilkes County Department of Social Services received the report on August 17, 2006, she stated that she didn’t understand why it was screened in by Wilkes County, but she would find out and call me back.

Renae Steele called back about an hour later and stated that she had asked Mary Henderson why the report had been screened in and that she told her the only reason it was screen in was because of the rat on the child’s chest statement. Now remember before Allison Baker started investigating the retaliatory report, she had already seen video of our home, Dated August 4, 2006 and on to the present time. She knew this was a false report.

I met with the Psychologist, Dr. Powell, February 6, 2007 who told me one of the things that Wilkes County asked to him to evaluate was whether or not my videotaping the bruises on my stepdaughter had any adverse effect on her. They did not inform him that I had been told by them to get pictures of the bruises.

February 7, 2007 I spoke with Donnie Bumgarner about their failure to disclose to the Psychologist that I had been instructed by them to get pictures of the bruises; he told me that he would have Mary Henderson call me. I called Mary Henderson and asked her why they did not inform the Psychologist that I was told by Allison Baker to get her pictures of the bruises, she admitted that I was told to get pictures, but not videotape. She also stated that she would call Psychologist and inform him, but she never did. I recorded this conversation and gave a copy to the Psychologist.

I called Raleigh and complained about the Wilkes County Department of Social Services, again. It was admitted to me that in the beginning of this case they had failed in their duties, but they did not need to inform the Psychologist that they told me to get pictures and that I should trust them. I can not trust them because they have failed to protect my stepdaughter as they are required to do by law.

February 13, 2007, my husband’s last appointment with The psychologist, Dr. Powell and my MMPI 2 test, which I completed in less than 1 hour.

February 23, 2007, my stepdaughter missed a scheduled appointment with the psychologist.

March 20, 2007 I e-mailed Donnie Bumgarner, in it I asked him the following questions:

What was occurring with our report of abuse against the mother?

When the psychological evaluation would be complete?

Why the report against us was screened in, after being screened out by Surry County?

Why the retaliatory report against us had not been unsubstantiated yet? Especially since two different workers had been to our home and completed a Safety Assessment, and found our home and us to be safe and appropriate, obviously these workers could tell that the report against us was a lie.

Why Renae Steele, had not sent us a copy of the Safety Assessment as she said should would when she did it.

In this e-mail I also point out that per our last conversation he had stated that he would have Renee Steel call me, which she never did, I also pointed out that it had been over 6 month since we made our report and it should not take that long to make a decision, just as it should not have taken Allison Baker over 2 months to go to the mother’s home. I also stated the following:

‘I am still very concerned about the way your office has handled this investigation. The comments that have been made to us by Mary Henderson and Sonya Freeman, have been very bias in nature and should not be ignored or blown off with a comment such as ‘I am sure those comments made this more difficult for you.’

Enough is enough, either substantiate the abuse and neglect against the mother that we have proven to your department or don’t. But make a decision, and allow us to set a court date so that we can at least try to protect these little girls through the legal system. Our court hearing has been postponed until you make your report. It should have been completed months ago. I know for a fact that we have enough evidence of abuse to prove it in court.

We have cooperated with you fully and done everything that you request we do, even though we should never have been investigated by your department at all. We reported abuse as we are required to by law and in turn you have allowed us to persecuted for speaking up. In my opinion your departments handling of this case has enabled the abuse of these little girls to continue and given the mother a heads up on how better to hide the evidence of it.’

March 29, 2007, I spoke with the psychologist’s office, my stepdaugher still has not made an appointment. I called to speak with the Donnie Bumgarner, but was put through to Mary Henderson instead. ( This call is recorded.) I asked her why they had done nothing about the mother not taking my stepdaugher to the psychological evaluation, I also asked if they had considered that she might not be taking the girls on purpose and Mary Henderson stated that they had considered that possiblity. I asked what they were going to do about it. I also told her I felt that the Wilkes County Department of Social Services was guilty of negligence and failure to protect in their handling of this case.

Wilkes County DSS filed a Juvenile summons and notice of hearing (abuse/neglect/dependency) March 29, 2007 at 4:19 pm, directly after I made this phone call.

March 30, 2007, I spoke with the psychologist and he stated that he had reported all missed appointments to DSS, but he can’t make them come. He will give them a month.

April 2, 2007, We went to the Wilkes County Courthouse and picked up the petition filed by DSS on March 29, 2007 in it, it states that they are filing because:

‘The juvenile is a neglected juvenile, in that the juvenile is not provided necessary medical care. Specifically, on or about 8-16-06 to present:

stated facts filled in by DSS state:

In order to complete this investigation, a forensic interview with the families involved was reccomended. (Their spelling error) Parents are not following DSS reccomendations in regards to a mental health assessment for children and adults. Dad and step mom (us) have gone to the psychologist and finished their interviews. The mother and her husband continue to miss their appointments, and also not take the juvenile and her sister to theirs. The psychologist has called SWS supervisor Mary Henderson as well as SW Renae Steele to get the parents to come and finish the sessions. SW Renae Steele has tried on numerous occasions to set up a time to visit the mother and her family, with little cooperation.’

The name of the petitioner on this motion is Mary Henderson as authorized Represenative of the director. The correct box is checked. ( I guess she learned after that one case was vacated)

After this petition was filed the mother took the girls to The psychologist for their appointments and DSS dismissed the petition. How is it that they could file a petition for medical neglect for this, but not for the condition of the girl’s teeth and the mother’s failure to take them to the dentist?

April 16, 2007 DSS court hearing on the petition, the petition was dismissed per DSS request. Neither us nor our attorney, nor the father and stepmom of my stepdaugher’s sister were notified of the dismissal. Renee Steel would only talk to the mother and basically ignored the rest of us. So much for ‘family friendly policy.’

May 1, 2007 Appointment with the psychologist. My husband and I, The father and stepmom of the other daugher showed up, but DSS, specifically, Renae Steele and the mother did not. Since DSS, specifically, Renae Steele didn’t show up the appointment had to be rescheduled, and this after they had just filed a petition for the mother missing appointments with the same psychologist…. a complete waste of our time and gas money. My husband also lost his job due to missing work to make this appointment.

May 4, 2007 Appointment with the psychologist. My husband, me, The father and stepmom agains showed up, the mother was again a no show and DSS, specifically, Renae Steele was 1 and a half hours late. During this meeting we were told that the mother has a severe personality disorder that no amount of medication or therapy can help. We were also told that the psychologist could find no evidence of abuse or neglect. I was told by the psychologist that the videotaping had an adverse effect on my stepdaughter’s wellbeing. And my husband was told that it was wrong for him to call his daughter and leave a message stating, ‘hey baby, its daddy, I love you and miss you, see you soon.’ Because it upsets the mother’s significant other. Renae Steele lay, slouched down in her chair the whole time, to the point that the Dr. Powell finally asked her if she was going to go to sleep. Dr. Powell rushed us out the door because he needed to pick up a prescription, but before he could leave me and the other stepmom asked him point blank, if the girls needed counseling, to which he replied, NO.

I think I should point out here that the pick up and drop off’s occuring at the police department were court Ordered, by Judge David V. Byrd as were my husband’s phone calls to his daughter. He was ordered phone visitation at least 2 times per week. So they are also stating that the court was guilty of neglect for ordering it. That would be my opinion.

Dr. Powell, also condemned me for calling the mother and informing her of two dental appointments and that we would not be helping her pay for the next one because we had paid to have the teeth extracted. He quoted annimosity on my part. These phone calls are recorded and I can assure I did nothing wrong, all I did was try to get the mother to take the child to the dentist and tell her that it was her turn to pay, since we had paid the last time.

First I might have been snotty, but I was the one who witnesses the pain my stepdaughter went through having teeth I and J extracted, I was the one who heard her scream and held her when she cried. I think after experiencing that I had a right to be a little upset about the neglect her mother had put her through for not taking her to the dentist.

Second, no one has ever stated that my stepdaughter heard these messages, therefore it had no effect on her at all. But if I had not set up appointments for her dental care, if I had not have pushed the issue then I would have been just as guilty of neglect as the mother. Someone had to make sure this child got to the dentist.

If I had not had pushed the issue, who knows when her mother would have taken her to the dentist. My stepdaughter’s sister didn’t finally get to the dentist until her last appointment with the psychologist, almost a year after DSS received the report from her dad and stepmom about her.

June 19, 2007 We received letters in the mail today from DSS stating that we had been substantiated against for emotional abuse. It states:

‘This letter is to notify you that our agency has completed the child protective services investigation on the above-named children, and after careful consideration or recommendations from the psychologist, we found evidence of emotional abuse. Therefore, the case is being substantiated against you. This case will be tranferred to a treatment Social Worker. Please contact this agency if you have questions.’

It is signed by

Renae Steele CPS SWIII and Mary Henderson Social Worker Supervisor

On June 22, 2007 I sent the director an e-mail and asked to appeal the substantiation against us. It stated:

‘Dear Mr. Bumgarner:

We want to appeal the decision your office has made against us. This finding does not follow DSS policy and neither has your office in the course of this investigation. I would appreciate it if you could send me the information I need to appeal this. I believe there is a time limit on appealing these decision, so your quick response would be deeply appreciated.’

On June 29, 2007, We received a letter from the Donnie Bumgarner stating:

‘On behalf of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that I have reviewed the Child Protective Services Investigation involving the above named child. The decision to substantiate emotional abuse against you was mailed by mistake and I apologize for this error. The Department of Social Services did find evidence to substantiate neglect against you due to the child living in an environment injurious to her welfare.’

July 2, 2007 I again wrote to Mr.Bumgarner,requesting to appeal his decision. I also informed him that his department’s decision does not fit the criteria of North Carolina’s Welfare Policy or the criteria of the North Carolina General Statutes. I further stated:

‘I have thoroughly investigated Welfare policy and law since the beginning of this case. During my research I found that your substantiated finding of neglect against us does not meet the criteria of neglect under North Carolina policy. I am again asking you to review your findings and to remove these findings against us. I feel that your findings are based on retaliatory motives because we have complained about your department and your failure to follow welfare law, state law and policy. I believe you are trying to find us guilty of wrong doing to discredit our complaint against you. Your inability to ‘pick’ an abuse that we have committed, proves this point to me.’

On September 20, 2007 I received a letter from Donnie Bumgarner, that stated:

‘Re: Review of Neglect Substatiation

I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that the Wilkes County Department of Social Services has reviewed, as requested, the decision to substantiate neglect against you due the child living in an environment injurious to her welfare. Following the review, it has been determined that the decision to substantiate neglect should not be changed. I trust this information will be helpful to you.’

I have written to The director several more times, asking the the substantiation be removed from us. My request December 13, 2007 was after finding the forged safety assessment. It stated:

 

‘Dear Mr. Bumgarner:

I am once again writing to ask you to reconsider your finding of neglect against us. I think in light of the current situation it is only proper for you to do so. I am of course referring to Allison Baker’s forging of my husband’s name, falsifying a safety assessment and arrest for Felony Obstruction of Justice.

I think it is also important for you to consider the following.

First, The psychologist’s findings in his report are different from what he stated to us. He did not include the fact that the mother has a severe personality disorder that no amount of therapy or medication can help. Dr. Powell also stated in his report that the girls needed therapy, but We specifically asked Dr. Powell if the girls needed any therapy and he told us no. Also Allison Baker was the first person to meet with the doctor and I have serious concerns about what she may have told him.

Second, I think that Linda Brooks and your department are now fully aware of who the instigator is in this situation. If the mother will not co-operate with DSS, who can take away her children, why do you believe that she will work with us?

Finally, the findings that you have listed do not meet the statutory requirements of neglect, you can not find people guilty of neglect because they do not get along with the other parent. If that was the case you would have to file against anyone going through a custody dispute or divorced. We have tried repeatedly to get along with the mother, we do not talk to her because when we even say hello she is verbally abusive to us in front of the girls.

I think with out a doubt considering the arrest of Allison Baker, that you and your department need to admit that this investigation was tainted, bias and improper, you cannot, therefore in good conscience keep the neglect substantiation against us. It is wrong, you know it, I know and other people are beginning to see it too.’

Then after receiving yet another letter from Mr. Bumgarner, stating that they would not remove the substantiation against us, I wrote January 29, 2008:

‘Dear Mr. Bumgarner:

I received your letter RE: Review of Substantiated Child Neglect Investigation, today January 29, 2008 and I must say that I am very disappointed in your decision not to change your findings in light of Allison Baker’s arrest and the forged document by your department.

Yes your department, Allison Baker was your employee and you are responsible for her actions. You will not even admit that your department’s investigation is tainted by her actions, you will not admit or take responsibility for what has occurred in this case and that is wrong. You expect everyone else to be accountable for their actions, admit what they have done wrong and fix it, but when it comes to you, your employees and your department you will not admit your wrong doings, accept responsibility or even apologize when you have wronged someone.

Your department has wronged us! Your substantiation against us is unfounded, need I remind you that the first sentence in the psychologist’s evaluation is ‘ I could find no evidence of abuse or neglect.’ Furthermore you are relying on Allison Baker’s investigation and I believe it has already been proven that she was not doing her job and breaking the law.

I am once again asking you to remove the substantiation against us, , you cannot substantiated against people merely to cover your own wrong doings. Your neglect finding against us DOES NOT meet statutory requirements, it is unfounded, it is I believe an abuse of power, used only to discredit our complaints against your department.

I believe you need to step out of our case and assign it to a different county, you and your department are bias against us, Allison Baker has been arrested and charged for her illegal activities and I believe that others in your department were directly involved in her wrong doings and knew about them, yet you do nothing.

If justice, fairness and doing what is right is your intention you will remove the substantiation against us and admit the wrong doings in your investigation.’

We still have not had a response to this last e-mail as of this date, May 5, 2008.

We have complied with everything that DSS has ever asked us to do. Even though we do not agree with their decision, we have allowed Linda Brooks (from WCDSS) and Nikki Hull, from Surry county into our home, we have done a case plan, the works. We did all of this even though we have done nothing wrong. During the ‘family treatment’ the mother has still failed to comply and/or work with DSS. They have had to fight with her every step of the way! They cannot even get along with her, yet they substantiate neglect against us because, ‘we can’t get along.’ I dare say then they need to substatiate against themselves and any person going through a divorce or child custody dispute.

I e-mailed the director again on April 23, 2008. It stated as follows:

‘Dear Mr. Bumgarner:

I am once again writing to you to ask you to remove the unfounded substantiation that you and your department have made against us. The substantiation of neglect for an environment injurious does not met statutory guidelines…nor does it fall under any decisions in case law. I have researched this thoroughly and cannot find any law or case law that states that the parents inability to get along constitutes neglect.

Furthermore, we did not do anything to have a substantiation of neglect found against us. The only thing that we did was try to protect these little girls. As I have stated before, we do not cause a scene in front of my stepdaughter, we do not yell, scream, cuss, or any such thing in front of her or any other child. You are punishing us for the mother’s actions and that is wrong.

I would also like to point out, that even though we have disagreed with your decision and believe it to be wrong, even though one of your caseworkers committed a crime against us, even though we know that we have done absolutely nothing wrong. We have continued to work with DSS, never once have we refused to do anything your agency requested of us. Even though we feel that your department has judged us unfairly, conducted itself in a bias and unethical manner, and that your department has constantly broken welfare policy and statutory law, we have still tried to work with you.

The mother on the other hand has not complied with anything you have ever asked her to do, until she was threatened with court action. I have stated it before, if she will not work with you, when you can take her children, then how do you expect us to work with her. She has been difficult for your own employees to work with, even though she knows that you could step in and take her children at anytime.

We have tried everything in our power to work with the mother, she is not capable of working with anyone. Yet you still refuse to see that we are not the problem here. We are basically victims of a controlling, demanding, verbally abusive person, who has a severe personality disorder. Every action that we have taken has been a form of protection.

We reported child abuse and neglect to try and protect these little girls, we videotaped the pick up and drop offs to protect ourselves from prosecution, due to thr mother’s lies, she would lie and say that my husband or me was threatening her, cussing at her and it wasn’t true, but without the tapes we would not have been able to prove it. He could have gone to jail because of her malicious lies.

I videotaped the bruises on my stepdaugher to have proof of them, so that we could protect her. I did this under the advisement of your social worker and you persecuted me for it. What else was I supposed to do, when I called and reported the bruises and no one would come to the house, no one would help us protect her. No one cared, no one seemed to notice that the videotape did indeed show a child with bruises, exactly as I described.

I have attached some of the welfare policy here in order to show you that nothing we have done falls into the category of environment injurious, as a matter of fact, we have done nothing that falls into any category of abuse or neglect! The substantiation against us is wrong and it should be removed. Agencies are expected to adhere to laws and policies when administering and designating CPS roles and responsibilities. This has not occurred in this case.’

On April 28, 2008 I was informed by Linda Brooks, that they are closing the case. She said they did not care if the family treatment was completed or not, for her to close the case. All should would state was that it had come from high up. I asked her what our risk assessment was and she stated that it was low and I then stated that they never should have substantiated against us, according to their own policy. She also stated that the mother’s was not high, but it was not low either. Linda Brooks also stated that she is to have the case closed by Friday, but she wasn’t sure if she could do it because she had to write the case summary for the Judge.

I requested a copy of the risk assessment, the strengths and weeknesses and a copy of her summary to the Judge. I have mixed feelings about the closing of our case. I am happy that they are closing it, because against us and the other father and stepmom, it never should have been opened. We never should have been substatitated against. I am also upset that they are closing the case against the mother, she has never complied with them at all and it is my belief that they should have filed a petition against her a long time ago. Also so long as DSS was involved the girl’s were at least watched somewhat by them. I stated this to Linda Brooks, not in so many words, but I told her my concerns.

I have had no response from Donnie Bumgarner, regarding my last two e-mails.

May 16, 2008, I received a letter from the Wilkes County Department of Social Services informing us that the case had been closed it states:

‘Dear father and stepmom,

I am writing to inform you (both) that on May 14, 2008, Team 1, Children Protective Services Unit, closed the case on your child(ren) due to: Your willingness to pursue counseling for your daughter, thus lowering her risk factors, your expression of concern and determination for Lydia to receive assistance in her school work, and monitoring her care from her mother.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at phone number .

Sincerely,

Linda Brooks

Team 1 In Home Treatment/Social Worker

Mary Henderson

Team 1 CPS Supervisor’

Now why, if the mother is such a responsible parent, do we need to monitor my stepdaughter’s care from her?

Furthermore, in the Family Risk Assessment of Abuse and Neglect that I requested and received a copy of the same day. It states that we only ‘minimally participated in pursuing objectives in service agreement. This is an outright lie. WE always complied with anything and everything that they asked us to do. For the Risk Reassessment dated 11-07-07 it states as a reason for Discretionary override: age and previous report static but not pursuing all goals outlined in cft of 9-11-07…there was no cft on 9-11-07, or 11-07-07 the cft wasn’t completed until 1-08-08 two months later.

On this assessment we had a total score of 3, mainly just because of this lie. This is just them trying to justify leaving this case open against welfare policy. They use the same reason on 3-27-08, but in this one they do not mark R8 and R9 with (b) Minimal participaion in pursuing objectives in service agreement…….1…So I guess basically the only reason it was left open then is my husband’s age. Under 29…we had a 1 on this reassessment.

Everything that they have said and done from day one has been a policy violation, they have lied, deceived, forged documents, broke the law…everything. Yet no one will do anything about it.

I mean after all they made us into child abusers to ensure that no one would take our complaints too seriously! WE ARE NOT CHILD ABUSERS…we are trying to protect these little girls. We would not go through the lengths that we have to get this story out and have them investigated if we were. We have been treated like our voice doesn’t matter, I mean they are DSS, they never do anything wrong and we must be just disgruntled ‘clients.’ Well we are not disgruntled ‘clients’ we are victims of their violations and lies and according to the DA handling Social Worker 1′s case, victims of a crime committed by their department.

On May 21, 2008, I received a letter from Nikki Hull, the Surry County Social Worker assigned to us by Wilkes County. This letter contridicts and proves that the Wilkes County Department of Social Services lied during their assessment of our case. It states as follows:

‘Dear Mr. and Mrs. :

The starting point for asessing a family’s readiness for termination of protective services is based on the family meeting specific objectives designed to alleviate the problems causing abuse or neglect in the family environment. Surry County has been a point of contact in you case based on a decision made by Wilkes County DSS.

On 1-08-08 the Wilkes County DSS developed a Family Services Case Plan with your family. Your family has been compliant with all recommendations made by Wilkes County DSS and have attended all scheduled meetings for child safety planning.

On 5-14-08 Wilkes County made a decision to close the In-Home services for your family. The Surry County Department of Social Services agrees with the decision that the your family has satisfactorily met the goals set forth in their Family Services Case Plan and achieved a safe environment for their children. Since no other problem has emerged that would interfere with this family’s ability to provide adequate care and supervision to the children, it is the Surry County Department of Social Services final opinion that your family is ready for the next phase of protective services, ‘Termination’.

On 5-14-08 Case # 44, 541 was terminated for Child Protective Services. There will be no further contact with your family regarding the issues taht led to the Department of Social Services involvement in the above-mentioned matter. Please feel free to contact me if any needs arise in the future.

Sincerely,

Nikki Hull

Social Worker III

Donna Key

Social Worker Supervisor’

We have voiced our complaints numerous times and we do not feel we are being listened to. I have contacted, North Carolina DSS, Specifically Phyllis Fulton, Paul Waddle, Edith Thomas-Pullen, Chris Downings office in Atlanta GA, Carlis V. Williams head of AFC in Atlanta, Ruth Parker in Atlanta GA, Mike Levitts office in Washington DC. and numerous other people who will not do anything to rectify the situation. They will admit that what has been done is wrong, but tell us to call someone else. The lack of reponsibility in this case is mind boggling and quite frankly, in my opinion, idiots are running the services that are suppose to protect our children and failing miserbly at it.

We also feel that there is a whole lot of ass covering occurring in this case, at all levels. This in not just a simple case of a Social Worker breaking the law, but a complete and total miscarriage of justice. We have been maliciously prosecuted by WCDSS, without even the benefit of a trial, we have been found guilty of, in our opinion, one of the worse things you can be found guilty of. WCDSS needs to be investigated for their handling of this case and for many other that I have heard of since I began researching them. WE want the substatiation against us removed, we did nothing wrong and should not be punished for the actions of others.

The only time anyone shows the slightest concern for DSS policy violations is when a child that they have received reports on dies…it should not take that long. The moment policy violations are brought to their attention they should be investigated, at even the hint of such a thing, they should be investigated. It is too late to save a child when they are already dead. A child should not have to die for an investigation to occur. When DSS acts as they have in our case, children die. When they make mistakes as they have in our case, it is the children who pay for it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

 

 

   

 

 

DISCLAIMER:

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work
in this BLOG is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only.
GRG [Ref.http:// http://www.law. cornell.edu/ uscode/17/ 107.shtml]
 
 CPSreformRIBBON-1
 
 I have created this blog to educate the public on what happens to children when CPS fails to do their job.  In order to do so, I must place the entire news/blog story here.  I do this for a simple purpose…many times after I have posted a link, that link was broken and those stories cannot be found.  In order to to show the public how many children are dying with CPS involvement or other types of corruption occurring in the CPS system, I must have all the stories in one place in order to make the impact need to try and create a public out cry for change,  I need these stories so that people can see exactly how many children it is, how many social workers are arrested, how many laws are broken.
  
 
 
 
 

 

 

There is no infringment intended at all. I do always provide the link to the stories and the author of the story so that they receive the credit for their work that the deserve.  My intent is to try and use these stories to educate the public and hopefully create enough awareness to change the laws and the accountability of CPS.    I can be reached at lawdoll1@gmail.com.

This is by far one of the worst cases I have ever read.  I am sharing it here so that James Tyler Michaux will not be forgotten!  

 

Legal Opinions regarding the case

IN THE MATTER OF: J.M., D.M. & K.M., Minor Children.

No. COA05-106

North Carolina Court of Appeals

Filed November 15, 2005

This case not for publication

Guilford County Nos. 03 J 297, 298 & 299.

Michael K. Newby for petitioner-appellee.

Joyce L. Terres for guardian ad litem.

Susan J. Hall for respondent-appellant.

McGEE, Judge.

J.F.M. (respondent) is the father of J.M., D.M., and K.M. (the children). Respondent is also the father of J.T.M., who died on 15 May 2003. The mother of all four children is not a party to this appeal.

The Guilford County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed a juvenile petition on 16 May 2003, alleging that the children were abused, neglected and dependent. Specifically, DSSalleged the children were abused because “a child sustained a serious physical injury by other than accidental means.” DSS alleged the children were neglected “in that they [were] less than 18 years of age and [had] been living in an injurious environment in the care of their mother and father and reside[d] in a home where another juvenile [had] died as a result of suspected abuse or neglect.” Finally, DSS alleged the children were dependent because they were minors and had “no parent, guardian or custodian willing or able to provide for their care and supervision and there [was] no known alternative plan.” The trial court entered an order for nonsecure custody on 16 May 2003, placing custody of the children with DSS.

In a pre-trial order, the parties stipulated to the following facts. Rockingham County Department of Social Services (RC DSS) previously had legal custody of all four children from 25 October 2002 until 15 May 2003. The Rockingham County trial court adjudicated all four children as neglected on 19 November 2002 and they were placed in foster care. J.M. and D.M. were moved from foster care to their grandparents’ home on 20 December 2002, but K.M. and J.T.M. remained in foster care.

The Rockingham County trial court allowed the parents to begin overnight visitation with all four children on 13 February 2003. The children initially visited their parents in groups of two. J.T.M. and K.M., who were twins, had regular overnight visitation with their parents from 14 February 2003 until 21 March 2003. The other two children, J.M. and D.M., also had regular overnight visitation with their parents during that period. J.T.M. and K.M. were placed in a full-time trial placement with their parents from 24 March 2003 until 15 May 2003, although J.T.M. was hospitalized from 8 April 2003 until 17 April 2003. There was a trial placement of J.M. and D.M. with their parents from 15 March 2003 until 15 May 2003. The Rockingham County trial court returned full custody of all four children to the parents on 15 May 2003.

At the adjudication hearing, Terry Pruitt (Mr. Pruitt) testified that he was the licensed foster parent of J.T.M. and K.M. from October 2002 until March 2003. Mr. Pruitt testified that on several occasions in February and March 2003, J.T.M. and K.M. had bruises and marks on them when they returned from visitation with their parents. Mr. Pruitt also testified that he informed social workers about the bruises and marks. He testified that K.M. had two dark bruises on the back of his thighs when K.M. returned to the foster home from visiting his parents on 21 February 2003. Mr. Pruitt also testified that on 6 March 2003, J.T.M. returned from visitation with his parents with bruises on his abdomen, on the back of his leg, and near his groin. Mr. Pruitt further testified that J.T.M. had scabs on his ear and elbow on 12 March 2003 when J.T.M. returned from visiting his parents. Mr. Pruitt testified that he visited J.T.M. in the hospital in April 2003 and that the child was very pale and thinner than he had been in March 2003 when J.T.M. left his foster home. He also testified that J.T.M. had a big scab on the end of his nose and multiple sores on his backside.

According to a 911 tape introduced into evidence at trial, the children’s mother called the 911 Center at 10:28 p.m. on 15 May 2003 to report that J.T.M. was not breathing. The children’s mother and respondent spoke with the 911 operator while respondent unsuccessfully attempted to administer CPR to J.T.M. The responding paramedic was unable to revive J.T.M. and he was takento the hospital. According to hospital records, J.T.M. arrived at High Point Regional Hospital at 11:11 p.m. Hospital staff members were also unable to revive J.T.M., who was pronounced dead at 11:24 p.m. on 15 May 2003.

Dr. John D. Butts (Dr. Butts), the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of North Carolina, testified that he conducted an autopsy on J.T.M. Dr. Butts testified that J.T.M. had multiple healing rib fractures, multiple bruises and a healing tear of his mesentery. Dr. Butts testified that the rib fractures occurred at least ten days to two weeks prior to 15 May 2003, the day J.T.M. died. Dr. Butts testified that the patterns of bruising and rib fractures were not consistent with the application of CPR. Dr. Butts further testified that “[J.T.M.] met the criteria for being diagnosed as being a battered child; that is, he had suffered injuries at multiple times; that these injuries were of a nature that they would not have been incurred, in [Dr. Butts'] opinion, in an unintentional or accidental fashion.”

Kimberly Madden, a counselor with the Moses Cone Health System assigned to the ChildEvaluation Clinic, testified that she conducted a child medical evaluation of J.M. on 29 May 2003. Kimberly Madden testified that, during the interview, J.M. said that “[respondent] made [J.T.M.] not breathe” and that respondent was mean to J.T.M. The trial court also received into evidence J.M.’s medical report and a video tape recording of J.M.’s child medical evaluation, both of which contained J.M.’s statements.

The children’s mother gave two statements to law enforcement, one on 1 October 2003 and the other on 27 October 2003. In the statements, the children’s mother implicated respondent in the physical abuse of J.T.M. and K.M. DSS offered, and the trial court received, the statements into evidence.

In support of its adjudication order, the trial court made twenty-five findings of fact, which are set forth below:

1. [J.M., D.M., J.T.M., and K.M.] were in [RC DSS] legal custody from October 25, 2002 to May 15, 2003 having been adjudicated dependent and neglected on November 19, 2002 in Went worth, North Carolina.

2. J.M. and D.M. were moved from foster care to their grandparents’ home on December 20, 2002, but the two younger children remained in foster care until March 24, 2003.

3. On February 13, 2003 at the initial post adjudication review, the Rockingham County [Trial] Court approved a consent order allowing overnight visitation for the [parents] with the above-named children with those children going to stay with their parents in groups of two with the oldest two alternating with the twins and the oldest two always visiting during the day on each Saturday.

4. There was a trial placement of J.M. and D.M. with [their parents] on March 15, 2003 until the case closed on May 15, 2003. From February 13, 2003 the [parents] had regular overnight unsupervised visitation with the twins, J.T.M. and K.M. on the following schedule:

             FROM                   TO

             2/14/03                2/21/03
             2/24/03                2/26/03
             3/04/03                3/07/03
             3/10/03                3/12/03
             3/14/03                3/17/03
             3/19/03                3/21/03

5. The twins were placed in a full-time trial placement with [their parents] on March 24, 2003 and remained there until the case closed in Rockingham County on May 15, 2003.

6. Subsequently, J.T.M. was hospitalized in Eden at Morehead Memorial Hospital from April 8, 2003 until April 17, 2003 suffering from what was diagnosed as a rotovirus infection and a failure to thrive.

7. The Rockingham County [Trial] Court returned full custody of all four children to the [parents] on May 15, 2003.

8. At 10:28 p.m. on May 15, 2003, the Guilford County 911 Center received a call from the [parents] indicating that the child, J.T.M. was not breathing.

9. Both the second responding fireman and the later arriving paramedic testified that [respondent] was acting suspicious upon their arrival. They further testified that [respondent] indicated the child had stopped breathing while he was feeding him. Both indicated that upon examination the airway was clear.

10. From all the witnesses presented, none of the health care professionals indicated that they ever discovered anything obstructing the airway although an ambulance narrative report indicated: “. . . suction airway 10-20 cc of thick white fluid airway cleared[.]“

11. Melissa Edwards, Emergency Room Nurse, also testified that no one at the hospital found any obstruction in the child’s breathing airway or had to clear the airway. She also spoke of the extensive bruising on the child and [lacerated] rectum as illustrated by the photographs entered into evidence. She also testified to [respondent's] violent behavior at the hospital in that [he] turned over a piece of furniture and had to be restrained by the chaplain upon learning of the death of his child. The court notes that respondent['s] father[] testified in direct contradiction to the nurse as he indicated that [respondent] did not turn over a chair but that it was slid back by the grandfather as he caught [respondent] when [respondent] fell into his arms upon hearing that the baby was dead.

12. State Medical Examiner, John D. Butts, M.D., testified that pursuant to the autopsy which he had performed on the infant, that he determined that the child had healing fractures of the 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th ribs. Further, the child had recent fractures of the 7th rib. Also, there were numerous scattered bruises of the abdominal wall, head, cheek, legs and trunk region. Also, there was an old healing tear of the small intestine as well as a recent trauma to the same region. Further, there was a laceration or wound of some kind on the child’s heel. Dr. Butts gave his opinion that the pattern of bruises and fractures were inconsistent with . . . respondent['s] . . . explanation that they occurred while he was attempting CPR. He also gave his analysis that the old fractures and lacerated portion of the small intestine could have been incurred prior to April 8th and that some of these old fractures were also over two weeks to a month old on April 8th. Although, from the physical evidence, Dr. Butts was not able to determine the immediate cause of death, he did conclude that as a result of the series of unexplained non-accidental injuries the child suffered from battered child syndrome.

13. Respondent’s expert witness, Doctor Richard Jason, M.D., also acknowledged the injuries as described above. However, he concluded that the child did not suffer from battered childsyndrome and, in fact, died from choking on formula. He also contended that the pattern of bruises in the abdominal region was a result of botched CPR. However, he was unable to explain the old injuries, old fractured ribs, torn small intestine or the bruises to the head, upper body and legs.

14. Ms. D’Jarkata Solomon, the . . . DSS worker who interviewed [respondent] the day after thechild’s death testified that [respondent] indicated that he was performing CPR on the baby and that he called 911. He stated that he panicked because the child was not breathing and hit the baby on his leg, side and back with his hand.

15. Testimony was also received [concerning] a child medical evaluation on the minor child, J.M. (J.T.M.’s sibling) in which [J.M.] said, “Daddy made J.T.M. stop breathing and Daddy was mean to J.T.M.” The Court notes that there was no specific time frame or explanation for [J.M.'s] statement offered with the evidence.

16. Evidence from two prior statements made by the [children's] mother . . . while she was in police custody in which she described [respondent] as physically abusing J.T.M. as well as sometimes choking K.M. The [children's] mother in those statements had said that on May 15th [respondent] had been choking J.T.M. prior to his request that she call 911.

17. Testimony was received from the deceased infant’s foster care foster parent who testified to a pattern of bruises and other injuries, which occurred while its parents were exercising unsupervised visitation.

18. In particular, the Court finds that on March 7, 2003 . . . K.M. had severe bruising on his thighs and . . . J.T.M. had a bruise on his forehead. On March 12th, J.T.M. had a scrape on the tip of his ear and a mark on his finger. On March 14th, J.T.M. had a mark on his elbow. On March 17th, J.T.M. had a bruise on the back of his head as well as severe diaper rash. On March 21st, J.T.M. had a large bruise in his groin area. On April 1st, J.T.M. had diaper rash, sunburned nose and a bruise on his chin.

19. Rockingham County Social Worker, Susan Irving, [corroborated] Mr. Pruitt’s . . . [testimony] concerning the bruising. This witness offered explanations for the various injuries as reflected in her DSS case notes also introduced into evidence.

20. Testimony from several witnesses indicated that prior to May 15th they had . . . seen the baby and handled the baby, J.T.M., and had not seen extensive bruising that was present at the hospital. In particular, Bobby Woods, the [parents'] neighbor, testified that she kept the children in the morning of May 15th and that she did not see any bruises on J.T.M. in the morning, nor the injury to his foot.

21. Therefore, the parents were the sole caretakers of the dead infant prior to the 911 call which led to his transportation to High Point Regional Hospital where the extensive bruising was observed and recorded.

22. From all the evidence presented the Court finds that from all this evidence that there were substantial injuries to the dead infant J.T.M. such as the older rib fractures and a perforated small intestine which was present as early as April 8th as well as more, fracturing and very fresh injuries including fractures, extensive bruising and more injury to the small intestine.

23. Further, the Court finds that these injuries were non-accidental [and] occurred during periods of time when the parents had supervision over the dead infant and over an extended period of time, consequently, they conformed to the recognized definition of battered childsyndrome and that therefore, the infant J.T.M. was an abused juvenile.

24. Since the infant J.T.M. suffered abuse, the other children who were residing in that home, J.M., D.M., and K.M., were neglected under the provisions of N.C.G.S. 7B-101(15).

25. The Court finds that [DSS] was unable to prevent the filing of the petition and the removal of the [children] or make reasonable efforts due to the imminent threat of harm as described in the reasonable efforts report filed in this cause.

The trial court adjudicated the children as neglected in an order signed 10 May 2004. The trial court ordered that the children “remain in the physical and legal custody of [DSS]” in a dispositional order signed 25 May 2004. Respondent appeals from both orders.

I.

Respondent first argues “the trial court abused its discretion in concluding as a matter of law that the [children] were neglected as defined by [N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15)] due to insufficiency of the evidence.” The appellate standard of review of a conclusion of law is limited to whether the conclusion is supported by the findings of fact. In re Helms, 127 N.C. App. 505, 511, 491 S.E.2d 672, 676 (1997). Findings of fact not excepted to are presumed to be supported by competent evidence and are binding on appeal. Koufman v. Koufman, 330 N.C. 93, 97, 408 S.E.2d 729, 731 (1991). Therefore, our only inquiry is whether the findings of fact support the conclusions of law. A neglected juvenile is defined as follows:

A juvenile who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker; or who has been abandoned; or who is not provided necessary medical care; or who is not provided necessary remedial care; or who lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile’s welfare; or who has been placed for care or adoption in violation of law. In determining whether a juvenile is a neglected juvenile, it is relevant whether that juvenile lives in a home where another juvenile has died as a result of suspected abuse or neglect or lives in a home where another juvenile has been subjected to abuse or neglect by an adult who regularly lives in the home.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-101(15) (2003).

In the present case, findings of fact 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 18, 21, 22, 23 and 24 support the trial court’s conclusion that the children were neglected juveniles. Pursuant to the definition of a neglected juvenile, evidence that J.T.M. was abused is relevant to a determination of whether the other children residing in the home were neglected. The findings clearly establish that the deceasedchild, J.T.M., had substantial, non-accidental injuries that occurred while J.T.M. and the other children were in their parents’ physical custody. The injuries indicated that J.T.M. suffered from battered child syndrome. The parents had abundant visitation with all four children in the months preceding J.T.M.’s death. All four children were in full-time trial placement with their parents from 24 March 2003 until 15 May 2003, the date J.T.M. died. Therefore, the findings of fact support the conclusion that the children were neglected juveniles.

II.

Respondent next argues the trial court abused its discretion by relying upon hearsay statements in concluding that the children were neglected. Specifically, respondent challenges the admission of (1) J.M.’s statements during a child medical evaluation and (2) statements of the children’s mother to law enforcement. The trial court incorporated the challenged statements into its order as purported findings of fact fifteen and sixteen. Respondent argues the trial court abused its discretion by relying upon those purported findings in concluding the children were neglected.

Pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 52(a)(1) (2003), “In all actions tried upon the facts without a jury . . . the [trial] court shall find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law . . . .” However, a trial court need only make findings regarding the ultimate facts which are essential to support its conclusions of law. In re C.L.C., ___ N.C. App. ___, ___, 615 S.E.2d 704, 708 (2005) (citing Quick v. Quick, 305 N.C.446, 451-52, 290 S.E.2d 653, 657-58 (1982)). A trial court need not find make findings on the evidentiary facts. Id.“‘[R]ecitations of the testimony of each witness do not constitute findings of fact by the trial judge, because they do not reflect a conscious choice between the conflicting versions of the incident in question which emerged from all the evidence presented.’” Moore v. Moore, 160 N.C. App. 569, 571-72, 587 S.E.2d 74, 75 (2003) (quoting In re Green, 67 N.C. App. 501, 505 n.1, 313 S.E.2d 193, 195 n.1 (1984)) (emphasis in original).

In the case before us, the trial court began its adjudication order by finding the foundational facts in findings one through eight. The trial court then recited the testimony of the witnesses. In findings nine to seventeen, nineteen and twenty, the trial court illustrated the competing versions of events presented by respondent and DSS and the guardian ad litem. The trial court then complied with statutory mandates by resolving the factual discrepancies in making findings eighteen and twenty-one through twenty-four. The challenged findings, findings fifteen and sixteen, are merely recitations of trial testimony. They are not ultimate findings of fact necessary to support the trial court’s conclusion that the children were neglected. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by including them in its order as recitations of trial testimony.

Assuming arguendo that the challenged evidence was inadmissible hearsay, “[t]he mere admission by the trial court of incompetent evidence over proper objection does not require reversal on appeal.” In re Huff, 140 N.C. App. 288, 301, 536 S.E.2d 838, 846 (2000), disc. review denied, 353 N.C. 374, 374, 547 S.E.2d 9, 9-10 (2001). An appellant must also show he was prejudiced by the admission of the incompetent evidence by demonstrating that the trial court relied on the incompetent evidence in making its findings. Id. Here, the trial court merely recited the challenged testimony. Furthermore, because the other findings adequately support the conclusion that respondent neglected the children, respondent has failed to demonstrate prejudicial error.

III.

Finally, respondent argues the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(a)(1) and (3) in its dispositional order. We disagree. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-507(a) (2003) states:

An order placing or continuing the placement of a juvenile in the custody or placement responsibility of a county department of social services, whether an order for continued nonsecure custody, a dispositional order, or a review order:

(1) Shall contain a finding that the juvenile’s continuation in or return to the juvenile’s own home would be contrary to the juvenile’s best interest;

. . .

(3) Shall contain findings as to whether a county department of social services should continue to make reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for placement of the juvenile, unless the court has previously determined or determines under subsection (b) of this section that such efforts are not required or shall cease[.]

In the present case, the trial court complied with N.C.G.S. § 7B-507(a)(1). The trial court determined that “[i]t [was] contrary to the best interest of the [children] to be returned to the caretaker’s home at the present time[.]” Whether we label this a finding of fact or a conclusion of law, it is clear that the trial court made the requisite determination. We recognize that the better practice would have been for the trial court to have made this determination as both a finding and a conclusion. However, we need not remand the case for a restatement of the same determination.

The trial court also complied with N.C.G.S. § 7B-507(a)(3). A dispositional order need not contain a formal listing of the N.C.G.S. § 7B-507(a) criteria as long as the trial court makes findings regarding the relevant criteria. See In re M.R.D.C., 166 N.C. App. 693, 696, 603 S.E.2d 890, 892 (2004), disc. review denied, 359 N.C. 321, 611 S.E.2d 413 (2005). In its dispositional order, the trial court found:

[The parents] and their attorneys will co-operate with DSS reunification efforts and in particular the parties have agreed to DVIP counseling, supervised visitation; STAR participation parenting assessment and mental health assessment; supervised visitation and participation and co-operate with the UNC-CH School of Psychiatry Child Mal-Treatment Team evaluation and to sign all necessary information releases. The court notes the plan of reunification may be augmented pending the results of the UNC-CH School of Psychiatry Mal-Treatment Team’s recommendation.

These findings comply with the requirements of N.C.G.S. § 7B-507(a)(3). The findings detail the reasonable efforts DSS was required to make in a continuing effort to prevent the need for placement of the children. The trial court even noted that the plan of reunification could be augmented pending the results of the UNC-CH School of Psychiatry Child Mal-Treatment Team evaluation.

Respondent fails to set forth arguments pertaining to his remaining assignments of error and we deem them abandoned pursuant to N.C.R. App. P. 28(b)(6).

Affirmed.

Judges McCULLOUGH and JACKSON concur.

Report per Rule 30(e).

STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA
v.
JAMES FRANKLIN MICHAUX, Defendant.

No. COA06-1040

Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Filed August 7, 2007

This case not for publication

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Special Deputy Attorney General James P. Longest, Jr., for the State.

Richard E. Jester for defendant-appellant.

GEER, Judge.

Defendant James Franklin Michaux appeals from his convictions for first degree murder of his seven-month-old son, J.T.M., and felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury. With respect to defendant’s contentions on appeal regarding the admissibility of various testimony, we hold that defendant either himself elicited that testimony or has failed to demonstrate that he was prejudiced by the testimony. We have further concluded that, contrary to defendant’s position, the trial court properly instructed the jury regarding admissions since statements made by defendant to his wife and to a social worker qualified as admissions. Accordingly, we hold defendant received a trial free of prejudicial error.

Facts

At trial, the State’s evidence tended to show the following facts. In 2002, the Rockingham County Department of Social Services (“DSS“) began providing treatment services to defendant; his wife, Serita Michaux; and their two young children. Later in 2002, Ms. Michaux gave birth to twins, one of whom was J.T.M. The social worker assigned to the family testified regarding defendant’s domination of Ms. Michaux and his hostility to receiving assistance from DSS.

On one occasion, after J.T.M.’s birth, a restaurant owner, who had known defendant since he was a young boy, observed defendant playing too roughly with the child. After she told defendant, “you’re going to hurt that baby,” defendant responded: “It’s my damn baby. I’ll do what I want to.” When defendant learned that an employee of the restaurant had urged Ms. Michaux to leave him, defendant threatened to slap the employee and said, “Bitch, . . . I’ll burn your house down with you in it.”

Following a DSS safety assessment during which defendant was “explosive,” DSS concluded that the environment for defendant’s children was “unsafe” and, on 25 October 2002, placed J.T.M. and his twin with a foster family. In mid-February 2003, defendant and Ms. Michaux were allowed to have the twins for intermittent trial placements. After one such trial placement, J.T.M. returned to the foster family with noticeable scabbing and bruise marks, including bruising on his abdomen, groin area, and the backs of his thighs. Nonetheless, on 24 March 2003, physical custody of the twins was restored to defendant and Ms. Michaux. Shortly thereafter, on 8 April 2003, J.T.M. was admitted to Morehead Memorial Hospital. Nurse Amy White and other hospital staff examined J.T.M. and observed that he suffered from critical dehydration, a rash on his bottom, and bloody tissue around his rectum. According to Nurse White, J.T.M. was not behaving like a six-month-old, but rather “more like two months” because “he wouldn’t lift his head up[,] he wouldn’t try to lift his arms[,] he wouldn’t put his eyes on you . . .[;] [h]e was just totally weak.” X-rays taken at that time showed fractures to J.T.M.’s ninth and eleventh ribs that could have been caused by squeezing or a blow.

On 15 May 2003, emergency personnel were dispatched to defendant’s residence at about 10:30 p.m. for a “cardiac respiratory emergency.” When Chief Frazier of the Colfax Fire Department arrived, Ms. Michaux directed him to the back room of the house where defendant was holding J.T.M. When Chief Frazier took the child, he found no pulse and began CPR. Paramedic David Wilkins of the Guilford County Emergency Medical Services attempted to intubate the child in order to provide a direct line of air into the child’s lungs. There was no obstruction in the airway prior to the intubation attempt. When J.T.M. could not be revived at the scene, he was transported to High Point Regional Hospital.

When the child arrived shortly after 11:00 p.m. at the hospital, Nurse Misty Hooper noticed that the baby had bruising on the left side of his head, down the left side of his abdomen, on his right lower back, on his leg, and around his diaper line. The child’s foot also appeared as if “several layers of skin . . . had been peeled back,” and his rectum “was macerated . . . very abnormal appearing . . . [r]aw, almost.” Defendant and Ms. Michaux were asked by hospital staff about J.T.M.’s medical history, but they refused to provide the hospital staff with any information. Emergency room physician Dr. David Fisher unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate J.T.M. and then pronounced the seven-month-old dead.

Defendant was subsequently interviewed at the hospital by Rhonda Oboh, a social worker with the Guilford County Department of Social Services. He told Ms. Oboh “that he was feeding thechild and playing with the child and then the child all of a sudden went limp.” Defendant claimed that “he went to stick the bottle in the baby’s mouth, and that the child would not take the bottle, and that at that point he knew that something was wrong.” Defendant stated that he panicked, attempted CPR, and began tapping the child on his stomach, legs, and chest in order to get the child to respond.

Dr. John D. Butts, Chief Medical Examiner for the State of North Carolina, performed an autopsy of the victim on 16 May 2003. Dr. Butts observed a number of injuries on the child’sbody: bruises on the chin, forehead, chest, lower abdomen, and legs; tissue loss on the heel; both fresh and healing fractures to several ribs; and bruising in the wall of the small bowel and mesentery. Dr. Butts believed that “these injuries are all blunt force injuries,” that “a child of this age isn’t capable of incurring these injuries by itself,” and that they “were caused by another party.” Based on his findings, Dr. Butts concluded that the victim exhibited signs of “battered child syndrome.”

In September 2004, defendant was indicted for felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury and first degree murder. A superseding indictment on the felony child abuse charge was filed in August 2005. The case proceeded to trial during the 31 October 2005 criminal session of Guilford County Superior Court.

Ms. Michaux, who was herself indicted on murder and child abuse charges, testified at defendant’s trial pursuant to a plea agreement. According to Ms. Michaux, on the morning of J.T.M.’s death, she and defendant went to court and regained legal custody of their four children. Later in the day, the family accompanied defendant to his workplace. When the family returned home around 10:00 p.m., Ms. Michaux saw defendant take J.T.M. into the bedroom. After putting food in the oven for the older two children, Ms. Michaux went back to the bedroom and saw defendant choking the victim with his left hand. Ms. Michaux testified that she told defendant to stop, but defendant replied “it was his kid[,] he could do what he wanted to.”

Ms. Michaux left the room to get laundry. She then heard defendant yell that the baby was not breathing. In response, Ms. Michaux called 911. According to Ms. Michaux, defendant instructed her to never tell anyone about what happened the night of J.T.M.’s death. Ms. Michaux testified further that she did not tell the emergency personnel about defendant’s choking J.T.M. because she was scared of her husband. She stated that her husband had, in the past, choked her, threatened her with a jigsaw, kicked her in the leg with steel-toed boots, broken a picture over her head, thrown a glass at her, and hit her in the stomach when she was pregnant with the twins.

During her testimony, Ms. Michaux also described various instances of defendant’s physical abuse of J.T.M. before the night of his death. Defendant gave J.T.M. blood blisters by smacking his feet with a remote control; burned the victim’s ear with a lit cigarette; held the child’s nose shut so he could not breathe; and taped the child to the rails of his crib with black tape in order to keep him still while he pushed on his stomach and smacked his face.

Dr. Butts testified at trial that he reached an initial conclusion, following his autopsy, regarding the cause of death:

My opinion — based on the constellation of injuries I saw and the lack of any obvious natural process, congenital disease or something that might explain the death, it was my opinion and feeling this child had died as a result of external forces or causes of some type. But I didn’t — I was unable to identify a specific mechanism by which the child had died or had been killed.

Dr. Butts testified that he subsequently received additional information that prompted him to reassess his initial opinion. Based on this new information, Dr. Butts revised his initial opinion to reflect that “the death was the result of asphyxiation or consistent with asphyxiation” secondary to neck compression. During cross-examination by defendant’s counsel, Dr. Butts explained that the information was from a written statement provided by Ms. Michaux to the police that indicated she saw defendant choke the victim in the bedroom on the night of 15 May 2003.

At trial, defendant offered evidence from several witnesses. Dr. Donald Jason, a professor in pathology who reviewed Dr. Butts’ autopsy records, disputed Dr. Butts’ diagnosis of batteredchild syndrome and testified that all the evidence was “perfectly consistent with the childchoking on formula.” He explained further that “[a]ny attempt at CPR . . . would be expected to leave some bruising, depending on how forceful it was. And I found some bruising . . . consistent with two fingers over the child’s abdomen.” Dr. Jason went on: “In any case, this is not a child that died of being beaten to death. This is a child that apparently asphyxiated to death in some manner, although not by strangulation . . . .”

In addition, defendant presented evidence that Ms. Michaux had stated, on the night of J.T.M.’s death, that defendant was innocently trying to feed the child when he stopped breathing. Other witnesses testified that defendant was gentle with the children and a good parent, with any bruising on the child coming from one of the older Michaux children playing roughly around thechild. The jury found defendant guilty of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury and first degree murder. On 8 November 2005, the trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment without parole for the murder conviction and to a term of 100 to 129 months imprisonment for the felony child abuse conviction. Defendant timely appealed to this Court.

I

Defendant first argues that the trial court erred in allowing Dr. Butts to testify as to his revised opinion that the victim’s “death was the result of asphyxiation or consistent with asphyxiation” secondary to neck compression. Anticipating that the State would seek to introduce evidence of Dr. Butts’ revised opinion, defendant made a motion in limine to exclude it. After a voir dire examination of Dr. Butts, the trial judge ruled:

With respect to the defendant’s motion in limine about Dr. Butts’ testimony, I will allow him to testify about his revised cause-of-death conclusion. However, I will limit that testimony with respect to the information that he received that prompted him to make that revised conclusion.

He will not be allowed to testify on direct examination about the fact that that statement came from Serita Michaux or that the statement was that the defendant was the one who was “choking” the victim in this case.

Defendant contends that, despite the court’s narrowly-tailored ruling, the admission of Dr. Butts’ revised opinion had the effect of impermissibly bolstering the credibility of Ms. Michaux and suggests, moreover, it was “unfair for a medical expert to change his opinion with no other basis than a statement of an accused codefendant.”

Contrary to defendant, we discern no prejudicial error because defendant himself created the prejudice of which he now complains. Following its motion in limine ruling, the trial court remarked to defense counsel: “whether or not you want to get into the specifics of [the source of the information] on cross and use [Dr. Butts] as a vehicle to attack Serita Michaux’s credibility, that’s up to you.” This strategy is exactly what defendant’s counsel elected to do.

During the direct examination of Dr. Butts, the prosecution fully complied with the court’s ruling, and no mention was made that Ms. Michaux was the source of the information relied upon by Dr. Butts. On cross-examination, however, defense counsel elicited the following testimony:

Q. Specifically, is the information you used to change your opinion statements that were made by Serita Michaux?

A. That’s my understanding.

Q. The mother of the child?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And is one of the statements that you used to change your opinion “When I got to the door, I never went inside the bedroom `cause I seen [defendant] choking [J.T.M.] with one of his hands. Not both hands. [Defendant] was lying on the bed next to [J.T.M.] and I got scared, because I seen [J.T.M.'s] tongue hanging out of his mouth”?

Is that one of the statements you used to change your opinion?

A. Yes, sir.

Had defendant chosen not to introduce Ms. Michaux’s name during cross-examination, the source of Dr. Butts’ “additional information” would have remained entirely unknown to the jury. Further, not only did defendant’s counsel introduce Ms. Michaux as the source of the information, but he even read directly from Ms. Michaux’s statement to the police.

Thus, any bolstering of Ms. Michaux’s credibility resulted from the cross-examination and not the direct examination. Under these circumstances, any prejudice suffered by defendant is not remediable on appeal because it resulted from his own trial tactics. See State v. Mitchell, 342 N.C. 797, 806, 467 S.E.2d 416, 421 (1996) (“[D]efendant contends that statements made by Detective Harris . . . were hearsay. However, while the statement made by Detective Harris was hearsay, it was elicited from Detective Harris by defense counsel. Defendant cannot assign error to hearsay testimony which he elicited.”); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1443(c) (2005) (“A defendant is not prejudiced . . . by error resulting from his own conduct.”). Moreover, defendant used Dr. Butts’ opinion regarding asphyxiation to anticipate the defense theory — later put forth by Dr. Jason _ that J.T.M. likely died from choking on baby formula. We, therefore, overrule this assignment of error.

We decline to address defendant’s separate contention that, aside from the credibility issue, it is somehow “unfair for a medical expert to change his opinion with no other basis than a statement of an accused codefendant.” Defendant cites no authority to support this proposition and, therefore, any such argument is abandoned. N.C.R. App. P. 28(b)(6) (“Assignments of error . . . in support of which no reason or argument is stated or authority cited, will be taken as abandoned.”).

II

Defendant next argues that the trial court erred in allowing Dr. James Hilkey, a psychologist who had evaluated Ms. Michaux, to testify in a manner that bolstered Ms. Michaux’s credibility. Defendant points to the following testimony, addressing whether Ms. Michaux would lie to protect her husband: “It does not surprise me that Ms. Michaux would lie. Again, this is a person who has many, many deficits, many, many inadequacies, and is extremely insecure. And if she believes that lying would get her what she believes she needs, I think that she would do it.” Defendant maintains that Dr. Hilkey’s testimony suggested “that Serita Michaux is now telling the truth, because she was lying before.”

Assuming arguendo that the admission of Dr. Hilkey’s testimony was error, we fail to perceive how defendant was prejudiced by it. During closing argument, defense counsel exploited this testimony in defendant’s favor:

And you know, the State, through their own evidence, told you exactly why Serita Michaux was not telling the truth.

Remember Dr. Hilkey? The last thing Dr. Hilkey said when he left the witness stand?

In my opinion, I have no doubt — in my opinion, I have no doubt that she believes that lying — I have no doubt if she believed that lying will get her what she needs, that there’s no doubt that she’d do it. She’d lie to get whatever she needs.

And that was their witness. Not mine. Last thing he said.

. . . .

So when do you first hear these stories? When she’s in jail. And when, I contend to you, she wants to get out of jail. Then you have these three or four, five stories that she tells Detective Rogers. That’s the first time you hear them.

Why do you hear those? Because she needed to get something. She needed to get out of jail. So here comes the stories.

Thus, defendant took full advantage of Dr. Hilkey’s disputed testimony to undermine Ms. Michaux’s credibility.

“A defendant is prejudiced by errors . . . when there is a reasonable possibility that, had the error in question not been committed, a different result would have been reached at the trial out of which the appeal arises.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1443(a). In light of the fact that defendant found much to be gained from the precise testimony of Dr. Hilkey now challenged on appeal, we hold that defendant has failed to demonstrate the prejudice required under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1443(a). See State v. Moses, 350 N.C. 741, 765, 517 S.E.2d 853, 868 (1999) (rejecting argument that defendant was prejudiced by inadmissible testimony of expert witness in part because “defense counsel actually turned [expert's] statement to his advantage and impeached him on that statement” during closing argument), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1124, 145 L. Ed. 2d 826, 120 S. Ct. 951 (2000). This assignment of error is overruled.

III

Defendant next argues that the court erred in allowing Amy White, a registered nurse, to testify on redirect examination as to possible causes of the various conditions afflicting J.T.M. when he was hospitalized in April 2003, the month prior to his death. Defendant contends that Nurse White’s statements were improper lay opinion testimony since she had not been qualified as an expert witness.

We need not decide whether Nurse White could properly give opinion testimony of the type offered here because defendant “opened the door” to testimony by her as to possible causes of the child’s condition. As our Supreme Court has explained:

[T]he law wisely permits evidence not otherwise admissible to be offered to explain or rebut evidence elicited by the defendant himself. Where one party introduces evidence as to a particular fact or transaction, the other party is entitled to introduce evidence in explanation or rebuttal thereof, even though such latter evidence would be incompetent or irrelevant had it been offered initially.

State v. Albert, 303 N.C. 173, 177, 277 S.E.2d 439, 441 (1981).

When Nurse White testified on direct examination, the prosecutor limited her testimony to the physical symptoms exhibited by the child. On cross-examination, however, defense counsel went beyond the observable conditions and inquired whether there might be innocent causes — unrelated to child abuse — that could explain the occurrence of those conditions. Then, on redirect examination, and over defendant’s objections, the prosecutor asked a series of questions concerning whether the child’s conditions might just as likely have been caused bychild abuse. This line of questioning was acceptable on redirect given that defendant himself opened the door by asking questions regarding possible causation. See State v. Baymon, 336 N.C. 748, 754, 446 S.E.2d 1, 4 (1994) (“The purpose of redirect examination is to clarify any questions raised on cross-examination concerning the subject matter of direct examination and to confront any new matters which arose during cross-examination.”). Accordingly, we overrule this assignment of error.

IV

Finally, defendant contends that the trial court erred in providing the following jury instruction on “admissions” modeled on N.C.P.I.—Crim. 104.60:

If you find from the evidence presented that the defendant has admitted a fact relating to the crime charged in this case, then you should consider all of the circumstances under which the admission was made in determining whether it was a truthful admission and in determining the weight you will give to it.

“A trial court must give a requested instruction that is a correct statement of the law and is supported by the evidence.” State v. Conner, 345 N.C. 319, 328, 480 S.E.2d 626, 629, cert. denied, 522 U.S. 876, 139 L. Ed. 2d 134, 118 S. Ct. 196 (1997). In addition, “[a]n admission is a statement of pertinent facts which, in light of other evidence, is incriminating.” State v. Trexler, 316 N.C. 528, 531, 342 S.E.2d 878, 879-80 (1986).

The record in this case reveals the following exchange between the prosecutor and Ms. Michaux: Q. What did [defendant] say when you told him to stop choking [J.T.M.]?

A. He said it was his kid; he could do what he wanted to.

Ms. Michaux then testified that defendant later instructed her not to tell anyone what had happened. These incriminating statements attributed to defendant are sufficient to support an instruction on admissions. See State v. Cummings, 353 N.C. 281, 295, 543 S.E.2d 849, 858(admissions instruction was proper in trial for first degree murder where defendant had told a detective that “[a] man meant to kill the lady because all you would have had to do was to push her down”), cert. denied, 534 U.S. 965, 151 L. Ed. 2d 286, 122 S. Ct. 375 (2001).

Further, the instruction was appropriate in connection with defendant’s theory that J.T.M. likely died from choking on baby formula. On the night of his son’s death, defendant told social worker Rhonda Oboh that “he went to stick the bottle in the baby’s mouth, and that the childwould not take the bottle, and that at that point he knew that something was wrong.” Defendant’s statement to Ms. Oboh, which tends to show that the child refused the bottle and, therefore, would not have ingested any formula, was relevant to the jury’s determination whether the child died innocently from choking on the formula or whether he was strangled. We conclude, in short, that an instruction on admissions was supported in the evidence and was, therefore, appropriately given to the jury.

No error.

Judges TYSON and ELMORE concur.

Report per Rule 30(e).

JAMES FRANKLIN MICHAUX, Petitioner,
v.
THE SECRETARY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION, Respondent.

No. 1:09CV141.

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina.

June 22, 2009.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

DONALD P. DIETRICH, Magistrate Judge.

Petitioner, a prisoner of the State of North Carolina, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The pertinent facts of the case, as set out by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, are as follows:

At trial, the State’s evidence tended to show the following facts. In 2002, the Rockingham County Department of Social Services (“DSS”) began providing treatment services to defendant; his wife, Serita Michaux; and their two young children. Later in 2002, Ms. Michaux gave birth to twins, one of whom was J.T.M. The social worker assigned to the family testified regarding defendant’s domination of Ms. Michaux and his hostility to receiving assistance from DSS.

On one occasion, after J.T.M.’s birth, a restaurant owner, who had known defendant since he was a young boy, observed defendant playing too roughly with the child. After she told defendant, “you’re going to hurt that baby,” defendant responded: “It’s my damn baby. I’ll do what I want to.” When defendant learned that an employee of the restaurant had urged Ms. Michaux to leave him, defendant threatened to slap the employee and said, “Bitch, … I’ll burn your house down with you in it.”

Following a DSS safety assessment during which defendant was “explosive,” DSS concluded that the environment for defendant’s children was “unsafe” and, on 25 October 2002, placed J.T.M. and his twin with a foster family. In mid-February 2003, defendant and Ms. Michaux were allowed to have the twins for intermittent trial placements. After one such trial placement, J.T.M. returned to the foster family with noticeable scabbing and bruise marks, including bruising on his abdomen, groin area, and the backs of his thighs. Nonetheless, on 24 March 2003, physical custody of the twins was restored to defendant and Ms. Michaux. Shortly thereafter, on 8 April 2003, J.T.M. was admitted to Morehead Memorial Hospital. Nurse Amy White and other hospital staff examined J.T.M. and observed that he suffered from critical dehydration, a rash on his bottom, and bloody tissue around his rectum. According to Nurse White, J.T.M. was not behaving like a six-month-old, but rather “more like two months” because “he wouldn’t lift his head up[,] he wouldn’t try to lift his arms[,] he wouldn’t put his eyes on you … [;][h]e was just totally weak.” X-rays taken at that time showed fractures to J.T.M.’s ninth and eleventh ribs that could have been caused by squeezing or a blow.

On 15 May 2003, emergency personnel were dispatched to defendant’s residence at about 10:30 p.m. for a “cardiac respiratory emergency.” When Chief Frazier of the Colfax Fire Department arrived, Ms. Michaux directed him to the back room of the house where defendant was holding J.T.M. When Chief Frazier took the child, he found no pulse and began CPR. Paramedic David Wilkins of the Guilford County Emergency Medical Services attempted to intubate the child in order to provide a direct line of air into the child’s lungs. There was no obstruction in the airway prior to the intubation attempt. When J.T.M. could not be revived at the scene, he was transported to High Point Regional Hospital.

When the child arrived shortly after 11:00 p.m. at the hospital, Nurse Misty Hooper noticed that the baby had bruising on the left side of his head, down the left side of his abdomen, on his right lower back, on his leg, and around his diaper line. The child’s foot also appeared as if “several layers of skin … had been peeled back,” and his rectum “was macerated … very abnormal appearing … [r]aw, almost.” Defendant and Ms. Michaux were asked by hospital staff about J.T.M.’s medical history, but they refused to provide the hospital staff with any information. Emergency room physician Dr. David Fisher unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate J.T.M. and then pronounced the seven-month-old dead.

Defendant was subsequently interviewed at the hospital by Rhonda Oboh, a social worker with the Guilford County Department of Social Services. He told Ms. Oboh “that he was feeding the child and playing with the child and then the child all of a sudden went limp.” Defendant claimed that “he went to stick the bottle in the baby’s mouth, and that the child would not take the bottle, and that at that point he knew that something was wrong.” Defendant stated that he panicked, attempted CPR, and began tapping the child on his stomach, legs, and chest in order to get the child to respond.

Dr. John D. Butts, Chief Medical Examiner for the State of North Carolina, performed an autopsy of the victim on 16 May 2003. Dr. Butts observed a number of injuries on the child’s body: bruises on the chin, forehead, chest, lower abdomen, and legs; tissue loss on the heel; both fresh and healing fractures to several ribs; and bruising in the wall of the small bowel and mesentery. Dr. Butts believed that “these injuries are all blunt force injuries,” that “a child of this age isn’t capable of incurring these injuries by itself,” and that they “were caused by another party.” Based on his findings, Dr. Butts concluded that the victim exhibited signs of “battered child syndrome.”

In September 2004, defendant was indicted for felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury and first degree murder. A superseding indictment on the felony child abuse charge was filed in August 2005. The case proceeded to trial during the 31 October 2005 criminal session of Guilford County Superior Court.

Ms. Michaux, who was herself indicted on murder and child abuse charges, testified at defendant’s trial pursuant to a plea agreement. According to Ms. Michaux, on the morning of J.T.M.’s death, she and defendant went to court and regained legal custody of their four children. Later in the day, the family accompanied defendant to his workplace. When the family returned home around 10:00 p.m., Ms. Michaux saw defendant take J.T.M. into the bedroom. After putting food in the oven for the older two children, Ms. Michaux went back to the bedroom and saw defendant choking the victim with his left hand. Ms. Michaux testified that she told defendant to stop, but defendant replied “it was his kid[,] he could do what he wanted to.”

Ms. Michaux left the room to get laundry. She then heard defendant yell that the baby was not breathing. In response, Ms. Michaux called 911. According to Ms. Michaux, defendant instructed her to never tell anyone about what happened the night of J.T.M.’s death. Ms. Michaux testified further that she did not tell the emergency personnel about defendant’s choking J.T.M. because she was scared of her husband. She stated that her husband had, in the past, choked her, threatened her with a jigsaw, kicked her in the leg with steel-toed boots, broken a picture over her head, thrown a glass at her, and hit her in the stomach when she was pregnant with the twins.

During her testimony, Ms. Michaux also described various instances of defendant’s physical abuse of J.T.M. before the night of his death. Defendant gave J.T.M. blood blisters by smacking his feet with a remote control; burned the victim’s ear with a lit cigarette; held the child’s nose shut so he could not breathe; and taped the child to the rails of his crib with black tape in order to keep him still while he pushed on his stomach and smacked his face.

Dr. Butts testified at trial that he reached an initial conclusion, following his autopsy, regarding the cause of death:

My opinion-based on the constellation of injuries I saw and the lack of any obvious natural process, congenital disease or something that might explain the death, it was my opinion and feeling this child had died as a result of external forces or causes of some type. But I didn’t-I was unable to identify a specific mechanism by which the child had died or had been killed.

Dr. Butts testified that he subsequently received additional information that prompted him to reassess his initial opinion. Based on this new information, Dr. Butts revised his initial opinion to reflect that “the death was the result of asphyxiation or consistent with asphyxiation” secondary to neck compression. During cross-examination by defendant’s counsel, Dr. Butts explained that the information was from a written statement provided by Ms. Michaux to the police that indicated she saw defendant choke the victim in the bedroom on the night of 15 May 2003.

At trial, defendant offered evidence from several witnesses. Dr. Donald Jason, a professor in pathology who reviewed Dr. Butts’ autopsy records, disputed Dr. Butts’ diagnosis of battered child syndrome and testified that all the evidence was “perfectly consistent with the child choking on formula.” He explained further that “[a]ny attempt at CPR … would be expected to leave some bruising, depending on how forceful it was. And I found some bruising … consistent with two fingers over the child’s abdomen.” Dr. Jason went on: “In any case, this is not a child that died of being beaten to death. This is a child that apparently asphyxiated to death in some manner, although not by strangulation….”

In addition, defendant presented evidence that Ms. Michaux had stated, on the night of J.T.M.’s death, that defendant was innocently trying to feed the child when he stopped breathing. Other witnesses testified that defendant was gentle with the children and a good parent, with any bruising on the child coming from one of the older Michaux children playing roughly around the child. The jury found defendant guilty of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury and first degree murder. On 8 November 2005, the trial court sentenced defendant to life imprisonment without parole for the murder conviction and to a term of 100 to 129 months imprisonment for the felony child abuse conviction. Defendant timely appealed to this Court.

State v. Michaux, No. COA06-1040, at *1-4, 185 N.C. App. 160, 647 S.E.2d 688 (Aug. 07, 2007)(unpublished), rev. denied, 361 N.C. 700, 654 S.E.2d 706 (2007). Following his unsuccessful appeal, Petitioner filed his habeas petition in this Court.

Claims In The Petition

Petitioner raises two interrelated claims for relief in his petition. First, he claims that Dr. Butts’ expert opinion that the victim died of asphyxiation secondary to neck compression should not have been admitted because there was no proper basis for the opinion. Butts testified that he based this conclusion on Ms. Michaux’s statement that she saw Petitioner choking the victim. Petitioner argues that this violates “Rule 702.” Petitioner’s second claim is that Butts’ testimony improperly bolstered Ms. Michaux’s testimony that Petitioner choked the victim.

Discussion

Respondent’s primary contention in response to both of Petitioner’s claims is that they are procedurally barred from review in this Court. Absent cause and prejudice or a miscarriage of justice, a federal habeas court may not review constitutional claims when a state court has declined to consider their merits on the basis of an adequate and independent state procedural rule. See Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 262 (1989). A procedural rule under which the state court has declined to consider the merits of a petitioner’s claims is adequate if it is regularly or consistently applied by the state court, Johnson v. Mississippi, 486 U.S. 578, 587 (1988), and is independent if it does not “depend. . . on a federal constitutional ruling,” Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 75 (1985).

Here, Petitioner raised both of his current claims on direct review and the North Carolina Court of Appeals declined to consider either of them. It did base its decision on state procedural rules. As to Petitioner’s claim that it was improper for Butts to testify that his opinion changed based on Ms. Michaux’s statement, the North Carolina Court of Appeals stated that “[Petitioner] cites no authority to support this proposition and, therefore, any such argument is abandoned. N.C.R. App. P. 28(b)(6) (`Assignments of error . . . in support of which no reason or argument is stated or authority cited, will be taken as abandoned.’)” Michaux, No. COA06-1040, at *4.

Regarding Petitioner’s contention that Butts’ testimony improperly bolstered Ms. Michaux’s testimony, the North Carolina Court of Appeals noted that it was not revealed on direct examination that Ms. Michaux’s statement was the source of Dr. Butt’s opinion that the victim died from neck compression. Instead, Dr. Butts testified as to the source of his changed opinion only when asked for the source by Petitioner’s attorney on cross-examination. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held that “[u]nder these circumstances, any prejudice suffered by defendant is not remediable on appeal because it resulted from his own trial tactics.” Id. In support of its holding, it cited prior North Carolina case law dealing with invited error and N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1443(c), which reads “[a] defendant is not prejudiced by . .. error resulting from his own conduct.”

Certainly, the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ denial of Petitioner’s claims was “independent.” No federal constitutional grounds were discussed and only state procedural rules were relied upon. The only question then is whether the rules were “adequate” to support a procedural bar.

It has been noted that N.C.R. App. P. 28 “is a long standing, regularly and consistently applied procedural default rule under North Carolina law.” Willoughby v. Langley, No. 303CV342-3-MU, 2006 WL 753173, at *3 (W.D.N.C. March 21, 2006)(unpublished, citing examples of its application). Likewise, Respondent cites several cases showing that N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1443(c) is regularly and consistently applied. See, e.g., State v. Raines, 362 N.C. 1, 11-12, 653 S.E.2d 126 (2007)State v. Duke, 360 N.C. 110, 121-22, 623 S.E.2d 11 (2005)State v. Braxton, 352 N.C. 158, 202, 531 S.E.2d 428 (2000). Therefore, the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ use of these rules in Petitioner’s case was sufficient to bar Petitioner’s claims from review in this Court absent a showing of cause and prejudice or a miscarriage of justice. Petitioner has not even argued that he can make such a showing. Both of his claims are barred from habeas review.

Petitioner’s claims would also fail even if considered on their merits. Both claims are based on state court evidentiary rulings at trial. “Normally, the admissibility of evidence, the sufficiency of evidence, and instructions to the jury in state trials are matters of state law and procedure not involving federal constitutional issues. It is only in circumstances impugning fundamental fairness or infringing specific constitutional protections that a federal question is presented.”Grundler v. State of North Carolina, 283 F.2d 798, 802 (4th Cir. 1960). This holding was later reaffirmed by the Fourth Circuit in Spencer v. Murray, 5 F.3d 758, 762 (4th Cir. 1993). A state procedural error does not qualify for habeas relief unless there is “`a fundamental defect which inherently results in a complete miscarriage of justice,’” or there are “`exceptional circumstances where the need for the remedy afforded by the writ of habeas corpus is apparent.’” Short v. Garrison, 678 F.2d 364, 369 (4th Cir. 1982)(quoting Hailey v. Dorsey, 580 F.2d 112, 115 (4th Cir. 1978)).

Petitioner has not shown that his trial was fundamentally deficient or that there are any exceptional circumstances. Butts’ testimony of severe physical abuse, combined with Ms. Michaux’s testimony and other evidence, provided more than sufficient evidence of Petitioner’s guilt even if Butts’ revised opinion had not been stated in the record. Further, if anything, the fact that Butts relied on the statement of an interested party, rather than any scientific or medical evidence, to form his opinion likely weakened his testimony to the jury. In total, Petitioner’s trial was not fundamentally unfair or deficient. Respondent’s motion for summary judgment should be granted even if Petitioner’s claims are considered on their merits.

IT IS THEREFORE RECOMMENDED that Respondent’s motion for summary judgment (docket no. 4) be granted, that the habeas petition (docket no. 1) be denied, and that judgment be entered dismissing this action.

Rutherford County DSS worker, Andrea Denning, was caught on tape asleep in a DSS government vehicle,  wearing her DSS worker I.D.

 

In the video, Ms. Denning who is a Social Worker III, can clearly be seen sound asleep, mouth agape, while children play in the yard right outside her drivers side window.

While news reports state that it is unclear whether Ms. Denning was on the clock or not, the fact that she is in a government vehicle, wearing her I.D. tag, parked in someones driveway/yard, asleep, clearly sets a poor example of how a DSS worker should behave.

Andrea Denning asleep with DSS I.D. clearly visible.

I mean seriously folks, are the children playing in the yard part of a DSS investigation?  Does the drive she is parked in belong to someone who is being investigated by DSS for abuse, neglect, or dependency?  I do not believe whether Ms. Denning was on the clock or not matters in this situation.  Fire her and find someone who can stay awake and ensure the protection of children.

Furthermore, Ms. Denning is obviously on the clock, she is out in the County…in a government owned vehicle, wearing her government I.D. tag…PARKED IN SOMEONES DRIVEWAY!!!

…but by all means, please check Ms. Denning’s  DSS 4263 form  that is required to be filled out daily and turned in weekly and records every service and activity performed, for payment purposes and is absolutely, necessary for federal reimbursement.  Not only is this document required, it must be certified by the worker!  …see if she claimed to be working while this video was being filmed! 

Ms. Denning has been place on administrative leave, probably paid leave, while this is been investigated.

 

Video of DSS worker caught sleeping on the job.

 

7 On Your Side news article:

DSS Worker Snoozes on the Job

http://www2.wspa.com/news/2012/may/31/9/video-dss-worker-snoozes-job-ar-3891219/

By: GRAEME MOORE | WSPA 
Published: May 31, 2012
Updated: May 31, 2012 – 6:21 PM

RUTHERFORD COUNTY, NC –

A YouTube video shows a department of social services worker in Rutherford County, NC, taking a snooze in a county vehicle, though it’s unclear whether the woman was on the clock.

The Daily Courier in Forest City first reported the story last week and posted the video to YouTube. The 43-second video can be seen by clicking here.

In the video, worker Andrea Denning can be seen kicked back in the driver’s seat, with sunglasses on, and snoring. She’s parked in the yard of a mobile home where kids are running around outside.

Rutherford County officials are now investigating.

“Obviously the first thought is, you know, this is not what you want to see in any county employee, but you also don’t know all the facts around the case,” said the county’s manager Carl Classen.

Classen couldn’t confirm if Denning was at the house on a work-related call or not, but it’s clear she’s in a county vehicle, he said.

“Obviously in the video there are children present, and so that speaks for itself,” Classen said, “but we can’t speak any farther than that other than there were children present.”

Classen said the newspaper provided his office a copy of the video, and because of that, his office, along with the county’s DSS director, have launched an investigation.

Classen says Denning was placed on investigatory leave Friday.  She has been with the agency since 2003, and according to her public record she’s never been subject to any prior disciplinary action.

 

Surry County Foster Father, David Lynn McMillian, has appealed his conviction, December 9, 2011,  for taking indecent liberties with a child (two children…foster children to be precise) and is scheduled to appear in the Surry County Superior Court June 5, 2012.

David Lynn McMillian

McMillian was arrested 14 months ago after two of his teenage foster children informed the resource officer at their school that they were being sexually abused by their foster father.

The resource officer contacted the Surry County Sheriff’s Department and the Surry County Department of Social Services and the subsequent investigation, which also involved the SBI, resulted in McMillian’s arrest for four (yes four) felony counts of  taking indecent liberties with a child.  

According to law enforcement the abuse had been on going since 2007!

More information on this case will be posted on the 5th of June.

 

In America the United States Supreme Court has found and held that all parents have the right to the care, custody, control, and companionship of their children unless they are proven unfit.  “the interest of parents in the care, custody and control of their children–is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.” Troxel vs Granville 530 US 57 (2000)

Furthermore, North Carolina’s own courts have found, “`[i]n order to justify depriving a parent of the custody of a child in favor of third persons there must be substantial reasons or, as various courts have put it, the reasons must be real, cogent, weighty, strong, powerful, serious, or grave.’ 67 C.J.S. Parent and Child § 12, page 651.” James v. Pretlow, supra. Nor is the fact that a parent or parents seeking to retain custody of their child, or to obtain custody of their child, may not be as able financially to take care of the child as the party seeking to defeat their custody sufficient to justify the court’s depriving the parents of custody and awarding it to some third person. 2 Nelson, Divorce & Annulment, § 15.15, p. 245 (2d ed. rev. 1961).

As a result of the “deep and meaningful relationship” existing between parent and child, the preliminary determination required by the relevant constitutional provisions “must not be lightly undertaken” and “must be supported by clear and convincing evidence.” Id. At 53, 550 S.E.2d at 503 (citing Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 747-48, 71 L. Ed. 2d 599, 603, 102 S. Ct. 1388, 1391-92 (1982)).

Parental rights may only be terminated if the specific criteria in GS 7B-1111 are met, being a resident of another country and poverty are not legal reasons for terminating parental rights, in fact 7B-1111 specifically states that poverty cannot be used as a reason for terminating parental rights, so DSS’ claim that the children are better off with their foster parents because the father does not have running water in Mexico is in error…running water is not a requirement of parenting.  So were our ancestors unfit because they did not have running water?  My grandparents did not have running water, or an indoor bathroom  until 1984, yet I was always clean, well fed, and loved and so was their house and clothes.

Amish people do not have running water, so should the state rush in and remove their child and call them unfit, based solely on that?

I would also like to mention that Mexico does have an issue with running water, it is not just this father’s home, but millions of Mexican residents that lack running water, through no fault of their own, so should America go in a take all Mexican children from their homes? Running water does not determine whether you are a good parent, who adequately provides care to your children and should not be used in this case to deny, by all accounts, a healthy, loving parent child relationship.  If DSS can take these children from this father for this reason, they can take a child for any reason without justification.

The grounds for terminating parental rights in North Carolina are:

§ 7B‑1111.  Grounds for terminating parental rights.

(a)        The court may terminate the parental rights upon a finding of one or more of the following:

(1)        The parent has abused or neglected the juvenile. The juvenile shall be deemed to be abused or neglected if the court finds the juvenile to be an abused juvenile within the meaning of G.S. 7B‑101 or a neglected juvenile within the meaning of G.S. 7B‑101. (There has been absolutely no abuse or neglect alleged against this father!)

(2)        The parent has willfully left the juvenile in foster care or placement outside the home for more than 12 months without showing to the satisfaction of the court that reasonable progress under the circumstances has been made in correcting those conditions which led to the removal of the juvenile. Provided, however, that no parental rights shall be terminated for the sole reason that the parents are unable to care for the juvenile on account of their poverty. (This father has not willfully left his children in foster care or a placement outside the home, in fact he has fought to have his children place with him, he was deported and unwillingly separated from his children and wife.)

(3)        The juvenile has been placed in the custody of a county department of social services, a licensed child‑placing agency, a child‑caring institution, or a foster home, and the parent, for a continuous period of six months next preceding the filing of the petition or motion, has willfully failed for such period to pay a reasonable portion of the cost of care for the juvenile although physically and financially able to do so. (There is no evidence that this father has willfully failed to pay a reasonable portion of his children’s care)

(4)        One parent has been awarded custody of the juvenile by judicial decree or has custody by agreement of the parents, and the other parent whose parental rights are sought to be terminated has for a period of one year or more next preceding the filing of the petition or motion willfully failed without justification to pay for the care, support, and education of the juvenile, as required by said decree or custody agreement. (Does not apply in this case)

(5)        The father of a juvenile born out of wedlock has not, prior to the filing of a petition or motion to terminate parental rights: (Does not apply to this case since the parents are, according to the article, legally married.)

a.         Established paternity judicially or by affidavit which has been filed in a central registry maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services; provided, the court shall inquire of the Department of Health and Human Services as to whether such an affidavit has been so filed and shall incorporate into the case record the Department’s certified reply; or

b.         Legitimated the juvenile pursuant to provisions of G.S. 49‑10 or filed a petition for this specific purpose; or

c.         Legitimated the juvenile by marriage to the mother of the juvenile; or

d.         Provided substantial financial support or consistent care with respect to the juvenile and mother.

(6)        That the parent is incapable of providing for the proper care and supervision of the juvenile, such that the juvenile is a dependent juvenile within the meaning of G.S. 7B‑101, and that there is a reasonable probability that such incapability will continue for the foreseeable future. Incapability under this subdivision may be the result of substance abuse, mental retardation, mental illness, organic brain syndrome, or any other cause or condition that renders the parent unable or unavailable to parent the juvenile and the parent lacks an appropriate alternative child care arrangement. (The reasons these children were removed from their mother were out of this fathers control, since he was no longer in the home or able to re-enter this country because of deportation, in order to care for his children.  It should also be noted that these conditions did not exist when this father resided in the home, with his children) 

(7)        The parent has willfully abandoned the juvenile for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the petition or motion, or the parent has voluntarily abandoned an infant pursuant to G.S. 7B‑500 for at least 60 consecutive days immediately preceding the filing of the petition or motion. (This father has not willfully abandoned his children)

(8)        The parent has committed murder or voluntary manslaughter of another child of the parent or other child residing in the home; has aided, abetted, attempted, conspired, or solicited to commit murder or voluntary manslaughter of the child, another child of the parent, or other child residing in the home; has committed a felony assault that results in serious bodily injury to the child, another child of the parent, or other child residing in the home; or has committed murder or voluntary manslaughter of the other parent of the child. The petitioner has the burden of proving any of these offenses in the termination of parental rights hearing by (i) proving the elements of the offense or (ii) offering proof that a court of competent jurisdiction has convicted the parent of the offense, whether or not the conviction was by way of a jury verdict or any kind of plea. If the parent has committed the murder or voluntary manslaughter of the other parent of the child, the court shall consider whether the murder or voluntary manslaughter was committed in self‑defense or in the defense of others, or whether there was substantial evidence of other justification. (Does not apply in this case)

(9)        The parental rights of the parent with respect to another child of the parent have been terminated involuntarily by a court of competent jurisdiction and the parent lacks the ability or willingness to establish a safe home. (I would say this father wants to establish and is capable of establishing a safe home for his children, but is being prevented from doing so by the state of North Carolina and DSS.)

(10)      Where the juvenile has been relinquished to a county department of social services or a licensed child‑placing agency for the purpose of adoption or placed with a prospective adoptive parent for adoption; the consent or relinquishment to adoption by the parent has become irrevocable except upon a showing of fraud, duress, or other circumstance as set forth in G.S. 48‑3‑609 or G.S. 48‑3‑707; termination of parental rights is a condition precedent to adoption in the jurisdiction where the adoption proceeding is to be filed; and the parent does not contest the termination of parental rights.

(b)        The burden in such proceedings shall be upon the petitioner or movant to prove the facts justifying such termination by clear and convincing evidence. (1977, c. 879, s. 8; 1979, c. 669, s. 2; 1979, 2nd Sess., c. 1088, s. 2; c. 1206, s. 2; 1983, c. 89, s. 2; c. 512; 1985, c. 758, ss. 2, 3; c. 784; 1991 (Reg. Sess., 1992), c. 941, s. 1; 1997‑390, ss. 1, 2; 1997‑443, s. 11A.118(a); 1998‑202, s. 6; 1998‑229, ss. 11, 28; 1999‑456, s. 60; 2000‑183, s. 11; 2001‑208, s. 6; 2001‑291, s. 3; 2001‑487, s. 101; 2003‑140, s. 3; 2005‑146, s. 1; 2007‑151, s. 1; 2007‑484, s. 26(a).)

A look at North Carolina law, and North Carolina and United States legal opinions easily answers this question, so why then is DSS still fighting to illegally detain these children and keep them from their father?  I believe this is another demonstration of the uncontrolled and unchecked power of DSS.  A prime example of DSS’ total disregard for the laws of this state and country.  What this case basically comes down to is the illegal taking of Senor Montes’ children, not out of fear that he will hurt them, but because DSS believes that these children will be better off with someone else because their father lives in Mexico and doesn’t have running water.  DSS believes these children are better off being raised by strangers, then by a father who loves them so much, that even after being deported…he has still found a way to fight for custody of his children.  Just because DSS disagrees with the living conditions of a foreign country, or their way of life, does not make that way of life wrong.

Deported Migrant Fights for Custody of His 3 Children

http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=488748&CategoryId=12395

SPARTA, North Carolina – A North Carolina court postponed a decision in the case of an immigrant deported to Mexico who is fighting for the custody of his three U.S.-born children.

District Court Judge Michael Duncan heard for eight hours the arguments as to whether Felipe Montes, who lived in Sparta for nine years, is capable of bringing up his children in Mexico or whether it would be better to put them up for adoption.

The judge heard Thursday from the state Division of Social Services and set another hearing for May 29, when Montes’ attorney, Donna Shumate, will have the chance to argue the importance of reuniting the family.

“This is a complicated, difficult case, but we expect to win. I’ve had the support of other attorneys in different parts of the country, and we’ll prepare for our hearing,” Shumate said.

Felipe Montes’ nightmare began on a day in October 2010 that started out like any other. He made breakfast for his wife and children and got the kids ready for daycare. (Isn’t this man entitled to citizenship since he is married to a U.S. Citizen?)

Montes, 33, was the sole provider for the family and the children’s primary caregiver, as his wife – a U.S. citizen – suffers from an unspecified disabling mental illness.

Unable to get a driver’s license because he was undocumented, Montes had been arrested several times for driving without a license, but continued to drive so he could work.

When he went to court to pay his fines, two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were waiting for him.

They handcuffed him and transferred him to a detention center in Georgia, from where he was deported to Mexico on Dec. 3, 2010, as his wife was expecting the couple’s third child.

Soon after Felipe’s deportation, his wife, Marie Montes, lost custody of their children due to economic difficulties and a decline in her health.

Marie, 31, told Efe that she expects to join her husband in Mexico once the judge returns custody of the children to Felipe.

“He’s an excellent father,” she said, and noted that Montes is “desperate” to see his kids because “he loves them with all his heart and so do I.”

The woman told Efe that the DSS has not let her speak with or see her children and that has caused her stress and insomnia.

“I did what I could during the three months that I had the kids. I want them sent to him. I have health problems with my kidneys and I take medicine, but I repeat, I’m not a drug addict like say I am,” the mother said.

Montes is not an isolated case, according to the Applied Research report “Shattered Families,” which shows that more than 5,000 children of deported or detained immigrant parents are currently in foster homes.

DSS says the Montes children would be better off with their current foster families than with their dad in Mexico, because there is no running water where he lives. (no parental rights shall be terminated for the sole reason that the parents are unable to care for the juvenile on account of their poverty.  North Carolina General Statute 7B-1111 (a)(2))

The Mexican Consulate in Raleigh has been encouraging Montes and will offer the necessary assistance to reunite the father with his children if the court rules in his favor. 
Being an illegal immigrant or a legal citizen of another county does not remove a parents rights to the care, custody and control of their children, nor does it make a parent unfit.  In fact there is nothing in the North Carolina General Statutes that lists illegal immigrant or foreign citizen as a finding of abuse, neglect, or dependency.  See North Carolina General Statute 7B-101.  Definitions
I would go so far as to call the Allegheny Department of Social Services handling of this case discriminatory based on race and national origin.  To deprive a parent of their children and children of their parent based on conditions that a parent has no control over, but are in fact a way of life in his country is discrimination.

Durham DSS under investigation after critical audit

http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/10944804/

DURHAM, N.C. — The Durham County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the operations of the county’s Department of Social Services office to determine whether any criminal offenses have occurred, County Manager Mike Ruffin said Wednesday.

The investigation follows a county audit of the DSS office that found Walmart gift cards normally used to provide emergency food or clothing to children in foster care and other DSS clients were being used to pay for office parties and reward agency workers.

“The audit findings are disturbing,” Stan Holt, board chairman of Durham County DSS, said in a statement. “We expect sound procedures to be in place that ensure public funds are handled appropriately and with integrity. The weakness of internal controls in a public organization breaches the public trust.”

Ruffin and Holt declined to comment on the criminal investigation.

County auditors found that DSS officials purchased almost $206,000 in Walmart gift cards between January 2007 and last November, but the agency didn’t keep track of them or how they were used. One employee, for example, was found with more than $9,000 in gift cards in January, and files in the office contained folders filled with random receipts, notes about DSS programs, more gift cards and even $12 in cash, according to the audit.

Almost $7,100 in gift cards were used on training sessions, staff meetings, a Christmas charity program and to entice clients to participate in surveys, according to the audit. As much as $975 in gift cards was given to employees during a 2010 staff holiday party at the home of former DSS Director Geri Robinson, the audit states.

The Durham County Board of Commissioners fired Robinson last summer. She recently filed suit seeking to regain her job, as well as unspecified damages, and her attorney called the criminal investigation “a witch hunt.”

Attorney Jack Nichols said Robinson paid the money back for the cards given to employees and maintained that the agency was using gift cards for office purposes, including buying food for meetings, before Robinson was hired.

“It’s almost like they are fishing for reasons to justify her termination,” Nichols said.

He charged that Durham County Commissioner Joe Bowser, who sits on the DSS board, targeted Robinson “because she did not respond to his political direction.” In her lawsuit, Robinson alleges that Bowser pressured her to hire certain people and treat people differently based on race.

“Some of the stuff that Bowser did, I think, is pretty egregious,” Nichols said.

Bowser said the lawsuit is an attempt to smear him in an election year.

“It’s just smoke that she has blown and her attorney has blown, and it’s all going to be cleared up at the courthouse,” he said.

He added that the audit’s findings are only a small part of the problem he saw with DSS under Robinson.

“I was surprised at the fact that the audit didn’t dig as deep as I thought it should have,” he said.

The auditors tracked purchases linked to some of the gift cards and were able to substantiate that many were used appropriately.

Holt told WRAL News that he finds some comfort in those findings and said he wants to ensure that gift cards can still be used to help DSS clients in certain circumstances.

“I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said.

Interim DSS Director Gail Perry said in a statement included in the 26-page audit report that the agency has implemented better financial controls to account for gift card usage.

Aside from the gift cards, the audit also questioned the DSS office’s use of temporary workers and contractors and the reimbursement of Robinson’s moving expenses in 2009 without getting competitive bids.

This isn’t the first time a DSS office in North Carolina has had an issue with gift cards or misappropriation of funds.  See the links below for some other cases.

MECKLENBURG DSS AUDIT/SPENDING HABITS/MISAPPROPRIATION OF FUNDS

http://stopcorruptdss.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/mecklenburg-dss-auditspending-habitsmisappropriation-of-funds/

GIVING TREE TOYS RELEASED TO SALVATION ARMY FOR DISTRIBUTION

http://stopcorruptdss.wordpress.com/tag/misappropriation-of-funds-meant-for-foster-children/

THE DSS MYSTERY: WHERE DID MONEY GO? (MECKLENBURG COUNTY DSS, NORTH CAROLINA)

http://stopcorruptdss.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/the-dss-mystery-where-did-money-go-mecklenburg-county-dss-north-carolina/

FORMER SURRY COUNTY DSS SUPERVISOR FACES 31 FELONY COUNTS

http://stopcorruptdss.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/former-surry-county-dss-supervisor-faces-31-felony-counts/

BRUNSWICK COUNTY NC DSS WORKER INVESTIGATED IN LARGEST FRAUD CASE IN YEARS

http://stopcorruptdss.wordpress.com/2009/01/01/brunswick-county-nc-dss-worker-investigated-in-largest-fraud-case-in-years/

NC DSS worker pleads guilty to fraud

http://www.wwaytv3.com/2012/02/14/nc-dss-worker-pleads-guilty-to-fraud

 

HANDWRITING COMPARISON and Lies Exposed

Real Safety Assessment V. Falsified, Fake Safety Assessment and Irrefutable Proof of Wilkes County DSS Lies, Illegal Activities, Threats, Retaliation, and Unethical Behavior

 

By Lawdoll

An in-depth comparison of the only real DSS safety assessment Allison S. Baker ever conducted about us versus the fabricated, falsified, and forged safety assessment that Allison S. Baker created to make it appear she had performed her duties as required by law.  I have included pictures of the documents in question.  Also contains some of the lies and documentation that proves those lies, threats, illegal and unethical behavior, and intimidation.


The first thing that needs to be stated is that we reported the mother for abuse and neglect on August 15, 2006 and the report was accepted that same day.  We were not the only persons who reported this mom, there was another report of abuse received and accepted on August 10, 2006, that we did not make.  Allison Baker was assigned to our report August 16, 2006, but she did not begin investigating the abuse and neglect until the middle of October.

The retaliatory “child abuse and neglect” report that was used as the excuse to begin an investigation on us October 25, 2006, was received by Surry County DSS (the county we reside in) on August 16, 2006.  This report was made the same day the mother was informed during mediation that we had made a report of abuse against her.

Surry County DSS screened this report out because, IT DID NOT MEET THE STATUTORY DEFINITION OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT, required to initiate an investigation.

Wilkes County DSS, apparently, after we complained about them in late October, obtained this report from Surry County DSS, over two months later, and screened it in.

The first time Allison Baker even hinted at investigating us, and I had contact with her constantly, was during a phone call on October 25, 2006.  During that phone call, Allison Baker began asking me a lot of questions, such as social security numbers and the like.

This call is recorded so I can prove that this is the date that she began investigating us.

This vindictive investigation, which began precisely two days after I called Phyllis Fulton in Raleigh and complained about the Wilkes County Department of Social Services and their failure to perform their duties as prescribed by law and protect my stepdaughter, supports our assertion that it was began as a means to discredit, intimidate, and malciously prosecute us in retaliation of our valid complaints against them.

When we met with Allison Baker October 27, 2006, she had in her possession this screened out report from Surry County DSS, which said idiotic things:

  • Trees growing in our gutters
  • Poison Ivy in the yard
  • Dirty dishes in the sink
  • My stepdaughter woke up with a rat on her chest

Absolutely crazy stuff like that.

Allison Baker had already seen video of our home, which documented August 4, 2006, and up, and remarked about how clean it was and how nice our daughter’s room was.

Furthermore, if she had already performed a Safety Assessment on us August 17, 2006, why would she need to ask all of these questions, which should have been asked when she performed the safety assessment? 

She had never performed a safety assessment, she had never been to our home and did not come to our home until December 9, 2006.

She NEVER went to the mother’s home, who our report of abuse was on, until the middle or end of October either!  We know this, because the mother moved in September 06, but the only house Allison ever visited was her new residence. Remember our report of abuse was made and accepted August 15, 2006.  I am positive if a comprehensive investigation was conducted falsified documents and forgeries would be found concerning the biological mom, and the other daughters father and stepmom as well.

A significant fact that must be noted is, if our house was this bad, then why was an investigation never commenced about the 3 children that LIVED in our home FULL TIME? 

Neither Wilkes County DSS, nor Surry County DSS ever opened an investigation or case on us concerning the 3 children who lived in our home 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

These 3 children are not mentioned on any of the paperwork, safety assessments, risk assessments, case plan, nothing.  The three children living in our home were never talked to, or interviewed, nor was any CPS Assessement or investigaion of any form ever conducted regarding them… period. 

Although according to North Carolina DSS Policy they were supposed to.

 Based on N.C.G.S. § 7B-302 (b), all children living in the home, in a non-institutional setting, shall be considered as alleged victim children when there is any allegation of abuse, neglect or dependency. Therefore, initiation of a CPS Assessment includes face-to-face interviews with all children living in the home.”

There is ample evidence that proves the sole purpose of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services investigation of us was far outside the scope of their duties, and a complete abuse of their power. 

Wilkes County DSS abused their power and unlawfully and maliciously targeted us as a means to discredit our valid complaints against Wilkes County DSS, to intimidate us, to shut us up and to cover up WCDSS’s failure to perform their duties by law and protect a child that was being abused and neglected by her mother.

Wilkes County DSS threatened us with foster care for my stepdaughter, thereby ensuring our compliance with their law breaking, through intimidation.  We had no choice but to comply with their illegal and unethical activities, it was abundantly clear that to do otherwise meant having the child, WE WERE NEITHER ABUSING OR NEGLECTING, needlessly placed into foster care.

Even when faced with overwhelming evidence of abuse and neglect my stepdaughter and her sister were enduring by their mother’s hand…  (Not my husband’s or the father of her other child), the Wilkes County Department of Social Services, ignored that evidence and instead focused solely on discrediting and persecuting us.

They ignored the mother’s noncompliance, lies, and the abuse and neglect of two little girls, so they could teach us a lesson, for speaking out about their initial failure to investigate an accepted report of abuse in the manner and time constraints required by law.

Wilkes County Department of Social Services instituted a malicious investigation against us, without good cause, they falsified records, forged my husband’s signature, discriminated against my husband for being male and the father, lied in assessments and their records, lied to the judge, the psychologist, threatened and intimidated us, abused their power, and neglected their legally duty.

 And then when all of their lies, fabrications, threats and intimidation, illegal and unethical behavior still failed to give them ammunition against us, and after, wrongly and illegally, trying to substantiate against us for serious emotional neglect, they created a new type of neglect and substantiated against us for that.  Injurious environment, parent’s inability to get along, a finding that does not even exist, a finding so far removed from the statutory definition of any type of abuse or neglect that it should have been found invalid the moment they used it, a finding that is so vague that every person in the world could be substantiated against for it.

With the evidence that we have, that proves what Wilkes County DSS did to us, my stepdaughter, her sister and her sister’s father and stepmom, the fact that not one government official will do anything demonstrates the lack of total accountability DSS faces, even when they commit felonious criminal acts.

Handwriting Analysis

  •  This is a comparison of the handwriting on the REAL and ONLY safety assessment, dated December 9, 2006 Allison Baker ever did on me and my husband (Top) and the Fabricated, falsified, and forged one that was created to make it appear she had done one on us, when she had not, dated August 17, 2006.  You can clearly tell these are written by the same person.


  • Again, this is a comparison of the handwriting on the REAL and ONLY safety assessment, dated December 9, 2006 Allison Baker ever did on me and my husband (Top) and the Fabricated, falsified, and forged one that was created to make it appear she had done one on us, when she had not, dated August 17, 2006.  Furthermore, I have no idea where the spanking allegation came from, neither one of us had ever spanked her.  Just another lie.

 

 

 

  •  Below  this is a comparison of the signatures on the REAL and ONLY safety assessment, dated December 9, 2006 Allison Baker ever did on me and my husband (Top) and the Fabricated, falsified, and forged one (bottom) that was created to make it appear she had done one on us, when she had not, dated August 17, 2006. 
  •  I was the only one home on August 17, 2006, David was at work, I will post his work record following this comparison, and you can see for yourself that on the day in question David worked 10 hours at LP.  Note that my signature is missing, David’s signature is different on these documents, and the only ones that look the same are Allison Baker’s and Mary Henderson’s.  The signature for David in the signature section on the bottom is forgery.

David did not sign this document and this safety assessment NEVER OCCURRED.

 


 

Work Record

 

  • This is a copy of David’s work record for August 17, 2006, the day that Allison Baker claims to have performed the August 17, 2006 safety assessment on, impossible to do since David was at work for 10 hours that day. 

 

Personal Records

  • I kept meticulous records; this is the August 2006 record.  Note that we made our report August 15, 2006, but there was a previous report made August 10, 2006 on the mom that we did not make.  
  •  Note On August 15, 2006, the custody hearing was postponed, “Court postponed.  Turned Tammy in, Allison Baker assigned to case.”
  • August 16, 2006, my stepdaughter finally had an appointment with Dr. Weinstein in Wilkesboro after two cancelled dentist appointment by her mom. She had new cavities that she did not have when she saw our dentist and had two teeth extracted on July 3, 2006. Court ordered mediation orientation between David and Tammy from 3-5, this is where David informed the Mediator about our report of abuse to DSS.  Special Note…  After this meeting is when Tammy made the report of abuse about us to Surry County, it was received August 16, 2006.  August 17, 2006 The ONLY note on this date is about my stepdaughter’s sister not being seen by the dentist again!  No visit to our home by Allison Baker, no safety assessment, nada.
  • Also, note the continuous missed dentist appoints by both girls in their mothers care. In addition, note my contact with our insurance company verifying how much they would pay toward fixing my stepdaughters teeth.  We had insurance.  On August 11, I talked to the moms Medicaid worker who informed me that my stepdaughters Medicaid expired July 31, 2006…after having it continuously for her entire life.  (What a coincidence) Debbie Perry also informed me that the mom had never turned in David’s insurance information and that she was reporting her for Medicaid fraud.


Other Signatures

Scanned copy of David and my organ donation cards that we signed in 2004.  Please note David’s signature on both.  David has never signed his full last name the entire, almost 12 years I have known him.  I even have his high school senior shirt from 1998 and it is the same on it as it is here, just a little scribble.

  • Below David’s signature on his driver’s license issued in 1999.

 

 

  • David’s signature on his driver’s license, 10 years later this driver’s license was issued on November 17, 2009.  David has consistently signed his last name the same way for years…he does not write out his last name, but makes some form of N swoop.

 

  • David’s signature on the “In Home Family Services Agreement” signed January 1, 2008.

 

(I changed my mind about Linda Brookes after reading the lies she wrote to Judge Byrd)

I can and have consistently proven that the signature on the safety assessment dated August 17, 2006 is not David’s. 

I have consistently shown and proven that David has signed his name the same way throughout his entire adult life.

I have also shown that the handwriting on both documents is consistent with Allison Baker’s, and that the signatures of Allison Baker and Mary Henderson match on both documents. 

It is obvious and clear that either Mary Henderson or Allison Baker forged David’s signature on the falsified safety assessment. 

There is more than adequate evidence to support that this safety assessment never occurred. 

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

First, we have David’s work record showing that on August 17, 2006, he was at work for 10 hours at LP.

Then, according to North Wilkesboro Police Detective, Chris Handy, there is the absence of our name and information on Allison Baker’s Worker Daily Report of Services to Clients, form DSS 4263.

The DSS 4263 form is required to be filled out daily and turned in weekly and records every service and activity performed, for payment and is absolutely, necessary for federal reimbursement.  Not only is this document required, it must be certified by the worker.  The fact that our name does not appear on the DSS 4263 form alone is proof enough.

When you combined the two, you have irrefutable, documented evidence that for this safety assessment document to exist a felony was committed…because it did not come into existence under legal means.

Since this safety assessment was fabricated, proving who forged David’s signature is not necessary in order to prosecute Allison Baker, Mary Henderson, or other personnel at the Wilkes County Department of Social Services who may have had knowledge of its creation or participated in covering it up after the fact.

Why, in spite of all of this evidence and documentation, charges were dropped against Allison Baker in this case…CITING not enough evidence,  could it be because her grandfather, Glenn  Johnson, was a Wilkesboro Commissioner for 26 years?  

And why charges were never brought against Mary Henderson should be a matter of deep concern, as well?

Furthermore, why has an investigation about the conduct of the Wilkes County Department of Social Services in regards to us, and in the face of this evidence NEVER OCCURRED?

Why, in spite of all of this evidence and documentation, charges were dropped against Allison Baker in this case…CITING not enough evidence, and why charges were never brought against Mary Henderson should be a matter of deep concern, as well.

Frankly, when you considered the fact that the former, Wilkes County DSS Director, James (Donnie) Bumgarner and the current Director, Bill Sebastian were and are aware of this and have been since it occurred, alarm bells should be ringing loudly in your head. 

Tellingly, neither one has asked local or state law enforcement to conduct an investigation.

 Neither one has removed the substantiation against us that was based on the lies, false documents, forgeries, illegal and ethical behavior; it should make anyone reading this question their motives for allowing such a travesty to continue.

 I believe Donnie Bumgarner was involved in this forgery and falsification and/or at the very least, covered it up.

In fact, many government officials were contacted about this issue and all of them failed or refused to do anything.

People who have been made aware of this illegal and unethical behavior include.

  • Renae Steele, Caseworker, Wilkes County Department of Social Services
  • Nikki Hull, Caseworker, Surry County Department of Social Services
  • Linda Brookes, Caseworker, Wilkes County Department of Social Services
  • Mary Henderson, CPS supervisor, Wilkes County DSS
  • Sonya Freeman, CPS supervisor, Wilkes County DSS
  • Donnie Bumgarner, Former Director, Wilkes County DSS
  • Bill Sebastian, Current Director, Wilkes County DSS
  • Dr. James D. Powell, (who went right along with DSS’ lies)
  • Matthew Levchuk, Assistant District Attorney, Wilkes County (who believed the lies told to him by Wilkes County DSS)
  • Charles F. Bauer, Assistant District Attorney, Wilkes County (who dismissed the charges against Allison Baker for lack of evidence.)
  • Keith Elmore, Wilkes County DSS Board Chair
  • Rudy Holbrooke, Wilkes County DSS Board member
  • Ken Noland, Town Manager, Wilkesboro, NC
  • Lanier Cansler, North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary
  • Dempsey Benton, Former North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary
  • Sherry Bradsher, North Carolina DSS director
  • Joann Lamm, North Carolina DSS Deputy Director
  • Ellen Thomas-Pullen, Child Welfare Services Consultant
  • Former North Carolina Governor, Mike Easley
  • North Carolina Governor, Bev Purdue
  • Chris Downing, Region IV Director
  • Carlis V. Williams, Region IV Administrator
  • Ruth Parker, Regional Program Manager, Region IV, Administration for Children and Families

And many others.

Not one of these people did anything about the law breaking, discrimination, malicious persecution of me and my husband for trying to protect a child…, which WAS the only thing we did.

Not one of these people stood up and tried to enforce the laws of this state, nor did any of them take any steps to protect these children by ensuring that the Wilkes County Department performed its statutory duty.

Not one of these people cared about the children who were being harmed while WCDSS continually harassed us, persecuted us, violated welfare policy and broke the law.  NOT ONE!

Even when faced with the damning evidence I have shown in this document, these people ignored it and allowed this travesty to continue.

Honestly, if these government officials were upstanding, honest, people you would think that when faced with this type of evidence they would do what is right or at the very least ask for an investigation.

The only person who tried to stand up for what is right and enforce the law was Chris Handy, North Wilkesboro Police Detective (who tried to seek justice, but was blocked by ADA Bauer)

We did not do the things that Wilkes County DSS lied about.

Threats

When we stood up to them, my life was threatened on www.gowilkes.com, a public forum.

  • You best be glad you live out of the county.
  • I know what your “REAL NAME” is.
  • Be careful and don’t cut your own throat.
  • You will be dealt with, and just as the same in your case, this is the “END”!

And still nothing was done! 

Then after my stepdaughter’s mother died, on the same public forum, another person who clearly worked at Wilkes County Department of Social Services accused me of killing her.

This person also talked about statutory protected confidential DSS information, for even if it is not true, it is still confidential.

Again, nothing was done.

We are the victims in a series of crimes committed by The Wilkes County Department of Social Services and the fact that no one will step up and do what is right, just enables WCDSS to continue to break the law and do this to other people.

Investigation Needed

An investigation desperately needs to occur in this case…and the wrong that has been done to us corrected… in order for that to happen, an extensive examination of the department and persons involved must be conducted.

  • First and foremost, my husband and I must have access to the Wilkes County case file on us, so that we can view the contents and expose the lies, forgeries, and unethical documents, notes, and assessments, among other things, that are hidden behind the confidentiality laws that protect DSS case files from view, even when they have broken the law.
  • The Wilkes County Department of Social Services and its DSS board members need to be investigated.
  • The substantiation against us needs to be removed and our names cleared.
  • The Wilkes County District Attorney’s conduct and refusal to prosecute, despite having adequate evidence to do so, needs to be investigated.
  • Charges need to be pressed against the person/persons who committed these crimes.
  • Most importantly, Charges need to be press against the Wilkes County DSS for failing to protect these two little girls.

To be clear

The Wilkes County Department of Social Services, in retaliation for our criticism about their unscrupulous conduct and dereliction of statutory mandated duties to protect children, invented a reason to investigate us, and created a fictitious abuse and neglect case against us, with the intention of discrediting, intimidating, and silencing us. 

When their harassing and vindictive, examination of us failed to uncover any abuse, neglect, or dependency being committed by us, they conjured a statutory nonexistent neglect finding out of thin air, so they could cruelly, spitefully, and callously brand us as child abusers.

After WCDSS vindictively substantiated against us, they continued their unlawful, harassing, and needless invasion in our lives forcing us to comply with whatever they “recommended” by threatening to place my stepdaughter into foster care if we bulked.

Some of the lies

They created an In Home Family Services Agreement that contained ignorant and useless findings, which did not remotely meet the definition of abuse, neglect, or dependency.

  1. 1.  David was to provide basic insurance as directed by the child support agency, so cost would not be a reason to deny dental care.
  • When her mother neglected her dental care, and allowed her teeth to get so decayed that two of them had to be extracted, David had insurance on his daughter, the mother had insurance on her, and the mother had her on N.C. Medicaid.  Lack of insurance was not the reason her mother denied her dental care.  Neglect by her mother was the reason for the denial of dental care!
  • Not having insurance is not neglect or abuse, but besides that point, the only reason David did not have insurance on his daughter at this time was because he had lost his job, because of DSS, and their inability to attend appointments, for example:
  • When we were scheduled to meet at Dr. Powell’s for the “evaluation” meeting, DSS did not show up so it had to be rescheduled.  David had to take off for the meeting because of DSS negligence to attend, then turn around and take off again for the rescheduled appointment, that DSS, specifically Renae Steele was an hour and a half late to.
  • DSS was order by Judge Byrd after he was notified that we had made a report of abuse, to submit their findings to him.  DSS, failed to investigate the reported abuse in the manner prescribed by law for 2 and a half months, then drug their feet for almost 2 years.  David would have to miss work to go to court, only to have it postponed because DSS had not sent the Judge their findings.
  1. 2.  David and I were required to make the child custody exchanges that were taking place “be as amicable as possible, with no heated exchanges.
  •  David and I always made the exchanges as “amicable” as possible.  When the mother screamed, yelled, and cussed at us, we did not even respond.  We recorded the custody exchanges to ensure that the mother could not lie about our behavior and to document hers.  DSS ignored this proof and lied about us.
  • Heated exchanges, bitterness, and verbal hostility are not abuse or neglect furthermore, David I NEVER engaged in them, proven by recorded phone calls and video recordings of the exchanges.
3.  The parents were required to take the girls to counseling. 
  • First, David and I had been trying to get counseling for his daughter for years, because of the abuse and neglect concerns we had in regards to her mother’s treatment of her.
  •  Second, Dr. Powell their own “Forensic Psychologist” said the girls did not need counseling.
 The entire In Home Family Services Agreement was a complete and total sham of statutorily insufficient findings, a ruse for their continued illegal involvement in our lives.

Furthermore, they lied in the Strengths and Needs Assessments, the Risk Assessments saying that “minimally participated in pursuing objectives in service agreement”.  This is an outright lie.  WE always complied with anything and everything that they asked us to do. Even with the knowledge that they were illegally persecuting us. Further lies include:

  • For the Risk Reassessment dated 11-07-07 it states as a reason for Discretionary override: “age and previous report static but not pursuing all goals outlined in cft of 9-11-07”…there was no cft on 9-11-07, or 11-07-07 the cft wasn’t completed until 1-08-08 two months later.
  • On this assessment we had a total score of 3, mainly just because of this lie.  This is just them trying to justify leaving this case open against welfare policy.
  • They use the same override reason on 3-27-08, but in this one they do not mark R8 and R9 with (b) Minimal participation in pursuing objectives in service agreement…….1…So I guess basically the only reason it was left open then is my husband’s age.  Under 29…we had a 1 on this reassessment.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, they closed the case even though the one and only circumstance that had to be met to “keep the child out of foster care” according to the In Home Family Services Agreement, had not been met.  It was so important for my stepdaughter to go to counseling that they threatened foster care if she did not, but then closed the case before the required 3 sessions, THAT THEY REQUIRED, had been completed. 

This speaks volume to their true intent and purpose.

We then received a letter from Linda Brooks that stated:

MONITORING HER CARE FROM HER MOTHER!

This letter from Linda Brooks is a direct contradiction to the one that she wrote, that same day, May 14, 2008, to Judge Byrd, in that letter, Linda Brookes lies about the entire situation, case, and us.

Letter to Judge Byrd page 1 and 2

Conclusion

From beginning to end, every step that the Wilkes County Department of Social Services made in our case was either, illegal, unethical, untrue, or in violation of statutory law.

Since the entire case was based on falsified, forged documents, lies, as well as unlawful and unethical conduct, any substantiation or case decision reached by them is unduly prejudicial and fatally tainted. 

A decision based on lies, is a lie itself, for the truth cannot be discovered with lies.

Wilkes County Department of Social Services behavior in our case denotes a willful, malicious, and conscious intent to deceive, invent, and lie in order to harass, harm, intimidate, and discredit us.  Their persecution of us was a calculated, deliberate, and purposeful act, a wanton abuse of power that served no legal purpose.

Our case is so illegally tainted with lies, fabrication, embellishments, falsified and forged documents that it is wholly unreliable, and should be considered a work of fiction.  The only truth that could ever be ascertained from the Wilkes County DSS file on us is that it is necessary to verify the corruption in this case.

Allowing the substantiation against us to remain, in view of this indisputable evidence, is a travesty of justice.

Failing to seek prosecution of these criminals, allows them to continue to operate in this unlawful manner, puts families at risk, and endangers the lives of children.  Failing to take legal action against the Wilkes County Department of Social Services enforces their belief, as evidenced by their behavior in our case, that they are untouchable, above the law, and can do whatever they want because they will never be held accountable for their crimes.

They will do it again…if they have not already, and eventually a child is going to lose their life because of the rampant, unchecked, corruption of Wilkes County DSS.

 The unjustified treatment and criminal manner in which we were subjected to has left a scar on our lives.  The bogus, unlawful substantiation placed on us can prevent us from working in a daycare, or with children, prevent us from adopting or being foster parents…it can and does impinge on our lives.

 To allow this illicit, unethical, and fictitious case and phony finding to remain against us, despite the overwhelming facts attesting our innocence in this matter, harms not only us, but also the entire community and damages the public trust in Child Protective Services.

If CPS is permitted to behave in this manner without consequences, or accountability, why would anyone trust them to protect children?

Wilkes County Department of Social Services has proven with this contemptible behavior that they are unreliable, untrustworthy, criminal, and corrupted; they are more concerned with protecting themselves then the children of Wilkes County.

It would injudicious and foolish to assume that our family has been the sole victim of their corruption.

*This document does not contain everything that happened, I have complete documentation and records of everything that occurred, if you received this via email then those records are attached, if you are seeing this one line then those documents are below this posting.

I have other evidence that proves our claim, if I have emailed this to you, that evidence is attached.  If you are reading this one line, then that evidence is below this posting.  I have not finished uploading all the phone calls on to my computer, but when I do, they too will be sent or posted.

You can see the rest of this story and more documentation at Wilkes County Department of Social Services Failure to Protect my Stepdaughter


Aubrey “Kina-Marie” Littlejohn

October 5, 2009-January 10, 2011


Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, fifteen month old daughter of Jasmine Littlejohn, went home to be with the Lord early Monday morning on January 10, 2011.  She was preceded in death by an older brother, Khrystofor Hawk Rattler.

She is survived by two sisters, Marlene Queen of the home and Zoey Littlejohn of Birdtown;  two brothers of the home, Rajur Rattler and Jesse Queen; grandfather, Henry Queen Littlejohn, Jr., grandmothers, Mary Alice Bradley and Henrietta Littlejohn; great-grandfather, Henry Queen, Sr.; great-grandmother, Kina Q. Littlejohn; aunts, Joni Martin, Ruth McCoy, Caron Swayney, Mildred Cisneros, Annie Cucumber; Special Aunts, “BooBoo” Marlene Toineeta of the home, Tina Curry and Elizabeth McGill; uncles, John Martin, Henry Queen Littlejohn III, and Joseph Michael Murphy, and numerous loving cousins.

The family will receive friends at Bethabara Baptist Church on Friday January 14, 2011, beginning at 11 AM where the body will remain until the service hour of 2 PM on Saturday January 15, 2011.  The Rev. Bo Parris, Ray Kinsland, and Pastor Eddie Sherrill    will officiate. Burial will follow in the Sequoyah Cemetery on Locust Branch Road. 

 

Little Snowdrop

The world may never notice 
If a Snowdrop doesn’t bloom,
Or even pause to wonder 
If the petals fall too soon. 
But every life that ever forms, 
Or ever comes to be, 
Touches the world in some small way 
For all eternity. 
The little one we long for 
Was swiftly here and gone. 
But the love that was then planted
Is a light that still shines on. 
And though our arms are empty,
Our hearts know what to do. 
Every beating of our hearts 
Says of our love for you.

~ Author Unknown

Since these news stories are disappearing, I have compiled all the news stories that I can find about the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, in order to have a record of this case.  Kina-Marie’s case is a perfect example of CPS’s total disregard for the lives of the children they are obligated to protect.  Swain County DSS left this child in this home to die, and then after her death tried desperately to cover their asses by falsifying the record and forging documents….hmmmmm this sound familiar…oh wait, this is exactly what they did in our case, except we were lucky because my step-daughter survived.  

To say the least, Aubrey was a Cherokee Native, and the Cherokee Nation is not going to put up with the death of one of their children because of DSS’ failures, neglect, lies, breaking the law, and ass covering.  At least the Cherokee Nation’s voice has been heard in this case, unfortunately, children are dying across North Carolina and their voices are silenced everyday by the very people who failed to protect them… CPS!!

From the news reports on this case we know the following:

  • Court papers, filed by Jackson County DSS, reveal that Swain County DSS had numerous reports of abuse about Aubrey MONTHS before she died.
  • Swain County DSS began investigating Ladybird Powell about the suspect abuse and neglect of Aubrey in September 2010.
  • The first report of abuse was unsubstantiated after one visit to the home… at that time, we can gather that Aubrey was covered in bruises and had a broken arm, we will never know for sure because Ladybird Powell DID NOT take her to the doctor, and although the DSS worker performing the investigation, Craig Smith, “told Powell to take her to the doctor”…he apparently did not care enough to ensure that Powell actually took her to the doctor…he just closed the case and went on with his life.  After Aubrey’s death he fabricated a report claiming that he had spoken to the doctor who saw Aubrey at the hospital in a effort to cover his ass.
  • The November report of abuse alleged that Ladybird Powell, “smacked Aubrey in the mouth when she cried and jerked her around,” and “knocked Aubrey off a bed intentionally.
  • Swain County DSS DID NOT visit the home until 3 days after they received the report…a violation of North Carolina General Statutes, which requires an immediate response when the child is under pre-school age, and the report involves physical abuse!
  • And when they did visit that home, DSS had Ladybird Powell sign a safety assessment that said, “Ladybird will not physically punish Aubrey.” 
  • Aubrey was just 13 months old at the time!!!
  • One of Aubrey’s great aunts, Ruth McCoy stated publicly that family members made other reports of abuse that were ignored by Swain County DSS.
  • Ruth McCoy, upon hearing in November that DSS was at Powell’s home to remove a 10-year-old boy who was living there, drove over to Powell’s home and begged them to remove Aubrey too.  At the time the trailer had no heat and still they left Aubrey there!!!
Other news reports give a bigger picture into Ladybird Powell’s past, and scream, “do not leave a child in her care!”
 
  • Powell’s criminal record includes a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill for stabbing a woman with a knife in a fight when she was 18, she said. The woman, she said, hit her in the head with a tire iron while they were drunk.
  • Powell in 2007 was ticketed for allowing a 14-year-old to drive on U.S. 19 with a 5- and 9-year-old in the car, according to records at the county courthouse. The teenager wrecked the car.
  • Powell later punched the child, according to court papers.
  • The traffic charge was dismissed after Powell agreed to plead guilty to assault for hitting the teenager.
  •  Powell’s own children were taken away by DSS but Kina Marie was left behind. According to relatives, two of Powell’s own children were removed from her home in August while Kina Marie, who was just a baby, stayed in her care. In November, a nephew living with Powell was also removed from the home, but once again Kina Marie was left there, according to relatives.
  • At least three relatives asked DSS to take the baby away from Powell, and had been to Swain DSS in person.
I wrote Swain County DSS and requested N.C.G.S. 7B-2902 disclosure about her case, of course they refused to release it, saying that the DA had blocked its release.  Denying disclosure in this case, does not ensure a “fair” trial for those involved in Kina-Marie’s death or the DSS cover up.  The only thing refusing to disclose DSS involvement is this case does is prevent needed change to DSS policy and laws, failing to release these documents prevents accountability and transparency in these cases…it protects DSS.
 
Look at the news articles on this case, the public is already aware of what these DSS workers did, the public is already aware of Ladybird Powell’s past, the condition of her trailer and the facts of this case…there is absolutely no reason to refuse to release these documents.  The fact of the matter is that we have children dying across this state due to the inaction and failure of DSS…and they are covering up.  Kina-Marie’s case is not the first DSS case where the records were falsified, fabricated and social workers and their superior’s lied and it won’t be the last.  It just happens to be one of the few cases where charges have actually been pressed and they are being held accountable and charged with their crimes.  This case is almost identical to my own case where the Wilkes County DSS failed to investigate our valid reports of abuse, lied, forged my husband’s signature to a safety assessment that NEVER occurred, fabricated evidence,  and blatantly broke the law.  The only real difference is that my step-daughter did not die…and all the social worker was arrested they later dropped the charges citing “not enough evidence”…the SBI was never even asked to investigate.
 

Suspicious death of 15-month-old prompts SBI to seize Swain DSS computers

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3276-fbi-investigates-infant-death-in-swain

Written by Becky Johnson

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The State Bureau of Investigation raided Swain County Department of Social Services Tuesday, hauling off computers and records in an investigation allegedly tied to the death of Aubrey Littlejohn, a 15-month-old baby who died Jan. 10.

Littlejohn was brought to a hospital emergency room at 3:30 a.m. that day, according to an affidavit filed to establish probable cause by the Swain County Sheriff’s Department. The 15-month-old’s left arm was fractured, and she had a bruise on her forehead. Interviews of people staying at the residence, a singlewide trailer at 187 Kenneth Cooper Road off U.S. 19 between Cherokee and Bryson City, revealed the baby had been left strapped in a car seat for about 12 hours.

“During that time period, Aubrey was not removed from the car seat, given food or drink except for some bites from a hotdog and sips of a soda around 5 p.m. that evening. Aubrey’s diaper was not changed during this time period,” the affidavit stated.

When the baby was admitted to the hospital, she was dressed only in a t-shirt and a urine-soaked, feces-filled diaper.

“Infant was limp and very cold to the touch, skin color dusky blue,” according to the affidavit, which noted law enforcement interviews indicated “abuse and neglect” contributed to the baby’s death.

DSS workers had repeatedly been called to the home where the baby lived over the past year, but failed to remove her, The Smoky Mountain News was told.

That’s what angers David Wijewikrama, an attorney in Waynesville.

“The Departments of Social Services across the state have had needless deaths occur multiple times a year because officials involved fail to follow up and do their jobs in the necessary manner,” Wijewickrama said.

The child had been living with her great-aunt, Ladybird Powell, because the child’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, was in jail on unrelated drug charges, he said. While they are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Aubrey Littlejohn lived off the reservation in Swain County. That’s why Swain County DSS was the agency tasked with investigating claims of abuse.

According to Veronica Callahan, next door neighbor of Ladybird Powell, there were often lots of cars and trucks at Powell’s trailer at all hours of the night. Callahan said that children were outside the home as late as 2 a.m., and just this past fall several children were sleeping in a tent in the trailer’s backyard. Callahan said Powell would lock the children out of the house and not allow them back in.

She said sheriff’s deputies and DSS workers were at the house repeatedly responding to complaints.

“It’s horrifying,” said Callahan. “A baby has no voice. I really hope this doesn’t get washed away.”

Tuesday, Michell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, declined to comment directly on the investigation, but did say: “we remain committed to following through to ensure justice is served in this case.”

Additionally, Hicks said the tribe had hired a private investigator to help provide “a more comprehensive level of information in this case.”

Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran said his department is investigating the child’s death, but has not yet determined what if any charges might be filed against her caregivers. District Attorney Mike Bonfoey also confirmed the existence of an investigation, but declined to comment further. State and local DSS officials failed to return phone calls requesting comment before press time.

Wijewickrama has been retained by the child’s mother, who, he said, is devastated by her baby’s death while in the care of a relative. She retained him in a civil capacity to look into possible negligence by DSS.

“She’s sad. She is devastated. She wants to see if there is a law that can be passed that forces DSS to immediately remove children if there are visible signs of abuse,” Wijewickrama said. “What makes me angry is that DSS went to the house of Ladybird (Powell) and removed other children. They knew she was abusive but failed to remove 15-month-old Aubrey and provide her a safe placement.”

Staff writer Quintin Ellison contributed to this report.

 

 

Swain child’s death prompts inquiry

Search at DSS may be linked

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110223/SPORTS05/302230025/Swain-child-s-death-prompts-inquiry

Feb. 22, 2011

Written by Jon Ostendorff

BRYSON CITY — Authorities are investigating the death of a 15-month-old girl who was left strapped into a car seat for 12 hours and given only few bites of a hot dog and sips of soda.

According to court papers obtained Tuesday, Aubrey Littlejohn died at Cherokee Indian Hospital at 3:54 a.m. Jan. 10 — about 15 minutes after being brought in by a great-aunt.

She was wrapped in a blanket and wearing only a diaper soaked in urine and feces and a T-shirt, according to an investigator’s statement in a search warrant.

The child was limp and cold to the touch, according to the court papers. Her temperature was 84 degrees, nearly 15 degrees below normal.

The Swain County Department of Social services had been involved with the child, according to the court papers.

Doctors gave her medications to combat possible narcotics exposure based on previous reports from DSS about her living conditions, according to the records.

Agents with the State Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday were searching county DSS offices, though Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran would not say whether the raid was related to the child’s death.

The child’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, was in jail at the time and is still in jail. Her attorney, David Wijewickrama, said Tuesday that DSS failed to take care of the child.

“Department of Social Services across the state have needless deaths occurring many times a year because officials involved fail to follow up and do their jobs in a necessary manner,” he said.

The attorney for the county’s DSS did not return a message left Tuesday. The department director also did not respond to a message seeking public records in the case.

No one has been charged in the death investigation, which is ongoing, Cochran said.

The child’s great-aunt, Swain County resident Ladybird Powell, brought the child to the emergency room. She did not return a message left at her home on Tuesday.

The emergency room doctor told sheriff’s Lt. Carolyn Posey hours later that Powell had said the child was fine when she put her to bed about 9 that night.

(Page 2 of 2)

“Medical staff had to forcibly remove the infant from Ms. Powell’s arms to provide medical care,” the lieutenant wrote in an application to search Powell’s home off Kenneth Cooper Road.

Powell told investigators she placed the child on a crib mattress about around 9 p.m. tin the master bedroom wearing the T-shirt and diaper. She covered her with a white comforter, according to the court papers.

Jamie Poe, who also lives at the home, told investigators the child was in her car seat for 12 hours that day until Powell put her to bed. She had a few bites of a hot dog that Powell was eating about around 5 p.m. that day.

He told investigators that her diaper wasn’t changed all day.

Investigators found drug paraphernalia — including pipes, straws and a pill grinder — along with a prescription bottle of Oxycodone at Powell’s home. They also found a car seat and an electric portable heater.

An autopsy at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found the child had a fractured left arm, according to court papers. The autopsy is not complete, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday.

The Citizen-Times has requested the autopsy report along with a child fatality report that DSS must provide when a child dies while in its care.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has hired a private investigator to “provide us with a more comprehensive level of information in this case,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks said.

The child was a member of the tribe.

“We are unable to comment further about this ongoing investigation, but we remain committed to following through to ensure justice is served in this case,” Hicks said in a written statement.

In an obituary in the Cherokee One Feather newspaper, Aubrey Littlejohn was described as the “15-month-old daughter of James and Lady Bird Murphy and biological mother, Jasmine Littlejohn …”

Family members could not be reached.

Staff writers Nanci Bompey and John Boyle contributed to this article.

 

Swain woman denies strapping child in car seat for 12 hours before girl died

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110223/NEWS01/110223024/Swain-woman-denies-strapping-child-car-seat-12-hours-before-girl-died

Feb. 23, 2011

Written by Jon Ostendorff

BRYSON CITY — The woman who cared for a 15-month-old who died in Swain County denies keeping the child strapped in her car seat for 12 hours and only feeding her bites of hotdog and sips of a soda.

Lady Bird Powell told the Citizen-Times that she doesn’t know what caused Aubrey Littlejohn’s death.

Her home in Swain County had heat and the child was well-cared for, she said.
She fed Aubrey a breakfast and lunch of baby food from a jar and the child was out of her car seat playing by her self the day before she died while Powell and her husband cleaned a house they were moving in to in Bryson City that day.

The child died at the Cherokee Indian Hospital in the early morning of Jan. 10.

She was not breathing when Powell brought her to the emergency room.

Powell said the child, who is the daughter of one of her nieces, was happy and had not been sick.

“She was full of life,” she said.

Sheriff’s investigators in a search warrant said a witness told them the child had been kept in her car seat for 12 hours with little food. Her internal body temperature was 84 degrees at the hospital – nearly 15 degrees below normal.

The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation searched the offices of the county Social Services Department on Tuesday though officials will not say the search was related to Aubrey’s death.

 

Warrant: Swain County Department of Social Services faked records after girl’s death

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110224/NEWS/302240025/Warrant-Swain-County-Department-Social-Services-faked-records-after-girl-s-death

9:43 PM, Feb. 23, 2011

Written by Jon Ostendorff

BRYSON CITY — A Swain County social worker visited the home of a 15-month-old girl five months before she died but found no evidence of abuse despite a complaint the girl had fallen from an unbuckled car seat down a set of stairs.

Social worker Craig Smith later falsified his records after Aubrey Littlejohn died to show he had called the hospital to make sure she was examined for injuries from the fall, investigators said in a search warrant filed on Wednesday.

Witnesses claim DSS received numerous reports detailing abuse of the child but failed to take action, investigators said in the search warrant. The reports included allegations that the child had no food and that the home had no heat.

Investigators believe the toddler died in the middle of the night after being strapped into a car seat for 12 hours the previous day. She was given little to eat or drink, according to court papers. The child’s family on Wednesday disputed those allegations.

N.C. State Bureau of Investigation agents on Tuesday searched the county’s Department of Social Services office as part of an investigation into the child’s death. They seized records, computer hard drives and mobile phones.

Smith did not immediately return a message left at his office on Wednesday.

Justin Greene, the department’s attorney, said DSS is cooperating with authorities.

“We are taking the allegations very seriously,” he said.

He would not specifically discuss the allegations in the SBI search warrant though he did say the matter was being handled with an internal investigation.

Family denies abuse

No one had been charged in connection with the case on Wednesday.

An autopsy that will provide the cause of the child’s death is not yet complete.

The toddler died Jan. 10 at the Cherokee Indian Hospital about 15 minutes after being brought in by her great-aunt.

A man who lived in the home told Sheriff’s Office Detective Carolyn Posey the child was left in a car seat for 12 hours the day before, and given only few bites of a hot dog and sips of soda.

(Page 2 of 4)
 
She was wrapped in a blanket and wearing only a diaper soaked in urine and feces and a T-shirt when she arrived at the hospital, according to an investigator’s statement in a search warrant.

The child was limp and cold to the touch, according to the court papers. Her temperature was 84 degrees, nearly 15 degrees below normal.

Lady Bird Powell, the child’s great-aunt, told the Citizen-Times on Wednesday that she doesn’t know what caused Aubrey Littlejohn’s death.

Powell had been caring for the child. Aubrey’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, was in jail at the time and remains there.

Powell’s home in Swain County had heat, and the child was well-cared for, she said.

She fed Aubrey breakfast and lunch that day and the child was out of her car seat playing while Powell and her husband cleaned a house they were moving to in Bryson City.

Powell said the child was happy and had not been sick though she could not yet walk.

She said she doesn’t know why the child died.

Powell said she changed Aubrey’s diaper and put her to bed under a blanket that night. She fell asleep on the sofa while watching a movie with her husband.

When she got up, she said she checked on Aubrey and the toddler was cold and wasn’t breathing.

She grabbed the child and wrapped her in the blanket and ran out of the house to the car and started heading toward the hospital. She called 911 on the way and a dispatcher told her how to perform CPR.

Doctors in the emergency room tried to revive Aubrey. She died just before 4 a.m.

A preliminary autopsy at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center found the child had a fractured left arm, according to a warrant investigators later filed to search Powell’s home.

Powell said the child did fall from her car seat down the front steps because the handle on the seat wasn’t locked when Powell picked it up. Aubrey, Powell said, suffered only a bruise to her face.

Caregiver’s past

Powell said Aubrey’s mother pleaded with her to take the child with the only condition being she would not have to pay child support. Littlejohn is in jail on a drug charge.

(Page 3 of 4)
 
Powell, 38, said she agreed but made Jasmine Littlejohn sign over legal custody of the baby.

Powell said DSS visits her house at least twice a year though she said the agency had never substantiated a case of abuse or neglect before Aubrey died.

Powell’s criminal record includes a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill for stabbing a woman with a knife in a fight when she was 18, she said. The woman, she said, hit her in the head with a tire iron while they were drunk.

Powell in 2007 was ticketed for allowing a 14-year-old to drive on U.S. 19 with a 5- and 9-year-old in the car, according to records at the county courthouse. The teenager wrecked the car.

Powell later punched the child, according to court papers.

The traffic charge was dismissed after Powell agreed to plead guilty to assault for hitting the teenager.

Powell said her criminal charges aren’t secret in the small communities of Swain County and the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

But, she said, she tried to care for Aubrey.

DSS conspiracy alleged

Posey, the sheriff’s detective, arrived at the hospital in Cherokee shortly after Aubrey died to start an investigation.

She learned that DSS had at least two reports of abuse and neglect involving the child and requested the documents that week. About two weeks later she met with DSS officials to formally request the records, according to the SBI search warrant.

Two weeks passed before she got some of the records.

But the documents Posey got were incomplete, according to court papers. Some documents were missing and forms with sequential page numbers were incomplete.

She found a report dated Sept. 24 that showed Smith, the social worker who checked on abuse allegations at the Powell home, had called the Cherokee Indian Hospital to speak with the doctor who examined Aubrey after her fall down the steps.

Smith, in his report, said the doctor told him the child was healthy and did not appear injured.

Posey requested all the records on Aubrey from the hospital and found no documentation that the doctor had seen the child.

(Page 4 of 4)
 
The only record the hospital had on the child was the day she died, according to court papers.

Posey and a private investigator working for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians interviewed Smith last week.

He told them he got the complaint about the child falling down on Sept. 15. He told investigators he went to the home the next day.

He found the mobile home clean. He said Powell was feeding Aubrey and that the home was stocked with food and had running water.

Smith told Powell to have the child examined because of the complaint about the fall. Then he left.

Smith then told investigators in the interview that he called the hospital on Sept. 24 to verify that Aubrey had been examined.

After hearing that the child was fine, he closed the case on Oct. 10 and sent Powell a letter saying the abuse claim was unsubstantiated.

Posey told him that she knew he was lying about the call to the hospital.

Smith then told the investigators that he was instructed to falsify the records by his supervisor after Aubrey died to show that he followed up with a call to the hospital.

He said he was later called to a meeting with his supervisor, Candice Lassiter, other agency officials and DSS Director Tammy Cagle.

They questioned him about his investigation at the Powell home. Cagle, according to the court papers, told Smith “we have to get everything in order and everything straight.”

She wanted to know why he didn’t follow up to make sure the child had been seen by a doctor.

DSS officials mentioned in the court papers did not respond to a message left at the department on Wednesday or a message sent through the department’s attorney.

 

Swain County DSS under investigation for possible neglect in death of a 15-month-old

http://www.maconnews.com/news/416-swain-county-dss-under-investigation-for-possible-neglect-in-death-of-a-15-month-old

Thursday, 24 February 2011
Written by Mike Kesselring – Contributing Writer

The Swain County Department of Social Services was locked down early Tuesday morning by the State Bureau of Investigation.

The Swain County Department of Social Services building with Bryson City and the Great Smoky Mountains in the background.

According to unnamed sources, the SBI was conducting an investigation because of possible neglect by the Swain County DSS in the Jan. 10 death of 16-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn, of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The child allegedly died while in the care of a relative when the infant’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, was in jail following unrelated drug charges. Because the child lived in the county, and not on Indian land, her case came under the watch of the Swain County DSS.

No member of the family or DSS worker has yet been charged with any crimes.

The Swain County Sheriff’s Department was on hand during the investigation, said Sheriff Curtis Cochran, in a supporting role to the SBI and to provide security on the DSS property. As part of that security, a sheriff’s deputy was placed on the grounds to monitor movement in and out of the building. Members of the press were not allowed on the grounds during the lockdown period at the direction of the SBI.

DSS clients were allowed in and out of the building but only to have their appointments rescheduled. Most employees were free to enter and exit the building to conduct normal business or for lunch breaks, while others were being interviewed by the SBI.

Serious allegations have been leveled against Swain County’s DSS from several quarters. Some of the most severe criticism has come from a member of the legal profession.

“Anyone in the state legislature who wants to cut funding from Social Services and the Guardian Ad Litem program is a baby killer,” says Jasmine Littlejohn’s lawyer David Wijewickrama of Waynesvlle. “There is a systemic problem in the state of North Carolina with the Department of Social Services and the Guardian ad Litem programs. The state is trying to cut the funding. DSS workers are under trained, under paid and overworked.”

Wijewickrama said that across the state, numerous cases of unnecessary deaths are due to the department’s failure to act, and that the department should be double or triple funded, especially because the people who need these services suffer the most in this time of economic downturn. He says that even though there are laws on the books that allow Social Services and law enforcement to address certain situations, the man power is just not there.

Swain County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Hague checks the comings and goings of employees and clients to the DSS offices during lockdown Tuesday morning.

“Congressman Shuler is very concerned about this. He is appalled. He is livid.” He said. “We have a legislature that is in a cutting mode, not in a doubling or tripling of the fundamental funding mode.”

Wijewickrama is concerned that social workers, who have to have a college degree, start out underpaid, most of who are very young with little or no training to handle tough situations in society involving domestic violence, drugs, substance abuse, and alcohol.

“I have gone to an extraordinary level to make sure I do not interfere with, contaminate or in anyway compromise the criminal investigation,” said Wijewickrama.

EBCI officials are also concerned about the welfare of its tribal members and have hired a private investigator to provide the tribe “with a more comprehensive level of information in this case,” according to Chief Michel Hicks.

When contacted Wednesday for a statement, District Attorney Mike Bonfoey said “All I can tell you is that an investigation is being conducted by law enforcement. When their investigation is complete the District Attorney’s office will make a statement.”

Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran had no comments on the investigation and the SBI has not released any information as of presstime.

 

 

 

Cherokee Girl’s Death being investigated, Swain DSS accused of Cover-Up

http://theonefeather.com/2011/02/cherokee-girl%E2%80%99s-death-being-investigated-swain-dss-accused-of-cover-up/

February 25, 2011

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

                Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, a 15-month-old EBCI tribal member, was pronounced dead at Cherokee Indian Hospital at 3:56am on the morning of Jan. 10.  Aubrey was allegedly left in a car seat for 12 hours and given bites of a hot dog and a small amount of soda prior to her death. 

               The events leading up to her tragic death are under investigation along with the Swain County Department of Social Services (DSS) who is accused of a cover-up and falsifying documents including a doctor’s visit that never occurred. 

                Swain County DSS offices were raided on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 22 and computers and records were seized. 

                As of press time no charges have been filed in the case.  District Attorney Mike Bonfoey related, “There is an investigation ongoing with law enforcement at this time and the investigation continues.”            

                The child’s caregivers, LadyBird (Powell) Murphy and her husband James, brought Aubrey to the hospital along with two others on that night.  LadyBird Murphy, Aubrey’s great-aunt, was caring for the little girl while her mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, is in jail on unrelated drug charges.

                  Although Aubrey was an EBCI tribal member, the caregivers lived in Bryson City and were in the jurisdiction of Swain County DSS. 

                Principal Chief Michell Hicks commented, “Our tribe made a decision to hire a private investigator to provide us with a more comprehensive level of information in this case. We are unable to comment further about this ongoing investigation but we remain committed to following through to ensure justice is served in this case.”

                According to court papers filed in Swain County Court, the Swain County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the death and Detective Carolyn Posey was at the hospital 30 minutes later to start an investigation.  Posey then contacted the Swain County DSS and “discovered Swain County Department of Social Services had had at least two reports of neglect and/or abuse regarding Aubrey.” 

                The court papers state that Detective Posey requested those reports and received some two weeks later, but she found some of those to be questionable in nature.    

Court papers revealed, “An examination of the documentation provided to Detective Posey by the Department revealed that the documentation was incomplete:  documents were missing and forms with sequential page numbers were not complete.” 

                Some of the reports may have been falsified altogether. 

                Swain County DSS Social Worker Craig Smith documented that he placed a phone call on Sept. 24, 2010 to Cherokee Indian Hospital and spoke with a doctor regarding a visit following a fall by Aubrey. 

                According to the court papers, Detective Posey and Daniel Cheatham, the private investigator hired by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to aid in the investigation, formally interviewed the doctor in Smith’s report who told them that she had never had a phone conversation with Smith and had never seen nor examined Aubrey Littlejohn.

                The court papers state that the investigators approached Smith with evidence of the “non-existent telephone” call and he admitted to making it up. 

                Smith also related that “he had documented that false conversation because he was instructed to do so by his supervisor Social Worker Supervisor Candice Lassiter” who allegedly gave Smith a handwritten note on what to include in the narrative.

                Following a report to Swain County DSS on Sept, 15, 2010 of a fall by Aubrey, Smith reportedly made a home visit.  He initially told investigators the house was clean, full of nourishing food and “smelled of Pine Sol cleaning solution.” 

                Court papers allege that Posey and Cheatham “have interviewed numerous persons who indicated that they witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment.” 

                A message seeking comment from Tammy Cagle, Swain County DSS director, was not returned by press time. 

SBI warrant page 1

SBI warrant page 2

SBI warrant page 3

SBI warrant page 4

SBI warrant page 5

Swain leaders call for social workers to step down

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110301/NEWS01/110301024/Swain-leaders-call-social-workers-step-down

Mar. 1, 2011

Written by Jon Ostendorff

BRYSON CITY — Swain County leaders want social workers named in inquiry into the death of a child in their care to step down during the police investigation.

“Something has to be done about this,” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon on Tuesday. “This is not a dirty rag that you just throw aside. Something is wrong and we need to get something done about it.”

Commissioners at their meeting on Monday said they would ask the county Department of Social Services board to suspend four DSS workers with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

One social worker named in the investigation has already been suspended with pay, the department said Tuesday.

Agents with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation on Feb. 22 seized records and computer hard drives from the DSS office in Bryson City as part of a probe into the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.

She died Jan. 10 at the Cherokee Indian Hospital after spending the previous day strapped into her car seat for 12 hours with nothing to eat other than a few bites of a hotdog and sips of a soda, according to an SBI search warrant.

The woman caring for her, Lady Bird Powell, has disputed that claim. She said the child was fed and out of her car seat while she and her husband cleaned a house that day. Aubrey is her great niece. The child’s mother is in jail on drug charges.

Powell said she does not know why Aubrey died. She discovered the toddler wasn’t breathing around 3 a.m. that night and took her to the hospital. She called 911 on the way and tried to perform CPR.

Social worker Craig Smith visited Powell’s house five months before Aubrey died to investigate a complaint that she had fallen down a set of stairs. He found no evidence of abuse but asked Powell to have the child examined at the hospital, according to police records.

Investigators in court papers said Smith falsified his records after her death to show that he had called the hospital to make sure the child was seen by a doctor. The child, according to court papers, was never examined.

(Page 2 of 2)

Smith told investigators he was instructed to falsify his records by his supervisor, according to court papers.

Aubrey had a broken arm that had healed at the time of her death, investigators said in a search warrant.

No one has been charged in the case, Sheriff Curtis Cochran said Tuesday.

Swain County commissioners appoint two members of the DSS board. The governor appoints two and the board elects a fifth member, said Commissioner David Monteith.

He said commissioners plan to meet with the DSS board this week to ask for six DSS staffers, including Director Tammy Cagle, be placed on paid leave.

Monteith said the state would send someone to run the agency. He said the move is necessary for the agency to continue serving the public.

“The main purpose is public confidence in the DSS system,” he said.

Monteith during the Monday night meeting asked DSS board members to confirm that Smith had already been placed on leave. They would not discuss the matter, he said.

Records from the county’s human resources office on Monday showed Smith was hired in 2006 as a trainee and promoted to social worker last year making $35,488 a year.

Smith on Feb. 24 was placed on paid investigatory suspension, according to DSS records.

Smith, Cagle and others have not return messages left at their office and given to the agency’s attorney.

Cagle did not immediately respond to a message on Tuesday.

Justin Greene, the agency’s attorney, declined to comment on Cagle’s reaction of the request that she be suspended.

 

The tragic life of Aubrey Littlejohn: Family members feared for child’s safety

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3346-the-tragic-life-of-aubrey-littlejohn-family-members-feared-for-child%E2%80%99s-safety

Wednesday, 02 March 2011 15:23

Written by Becky Johnson 

Relatives say they warned social workers repeatedly over the course of several months that Aubrey Littlejohn was being neglected and abused.

Called by her middle name by family, 15-month-old Kina-Marie died on a mattress on the floor of a singlewide trailer sometime in the middle of the night on Jan. 10. She was dressed in only a T-shirt despite statements made to law enforcement that the trailer had no heat. It is unclear whether an adult was home.

Social workers in Swain County had been warned by relatives that Kina Marie was in danger but failed to remove her from the home, according to law enforcement records.

Witnesses interviewed have stated that they called the Department of Social Services and made reports detailing abuse and neglect of the child and received no response from any departmental employee,” according to a search warrant executed against DSS offices.

Relatives told investigators “they had witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment.

The baby had been in the care of a great-aunt, Lady Bird Powell, 38, since last spring. Powell did not have legal custody, however. Other relatives asked Powell for the child, and even the child’s mother tried to get her back, but Powell refused to give her up.

So relatives turned to DSS for help. At least three relatives asked DSS to take the baby away from Powell, and had been to Swain DSS in person.

Kina Marie’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, 20, had to part with her daughter last April after being sentenced to a mandatory 90-day drug rehab. Meanwhile, Powell’s 18-year-old son, Hawk Rattler, had died of a drug overdose in March, according to a death certificate. Powell offered to keep Kina Marie while Littlejohn was away in rehab, claiming it would help her cope with her own son’s death, according to relatives.

Kina Marie was six months old when her mother turned her over to Powell. When Littlejohn got out of rehab, Powell refused to give Kina Marie back, relatives said.

Littlejohn was soon back behind bars, however, on federal drug charges for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and is being held as a federal prisoner in the Cherokee County jail.

Whether Powell was getting aid for Kina Marie, such as food stamps or monetary support, is not certain. SBI agents have requested all records of financial support or benefits Powell was getting for Kina Marie from DSS. Relatives say Powell was getting Kina Marie’s food stamps, but that information is not public.

 No place for a child

In perhaps one of the most perplexing elements of the case, Powell’s own children were taken away by DSS but Kina Marie was left behind. According to relatives, two of Powell’s own children were removed from her home in August while Kina Marie, who was just a baby, stayed in her care. In November, a nephew living with Powell was also removed from the home, but once again Kina Marie was left there, according to relatives.

DSS records regarding the children and their removal from the home aren’t public.

Dispatch records show that Swain County deputies were asked to escort a social worker to Powell’s home on Nov. 8, but no one came to the door. They went back the following day and were at the home for over an hour, according to dispatch logs.

Relatives said they were concerned that Kina Marie wasn’t growing well and was too small for her age, relatives said. She couldn’t do the things she should have been able to. Relatives suspect she wasn’t being fed properly. She also spent long hours many days strapped into a car seat — whether in the car or inside the house — so she couldn’t move or crawl around, according to relatives and law enforcement documents.

DSS records of one complaint reads as follows: “Reporter states she is very concerned for the baby. Reporter states that the baby is one year old and seems significantly delayed. Reporter states she is always in a car seat and is left in the car alone, even in the heat, while they run errands and drive around all day.”

But there were even more troubling signs. Kina Marie was seen with bruises on her face one day in September. When relatives called DSS to once again report their suspicions of abuse, it finally triggered a home visit by a social worker named Craig Smith.

Powell told Smith that Kina-Marie fell down a set of five stairs. Powell gave Smith two different stories, however, according to his report on the incident.

Powell first said the Kina Marie was sitting in a car seat at the top of the steps. She wasn’t buckled in and fell out when Powell jerked up the car seat. But Powell also said Kina Marie was kicking around in the car seat and made it fall over.

“Ladybird did not take the baby to the doctor because she stated she did not want DSS to be involved,” Smith’s report on the incident says. Smith then told Powell to take her to the doctor. But Powell never did, and Smith never followed up to see whether she had.

Cherokee Indian Hospital has no records of Kina Marie ever being seen by a doctor there, according to law enforcement documents. Cherokee Indian Hospital is where most members of the tribe go for medical care. Whether she was taken to a doctor elsewhere for regular check-ups and vaccinations is not known.

At some point, Kina Marie’s arm was broken. Medical examiners performing an autopsy after her death discovered it, according to a search warrant. The autopsy report is not yet complete.

Following Kina Marie’s death, investigators searched Powell’s trailer and found evidence of drug use. Drug paraphernalia, including pipes, pill grinders, straws and empty bottles were confiscated in the search, along with several items covered in a white powdery residue.

During attempts to revive Kina Marie at the emergency room the night she died, doctors gave her medication to counter possible narcotic exposure based on “previous DSS reports concerning the child’s living conditions,” according to law enforcement records.

According to Veronica Callahan, Powell’s next-door neighbor, there were often lots of vehicles coming and going from the trailer at all hours of the night.

Callahan also said unsupervised children were often running around in the yard and street in front of the trailer. In the fall, she noticed children were sleeping in a tent in the backyard of the trailer. She said Powell would sometimes lock the children out of the trailer.

Sheriff deputies had been to Powell’s trailer on three calls in a six-month period, according to dispatch records. One was for a report of domestic violence in June. In October, deputies responded to reports of a drunk person causing a disturbance. In November, the Swain County sheriff’s office were called to the residence after a report that three boys were missing. The boys were later found under a nearby bridge.

Powell’s criminal record includes misdemeanor child abuse for allowing 5-year-old and 9-year-old child to ride in a car with a 14-year-old behind the wheel. The 14-year-old wrecked, and Powell was charged for endangering their safety. She also has assault charges.

 The final hours

The day Kina Marie died, she had been left strapped in a car seat for 12 hours, according to a law enforcement investigation.

“During that time period Aubrey was not removed from the car seat, given food or a drink except for some bites from a hotdog and sips of a soda that Ladybird Powell was eating around 5 p.m. Aubrey’s diaper was not changed during this period,” investigators were told by a witness who was with Kina Marie and Ladybird that day.

Around 10 p.m. she was taken from the car seat and put to bed on a mattress wearing only a T-shirt and diaper.

Powell discovered Kina Marie’s body around 3 a.m., according to dispatch records. The Cherokee Police Department was put on alert that a white truck with its flashers on was speeding toward the Cherokee hospital with a baby who was blue and not breathing. Meanwhile, the dispatcher gave Powell instructions on how to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while driving in the truck.

Powell was distraught by Kina Marie’s death, according to a recording of the 911 call Powell made after discovering Kina Marie’s body. Powell was hysterical, screaming and weeping as she held Kina Marie in her arms.

“My baby’s not breathing, oh my God, she’s not breathing,” Powell cried over and over into the phone. Powell stayed on the line with the 911 dispatcher while her husband, James Murphy, drove them to the emergency room at Cherokee Indian Hospital.

They arrived at the emergency room by 3:30 a.m., where medical staff had to forcibly pry Kina Marie out of Powell’s arms.

Kina Marie’s body was a dusky blue color, and her core body temperature was only 84 degrees.

“Infant was limp and very cold to the touch,” according to law enforcement records.

Doctors attempted to revive Kina Marie but were unsuccessful. She was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Cherokee police officers felt the mysterious death should be investigated, but since Powell lived off the reservation the case would fall to the Swain County Sheriff’s office. Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran and Detective Carolyn Posey were roused from bed and arrived at the hospital in Cherokee around 5 a.m.

An investigation by the Swain County sheriff’s office into Kina Marie’s death is still pending, which will determine what if any charges are pressed against the baby’s caregivers.

Waynesville Attorney David Wijewickrama has been retained by Kina Marie’s mother to pursue a civil case against DSS for failure to intervene.

“I am absolutely disgusted and appalled with any social worker that would have left her alone in that trailer with the people who abused her and eventually killed her,” Wijewickrama said.

Wijewickrama said DSS should have heeded complaints of relatives and removed Kina Marie from Powell’s care.

“If a social worker wants to take a child they can take it just like that,” Wijewickrama said. “The statute is so broadly written it gives enormous power to law enforcement and DSS workers to do whatever they want, if they even think they need do. They have authority right then and there. Get the kid in the car, and go.”

Wijewickrama expressed “rage and fury” over the alleged DSS cover-up aimed at erasing evidence they knew of the abuse and failed to act.

“I’m mad. I’m very mad,” Wijewickrama said.

Wijewickrama said criminal charges in Kina Marie’s death should have been pressed by now.

“I am absolutely stunned that based on the contents of those warrants that no one has been arrested,” Wijewickrama said.

Staff writer Quintin Ellison contributed to this report.

 

Swain DSS investigated for cover-up in child’s death

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3323-swain-dss-investigated-for-cover-up-in-child%E2%80%99s-death

Wednesday, 02 March 2011

Written by Becky Johnson

The Swain County Department of Social Services falsified records relating to the abuse and neglect of a 15-month-old baby who later died, according to an investigation by the Swain County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation.

The specific charge being investigated is “obstruction of justice being infamous, done in secrecy and malice, and/or with deceit and intent to defraud.”

The social worker who handled the child’s case, Craig Smith, altered his reports, fabricating a hospital visit and doctor’s exam that never occurred, according to law enforcement statements. Smith claims he did so at the direction of his immediate superior, Candace Lassiter, according to a search warrant executed by the SBI at the DSS office in Bryson City.

The search warrant also suggests that the agency concealed records in its possession rather than turning them over to investigators.

DSS Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones met with Smith after he had falsified the reports but before they had been turned over to investigators, according to the warrant. Smith said Cagle told him at the meeting “we have to get everything in order and everything straight.”

The SBI seized computers and records from Swain County DSS offices last Tuesday (Feb. 22). Workers were put on lock down during the raid. People with appointments to see social workers or apply for benefits had to come back another day.

The Swain County Sheriff’s Office unraveled the alleged DSS cover-up while investigating the Jan. 10 death of Aubrey Kina Marie Littlejohn. Kina Marie was living with a great aunt, Lady Bird Powell, at the time.

Abuse and neglect are considered contributing factors, according to law enforcement records, but the investigation is still pending and no charges have been filed yet. The autopsy report is not yet final.

The investigation into Swain DSS was launched after Swain County Detective Carolyn Posey uncovered discrepancies in DSS records and found holes in the accounts from DSS social workers. Posey had initially been assigned to investigate Aubrey’s death and determine what, if any, charges should be filed.

Over the course of the investigation, Posey encountered delays getting DSS records. When she finally got the reports she found there were missing pages and other things that didn’t add up.

The child and caregiver are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but lived in Swain County. The tribe hired a private investigator, Danny Cheatham, to assist Posey in the case.

Posey and Cheatham interviewed several relatives and neighbors who told them they witnessed abuse and neglect of Aubrey while in Powell’s care. Relatives said they had repeatedly informed DSS of the situation, made reports and requested intervention but got no response.

But numerous DSS employees — from the rank and file to the director and manager — told Posey a different story, according to the search warrant.

“Investigators Posey and Cheetham have interviewed numerous persons who indicated that they witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment. This information is in direct contrast to the information provided by the Department of Social Services’ employees: Misty Tabor, Craig Smith, Candace Lassiter, Angela Biggs, T.L. Jones and Tammy Cagle,” the warrant states.

Cagle is the director of DSS and Jones is the program manager.

Cagle and Jones told Posey they had turned over all their reports and files on Aubrey. But Posey believed the agency was withholding records and reports, according to the search warrant.

Once Posey and Cheatham discovered what appeared to be cover-up by Swain DSS, they alerted District Attorney Mike Bonfoey, who in turn called the State Bureau of Investigation.

Unraveling tale

Posey encountered significant and unexplained delays getting the DSS records for Aubrey. Posey began asking for the records immediately following the child’s death, but three weeks later had still not received them.

Posey then went to DSS and met with Program Manager T.L. Jones and DSS Director Tammy Cagle to find out what the hold up was.

But even then another two weeks passed before she got the records — a delay of five weeks after her initial request. By now, Posey had grown suspicious. That suspicion mounted as Posey realized the records were incomplete.

“Documents were missing and forms with sequential page numbers were not complete,” the search warrant states.

But it was a dubious account of a doctor’s checkup that proved the biggest red flag to Posey.

Powell was supposed to have Aubrey examined by a doctor following a complaint from relatives who saw the baby with bruises. When visited by social worker Craig Smith, Powell told him the bruises were the result of a fall down the stairs.

Smith told Powell to take the baby to the doctor for a checkup, but she never did. Smith failed to follow up with Powell on the outcome of the doctor’s visit.

Following Aubrey’s death, Smith claims his supervisor told him to go back and “fudge” the reports, according to the search warrant. Smith wrote a fake report recounting a conversation with a doctor who had done a checkup.

Here’s what the fabricated report said about that conversation:

“Smith asked (Dr. Toedt) how the visit went and she stated that she checked the child and didn’t find anything wrong with the child and stated the child appeared to be normal to her. Smith asked her if she could send him something stating what she had just told him. Dr. Toadt stated that wouldn’t be a problem and that she would type something up for him and fax it to him.”

Posey found the account troubling. For starters, Smith spelled the doctor’s name wrong throughout the report.

But as a licensed nurse herself, Posey knew that federal law prohibits doctors from giving out personal health information about patients over the phone. So she decided to call the doctor herself.

“Detective Posey found that there was no medical record documenting that Dr. Toedt had ever seen Aubrey Littlejohn,” the search warrant states. “Dr. Toedt told Detective Posey that she had never had a phone conversation with Craig Smith, and she had never seen or examined Aubrey Littlejohn.”

The very next day, Thursday, Feb. 17, Posey and Cheetham went to see Smith. When they asked him about his visit to Powell’s trailer, he told them the house was clean, that the floors had been mopped and even “smelled of Pine Sol cleaning solution.” He said Powell was feeding Aubrey crackers and juice, and that the home was “stocked with food.”

Smith told the investigators that reports of abuse were “unsubstantiated” and the case had been closed on Oct. 10.

When asked about the doctor’s visit, Smith repeated his story from the fake report. Posey and Cheatham then confronted Smith with what they knew, and Smith fessed up.

Smith admitted to fabricating the doctor’s visit and altering reports in the case file, but said that he did so at the direction of his immediate supervisor, Candice Lassiter. Smith said Lassiter came to him the week after Aubrey’s death and told him to change the records, including faking a doctor’s visit, according to the search warrant.

Smith also said he met with DSS Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones during the course of the law enforcement investigation.

“Cagle told Smith that we have to get everything in order and everything straight,” the search warrant says. “This was after Smith had altered and falsified his original narrative and after he had submitted the altered and falsified narrative to Lassiter.”

In the meeting, Cagle asked Smith why he hadn’t followed up on the doctor’s visit, according to Smith. Smith said he was then told to leave the meeting and his bosses stayed in the room.

By now, it was early February. Posey still hadn’t received the records from DSS.

Meanwhile, Cagle told Smith and Lassiter to go out and find Powell so they could question her about whether she ever took Aubrey to the doctor, according to the search warrant. Smith and Lassiter went to Powell’s trailer and to her sister’s house but had no luck. They came back and told Cagle they couldn’t find Powell, according to Smith’s statement in the warrant.

The following Monday, the SBI secured a search warrant from Superior Court Judge Brad Letts. Agents showed up at DSS shortly after the start of the workday the next morning.

Computer forensics

The search warrant gave SBI agents sweeping authority to seize computers, hard drives, servers and data storage devices, including thumb drives and memory sticks in the personal possession of employees. The search warrant also stipulates that DSS workers turn over passwords required to open files or get into e-mail accounts.

Documents to be seized included case files, call logs, child services reports, time sheets, mileage records and even desktop calendars of employees.

In the search warrant, SBI Agent S. Ashe explained why computers had to be seized rather than inspected on site.

“Searching electronic or computer devices for criminal evidence can be a highly technical process requiring expert skill and a properly controlled environment,” Ashe wrote.

Even if DSS employees deleted incriminating files, it might be possible to recover them.

“Files, or at least traces of that file, can be recovered by forensic analysis techniques even after the file has been deleted by the user,” Ashe wrote.

Computer experts can recover “hidden, erased, compressed and encrypted files,” Ashe wrote, but sifting through the massive quantity of data on computers to find what investigators are looking for is a lengthy process.

 

Child’s death hits Cherokee hard

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3345-child%E2%80%99s-death-hits-cherokee-hard

Wednesday, 02 March 2011 15:21

Written by Colby Dunn

The mood is grim. Few people in this tight community want to talk to an outsider about the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.

Here on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, kinship ties are strong and families are extended and extensive. It doesn’t matter that they might not have known or ever even seen the toddler: in this tribe of just more than 14,000 members, there is outrage. Anger. Hurt. Aubrey was one of their own, another branch of the close-knit tribal family tree.

“It’s just uncalled for,” said Lisa Owen, who works in a Cherokee Harley Davidson store. “As a parent myself, I think the well-being of the kids should be first and foremost on anyone’s mind. They’re our future, and if we don’t take care of them, nobody will.”

The Swain County Department of Social Services failed to remove the child from the home despite numerous complaints by caregivers that she was in an unsafe home and being neglected by her caregiver. (see related story)

The allegations have spawned outrage among members of the tribe.

“DSS should’ve stepped in and took care of that baby,” said Scotty Gunter, a clerk at a local auto parts store. “She would probably still be alive if they had.”

His coworker Willene Gross agreed.

“I feel like that baby’s death could’ve been prevented,” said Gross. “They [DSS] need to do more investigating into stuff like that.”

Swain County DSS Director Tammy Cagle said she and her staff are deeply saddened by Aubrey’s death.

Regina Rosario, the head of the Cherokee child-advocacy group Heart-to-Heart, said that she’s dismayed, but not entirely surprised.

“I knew one day it would come down to this, you know, one of ours dying, and you see now that it’s a mess,” said Rosario of the DSS system. “It’s gotten a little better but there’s still things that I think that they should be on top of.”

Tribal Council Member Terri Howard also expressed her sadness over the baby’s death, saying that she hoped social services and tribal government both would use this as an opportunity to reexamine their roles and responsibilities, and possibly make some changes.

“I am very saddened that this little girl lost her life,” said Howard. “It’s a tragedy that it had to come to this.”

As the investigation into Aubrey’s death and the alleged coverup at Swain County DSS continues, more discussions about how the system could be improved are likely to be stirred on the reservation and in surrounding counties. Although the issue has not formally been placed on this agenda for a tribal council meeting this Thursday, Rosario has pledged to bring up the issue in public comment, and Howard believes that others will be there to voice their outrage, too.

 

Swain Co. DSS: Workers Not Suspended During Investigation

http://www2.wspa.com/news/2011/mar/04/2/swain-co-dss-workers-suspended-pending-investigati-ar-1538004/

By: staff | News Channel 7
Published: March 04, 2011
Updated: March 09, 2011

The Swain County Department of Social Service, after the board of directors was unable to reach consensus, decided not to suspend six DSS workers under investigation.

The six workers are under investigation after the death of 16-month-old Aubry Littlejohn.

Deputies with the Swain County Sheriff’s Office and members of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation are investigating the child’s death, they are looking to see if DSS didn’t properly look into complaints.

The SBI and deputies are also checking to see if the workers tried to cover up facts in the case.

Swain County Commissioners went to the Swain County Department of Social Services board and requested the board suspend the six workers under investigation earlier in March.

Swain County Commissioner Donnie Dixon says he is not happy about the latest development.  The commission recommended the board suspend the employees with pay until the investigation is through.

No charges have been filed against the workers or Ladybird Powell, the woman taking care of the infant.

 

 

Swain leaders call for DSS board’s ouster

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110309/NEWS01/110309023/Swain-leaders-call-DSS-board-s-ouster

1:03 PM, Mar. 9, 2011

Written by Jon Ostendorff

BRYSON CITY — Swain County commissioners on Wednesday called for social services board members to resign after they failed to suspend four workers named in an investigation into the death of a toddler.

The Department of Social Services board met for nearly three hours in closed session Tuesday night but failed to reach a consensus on suspending the workers with pay.

DSS Director Tammy Cagle was among those under consideration for suspension.

Police have named the workers in part of an investigation into the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.

The child died Jan. 10 after spending the previous day strapped into a car seat for 12 hours and given only bites of a hot dog and sips of a soda, according to a search warrant filed by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.

Her great aunt, Lady Bird Powell, discovered she wasn’t breathing that night and took her to the Cherokee Indian Hospital. Powell called 911 along the way and tried to perform CPR, according to court papers.

She has denied the allegation that Aubrey was left strapped in her car seat and wasn’t properly fed. She said in an interview with the newspaper that Aubrey was well cared-for. Aubrey’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, gave her daughter to Powell when she was only months old because she could not care for her.

Littlejohn was in jail awaiting sentencing in a federal drug case at the time of the child’s death. She is still in jail. On Tuesday, hours before the DSS board met to consider the suspensions, she called for changes in the social services system to protect other children in her first public comments since her daughter’s death.

The DSS board met after commissioners, who control two seats on the board, requested that they suspend Cagle and three other social workers.

Social worker Craig Smith, who visited Powell’s home five months before Aubrey died, has already been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. He was at the home acting on a tip that Aubrey fell down a set of stairs from an unbuckled car seat.

 

 

Swain County Commissioners urge DSS Board to resign

http://theonefeather.com/2011/03/swain-county-commissioners-urge-dss-board-to-resign/

March 9, 2011

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF 

Swain County DSS offices were raided by the SBI on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 22 and computers and records were seized.  Those records involved the tragic death of 15-month-old Kina-Marie Littlejohn, an EBCI tribal member who was pronounced dead at Cherokee Indian Hospital at 3:56 am on the morning of Jan. 10.

The events leading up to her death are under investigation along with the Swain County DSS who is accused of a cover-up and and falsifying documents including a doctor’s visit that never occurred.

Now, the Swain County Board of Commissioners is asking for the resignations of the entire Swain DSS Board.

A statement released from the Swain County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, March 9 stated, “The Swain County Board of Commissioners is extremely disappointed with the actions of the Department of Social Services Board. During the last Commissioner’s meeting the Board asked the DSS Board to temporarily suspend employees that had been named in the investigation.  This is a procedure that is followed in most Counties in North Carolina.  It has never been the intention of the Board of Commissioners to accuse anyone of wrong-doing, but suspending the employees would help authorities with the State conduct an unbiased investigation and have more flexibility to do their job.”

The statement said the suspensions would help the Department regain community trust.  “The Commissioners feel that the DSS board members are not working for the citizens of Swain County. The DSS Board did not vote on this issue at their Tuesday night meeting.  The Board of Commissioners feel that the needs of the children should have more priority than the needs of the Director or employees.  Therefore, the Commissioners urge all the current DSS Board members to immediately resign, so that these positions can be filled with people who are not afraid to put the best interests of children and families of Swain County first at all times.”

Allegations of a Cover-Up

 Court papers revealed that documents given to Detective Carolyn Posey, Swain County Sheriff’s Office, as she started her investigation of Aubrey’s death, were incomplete and some were missing.

Some of the reports may have been falsified altogether.

Swain County DSS Social Worker Craig Smith documented that he placed a phone call on Sept. 24, 2010 to Cherokee Indian Hospital and spoke with a doctor regarding a visit following a fall by Aubrey.

According to the court papers, Detective Posey and Daniel Cheatham, the private investigator hired by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to aid in the investigation, formally interviewed the doctor in Smith’s report who told them that she had never had a phone conversation with Smith and had never seen nor examined Aubrey Littlejohn.

The court papers state that the investigators approached Smith with evidence of the “non-existent telephone” call and he admitted to making it up.

Smith also related that “he had documented that false conversation because he was instructed to do so by his supervisor Social Worker Supervisor Candice Lassiter” who allegedly gave Smith a handwritten note on what to include in the narrative.

Following a report to Swain County DSS on Sept, 15, 2010 of a fall by Aubrey, Smith reportedly made a home visit.  He initially told investigators the house was clean, full of nourishing food and “smelled of Pine Sol cleaning solution.”

Court papers allege that Posey and Cheatham “have interviewed numerous persons who indicated that they witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment.”

A message seeking comment from Tammy Cagle, Swain County DSS director, was not immediately returned.

 

Swain DSS board members step down

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110312/NEWS01/303120033/Swain-DSS-board-members-step-down

 Mar. 11, 2011
 

Written by Jon Ostendorff Joel Burgess

BRYSON CITY — Three members of the Swain County social services board resigned amid criticism over failing to agree on whether to suspend four workers named in a death investigation.

Chairman Jim Gribble and board members Robert Thomas and James Treadway stepped down effective Wednesday and Thursday, according to resignation letters made public Friday.

Thomas said he enjoyed serving on the board and appreciated the hard work and dedication from staff at the county Department of Social Services.

“I wish only the best for everyone and that the truth will prevail,” he said in his resignation.

The DSS could not reach a census on suspending with pay four workers, including agency Director Tammy Cagle, after meeting for about three hours in a closed session on Tuesday night.

Police investigating the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn are looking into whether a social worker was ordered to falsify documents so it would appear someone had followed up on an abuse complaint.

County commissioners, who control two seats on the five-member board, asked for the suspension to allow an unimpeded investigation.

The remaining two DSS board members are appointed by the state Social Services Commission, and the final member is appointed by the DSS board itself.

Aubrey died Jan. 10 after spending the previous day strapped into a car seat for 12 hours and given only bites of a hot dog and sips of a soda, according to a search warrant filed by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Her great-aunt, Lady Bird Powell, discovered Aubrey wasn’t breathing that night and took her to the Cherokee Indian Hospital. Powell called 911 along the way and tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to court papers.

She has denied the allegation that Aubrey was left strapped in her car seat and wasn’t properly fed. She said in an interview that Aubrey was well-cared-for.

Aubrey’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, gave her daughter to Powell when she was only months old because she could not care for her.

Littlejohn was in jail awaiting sentencing in a federal drug case at the time of the child’s death. She is still in jail.

Social worker Craig Smith, who visited Powell’s home five months before Aubrey died, has already been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. He was at the home acting on a tip that Aubrey fell down a set of stairs from an unbuckled car seat.

Smith told police that he falsified records after the child’s death to show he had made sure she was seen by a doctor for injuries from the fall. He told investigators his supervisor instructed him to fix the records.

No one has been charged in Aubrey’s death.

The N.C. Division of Social Services plans to review foster care and child protective services cases in Swain County.

DSS staff, the agency’s board and commissioners have asked for the review.

 

 

Swain County DSS board members resign

http://maconnews.com/news/510-swain-county-dss-board-members-resign

Monday, 14 March 2011
Written by By Mike Kesselring

Three Swain County Department of Social Services board members, Chairman Jim Gribble, Wall Treadway and Bob Thomas, resigned Thursday, March 10 following the Swain County commissioners’ statement on Wednesday that they should resign after not suspending the Director of the DSS during an emergency DSS board meeting Tuesday.
Robert White and Vice-Chairman Frela Beck did not resign.

DSS Fiscal Officer Kim Hight confirmed the resignations stating they had been immediate and explained that copies of letters of resignation aren’t available to the public.

Responding to the resignations, Swain County Commissioner David Monteith said, “Twice we’ve asked the DSS board to have Director Tammy Cagle step down and it has not happened, but they go ahead and resign. Now what’s wrong with that picture? There’s something wrong with that. It doesn’t make sense! It doesn’t add up!”

Following an emergency meeting between the DSS Board and the Commissionersn on Thursday, March 3, Swain County Commissioners officially recommended by a 4 to 1 vote that the Department of Social Services Board suspend four employees with pay during an ongoing SBI investigation into alleged wrongdoing by the DSS.
Swain County Commissioners released a statement on Wednesday condemning the inaction of the Swain County Department of Social Services Board and requesting that the members resign their posts.
The strongly worded statement pits the two county offices against one another following an emergency DSS board meeting Tuesday. DSS board members failed to take action on a recommendation by commissioners to suspend DSS employees being investigated in the January death of 16-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.
The statement reads as follows:
“The Swain County Board of Commissioners is extremely disappointed with the actions of the Department of Social Services board. During the last commissioner’s meeting the board asked the DSS board to temporarily suspend employees that had been named in the investigation. This is a procedure that is followed in most counties in North Carolina. It has never been the intention of the board of commissioners to accuse anyone of wrong-doing, but suspending the employees Chef’s Challenge would help authorities with the State conduct an unbiased investigation and have more flexibility to do their job.
“These suspensions would help DSS regain the trust of the community. The commissioners feel that the DSS board members are not working for the citizens of Swain County. The DSS board did not vote on this issue at their Tuesday night meeting. The board of commissioners feel that the needs of the children should have more priority than the needs of the director or employees.

“Therefore, the commissioners urge all the current DSS board members to immediately resign, so that these positions can be filled with people who are not afraid to put the best interests of children and families of Swain County first at all times.

In related news, Ladybird Powell and James Murphy— whose care Aubrey Littlejohn was in at the time of her death— were arrested by Cherokee Police Thursday, Mar. 10, for failure to appear in court. According to Traffic Court Clerk and Clerk of Court Assistant Krystal Smith, the pair had failed to appear in Cherokee Tribal Court on Mar. 4 for traffic violations.

Powell had been charged with driving on a revoked license and speeding 60 in a 45 zone. Murphy had been charged with driving on a revoked license. A third party paid $500.00 bond for each of them and were released.

Resignation letters

032011_BOB_THOMAS

032011_JIM_GRIBBLE

032011_resignationletters

Cherokee trust shaken in Swain DSS

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3435

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 14:00

Written by Colby Dunn

 Tribal members and leaders alike vented their discontent with Swain County’s handling of child welfare for Cherokee children at this month’s tribal council meeting.

The Eastern Band no longer wants to rely on Swain County’s Department of Social Services but instead is laying a framework for a new, tribe-operated child protective unit.

Their anger was in response to the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, who died in January despite repeated warnings by relatives to Swain DSS of suspected abuse and neglect. The department is now under investigation for possible missteps and a subsequent cover-up.

The Eastern Band doesn’t handle its own child protective services; the task falls to DSS agencies in neighboring counties.

That may soon change, however. Family members, community members and professional child advocates appeared before the council and implored them to bring child welfare in-house.

“Our priorities are not on our own people,” said Regina Rosario, director of Heart-to-Heart, a Cherokee child advocacy program. “We can realign priorities, and all it takes is just the will in this chamber right here.”

Principal Chief Michel Hicks, who said he had to tread carefully in light of the ongoing investigation, acknowledged that there were problems with the current set-up of child welfare services, and confirmed that “the fire is burning again” on an initiative dating back to 2007 to bring it under the auspices of the tribe.

Hicks said he’s pulled together a team of deputies and other officials to look into the feasibility of a child welfare unit, and that reports will be coming to council over the next few months.

Aubrey’s family also stood up to ask the community for support, putting their voice behind resurrecting the idea of tribal child protective services.

Ruth McCoy, Aubrey’s great aunt, with tears thanked the council for engaging a private investigator following the child’s death. Chief Hicks and Tribal Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky made the decision to hire the investigator to check into her death because of reservations about how the case had been handled. Case workers had visited the child’s home several times prior to her death, and state investigators are now looking into allegations that workers failed to follow up with Aubrey and then falsified records in the case.

“She can’t speak, so we have to speak for her,” said McCoy, who is heading a letter-writing campaign lobbying the state for a full investigation of Swain County child protective services, which has now been launched.

She too asked council and the chief about moving child protective services under the umbrella of the tribe, referencing a 2007 proposal by Hicks to do just that.

McCoy proclaimed this the time to take action in the wake of Aubrey’s death.

“Let’s do something about this and get some questions answered about what’s going to happen with our social service department,” said McCoy.

“The simple fact is we just want the truth to be told,” said Hicks. “We also don’t want to see this happen to another baby in our future.”

Tribal children at risk

Many members have questioned whether Swain County social workers take cases involving American Indian children as seriously as white children. The failure by Swain DSS to remove Aubrey from an unsafe trailer that lacked heat and had known drug activity underscores the concern, family members say.

“It’s unfortunate and it does bring question to what else may be sitting out there to where a job has not been done on behalf of our tribal memberships,” Chief Hicks said. “And that’s a huge question and that’s a huge issue that we have to get to the bottom of. It’s time to take a different approach on social services, without question.”

But Carol Maennle, a Swain County social worker, said their agency looks after Native American children the same as white children.

“Don’t think for a minute we don’t love and try to treat them the same way,” Maennle said during a Swain County meeting this week.

Swain County DSS stands to lose money if the tribe takes over its own child welfare cases. DSS receives more for services provided to Native American children than for other children. Reimbursement for social work involving Cherokee children comes from the federal government, which provides a higher level of reimbursement, while funding for other children comes from the state, which doesn’t pay as much.

Other community members asked council members to take action to improve social services, as well.

Council Member Teresa McCoy reported that at a recent community meeting in Big Cove, more than a few residents came forward to relay their own bad experiences with social services in both Swain and Jackson counties, and even more came forward to express similar grievances to tribal council.

“Obviously this issue has touched everybody on this boundary. We’re parents and we take it personally,” said McCoy.

Jasmine Littlejohn, Aubrey’s mother who is currently jailed on federal drug charges, called tearfully for DSS officials to be called to account, saying that she hoped her daughter’s death would not be in vain.

“I want to see that nothing else like this happens to another child,” said Littlejohn, in a jailhouse interview. “My daughter may have just saved other child’s lives.”

Littlejohn said she was confident that, had her daughter not been American Indian, she would have been given better treatment by DSS workers.

Tarnawsky’s office has encouraged members with complaints about social services to contact them, noting that they’ve been involved in the investigation from the outset.

“We just want to find out what happened to this child and see what steps we as a tribe need to make and to take so that our children are well-protected,” said Tarnawsky.

Other tribal council members also expressed support for the initiative to take some social services out of state hands.

Bill Taylor, who represents Wolftown, said moves should be made on meetings held nearly a year ago to discuss that very idea.

“I think it’s the consensus of everybody here that we need our own program,” said Taylor. “Who’s going to take care of our children better? Our own people. I think it’s time that we stop dragging it on, and let’s do something about it before this happens to another family.”

The chief, however, turned it back on the council, challenging them to take their own steps towards a more active role in the tribe’s next move on the issue.

“It’s time for us all to step up and do something about it,” said Hicks. “It’s not just on the chief’s shoulders. There’s 12 council members that can step up also.”

 

Swain DSS workers banned from Cherokee

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110322/NEWS/303220023/1005/ENT/Five-Swain-County-DSS-workers-banned-from-Cherokee?odyssey=nav|head

12:11 AM, Mar. 22, 2011 

Written by Jon Ostendorff

CHEROKEE — Five social workers named in the police investigation into the death of toddler Aubrey Littlejohn will no longer work on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

The attorney general for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in a memo on Friday said the N.C. Division of Social Services approved a request that the social workers be excluded from duties in Cherokee during the investigation.

“Obviously, we don’t have a comfort level until we see that this issue is resolved,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks said Monday.

The memo said social workers not involved in the investigation would be allowed to work on the reservation.

Cherokee doesn’t have its own social services office. State offices in Swain and Jackson counties handle calls on the reservation.

The 15-month-old child died Jan. 10 after spending the previous day strapped into a car seat for 12 hours and given only bites of a hot dog and sips of soda, according to a search warrant filed by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Aubrey was a member of the tribe, though living in Swain County.

Her great-aunt, Lady Bird Powell, discovered she wasn’t breathing that night and took her to the Cherokee Indian Hospital. Powell called 911 along the way and tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to court papers.

Powell has denied the allegation that Aubrey was left strapped in her car seat and wasn’t properly fed. She said in an interview that Aubrey was well-cared-for.

Aubrey’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, gave her daughter to Powell when the baby was only months old because she could not care for her. Littlejohn was in jail awaiting sentencing in a federal drug case at the time of the child’s death. She is still in jail.

Social worker Craig Smith, who visited Powell’s home five months before Aubrey died, has already been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. He was at the home acting on a tip that Aubrey fell down a set of stairs from an unbuckled car seat.

Smith told police he falsified records after the child’s death to show he had made sure she was seen by a doctor for injuries from the fall, according to investigator’s statements in court papers. He told investigators his supervisor instructed him to fix the records. A preliminary autopsy found Aubrey had a broken arm that had healed before her death.

 
(Page 2 of 2)

The N.C. Division of Social Services plans to review foster care and child protective services cases in Swain County.

Swain County commissioners on March 10 asked that the local DSS board resign after it failed to reach an agreement on suspending the four other social workers police have named in court papers. Director Tammy Cagle was among those commissioners wanted suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

Three DSS board members resigned the next day. Commissioners control two of the seats on the five-member board.

The Eastern Band’s request to have the social workers excluded is the most recent in a string of unusual steps surrounding the inquiry into Aubrey’s death.

• The tribe hired a private investigator who worked with a Swain County sheriff’s detective so that it could have “a more comprehensive level of information in this case,” Hicks has said. Private investigators typically don’t work side by side with law enforcement.

• The move by Swain County commissioners to call for suspensions and later DSS board resignations is nearly unheard of in Western North Carolina.

• The SBI raided the DSS offices in Bryson City on Feb. 22, seizing records and computer hard drives. An SBI raid on a state office could signal high level of interest from prosecutors in the case. District Attorney Michael Bonfoey has declined comment. He typically does not discuss ongoing investigations.

No one has been charged in the case.

Justin Greene, the attorney for Swain County DSS, said his agency would honor the tribe’s request.

 

Swain County DSS director suspended during probe

http://www.thetimesnews.com/articles/director-42518-dss-probe.html

March 29, 2011 8:36 AM
The Associated Press
 

BRYSON CITY — The director of the Swain County Department of Social Services has been placed on leave while police investigate the death of a toddler who was being monitored by the agency.

The county DSS board voted Monday to put Tammy Cagle on paid leave.

A warrant by the State Bureau of Investigation says 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn died Jan. 10 after spending the previous day strapped in a car seat for 12 hours and getting only bites of a hot dog and sips of soda. Police say a great-aunt noticed the child was not breathing and took her to the Cherokee Indian Hospital.

A social worker already had been suspended during the investigation.

Officials are investigating whether the worker falsified records and whether his supervisor told him to do so.

 

Social safety net failed Cherokee baby

Wednesday, 27 April 2011 14:48

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/3828-social-safety-net-failed-cherokee-baby

Written by Becky Johnson

Additional evidence has surfaced indicating Swain County social workers failed to act on reports of alleged abuse and neglect of a Cherokee baby who later died.

Court papers reveal that Swain County social workers had reports of physical abuse of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn by her caregiver, Ladybird Powell, months before she died in January.

The papers were filed by the Jackson County Department of Social Services in a custody case involving another child in Powell’s care.

Powell’s treatment of Aubrey and her still unexplained death weighed heavily in a petition filed by Jackson DSS to have an 8-year-old boy removed from Powell’s custody.

Although Powell lives in Cherokee, the tribe does not have its own agency to handle child abuse and neglect cases. Instead, the child welfare divisions of Jackson and Swain DSS manage cases on tribal land. Previously, Powell lived on the Swain County side of the reservation, so the case fell to Swain DSS.

But Powell has moved, as has the 8-year-old boy, who now lives on the Jackson County side of the reservation, giving Jackson DSS jurisdiction.

The petition filed by Jackson County DSS reveals the following:

• Swain DSS initiated an investigation into suspected child abuse and neglect involving Aubrey in November 2010. (This was the second such investigation in three months. Until now, however, only the first had been made public.)

• The report of abuse made to Swain DSS in November claimed that Powell “smacked Aubrey in the mouth when she cried and jerked Aubrey around,” and “knocked Aubrey off a bed intentionally.”

• Swain County social workers visited Powell’s home three days after the report came in. They had Powell sign a statement saying, “Ladybird will not physically punish Aubrey.” Aubrey was 13 months old at the time.

The first investigation of abuse and neglect by Swain DSS was in September. In that case, Powell claimed bruises on Aubrey were the result of a fall down the stairs.

A DSS worker deemed the report of abuse “unsubstantiated” after one visit to the home. While he told Powell to take Aubrey to the doctor and have her injuries examined, he never followed up to see what the doctor found — or whether the doctor’s visit even took place. He later fabricated a report claiming Aubrey had been seen by a doctor when in fact she never had, according to law enforcement records.

Swain County DSS is under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation for an alleged cover-up. An interim director has been brought in, and three DSS board members have been replaced.

Ruth McCoy, one of Aubrey’s great-aunts, said there were other complaints from relatives ignored by Swain DSS — one of which she observed firsthand.

In November, McCoy heard from a relative that DSS had shown up at Powell’s trailer to take away a 10-year-old boy who was living there at the time. McCoy drove over to the trailer and implored the DSS workers to remove Aubrey as well. There was no heat in the trailer, and it was obvious to the social workers, McCoy said.

“The social workers were sitting there on the couch with their hands clasped between their legs to keep warm,” McCoy said.

One of them was Swain DSS Program Manager T.L. Jones, second in command at the agency. Jones even went out to his vehicle to get a jacket, McCoy said. Meanwhile, Aubrey was dressed in a jacket and toboggan inside the trailer. McCoy asked if Jones was going to take Aubrey, too.

“I said ‘What about her?’ and he said, ‘That’s another case.’ They were removing a 10-year-old and there was no heat but they didn’t take her,” McCoy said.

The night of Jan. 10 when Aubrey died, emergency room doctors at Cherokee Indian Hospital recorded her core body temperature as only 84 degrees, according to law enforcement records.

The reason for removing the 10-year-old was documented as drug and/or alcohol use by the caregiver, according to a Swain DSS report. The caregiver listed on the report was the boy’s biological mother, Mel Toinetta, who was living at the trailer with Powell.

The 10-year-old was placed in the care of McCoy.

 Autopsy still pending

Doctors at Cherokee Indian Hospital the night Aubrey died suspected drugs may have been in the baby’s system and contributed to her death, according to the Jackson DSS petition.

No charges have been filed against Powell in connection with Aubrey’s death. An autopsy report, including a toxicology report, is still pending. The autopsy and toxicology report have been completed, but have not yet been reviewed and cleared for public release. The Smoky Mountain News has filed a request to receive a copy of the report when it is made public.

It appears Swain DSS was waiting for the results — which should clarify a cause of death — before deciding what to do about Powell’s custody of the 8-year-old boy.

The day after Aubrey’s death, a Swain DSS worker visited Powell’s trailer to check on the boy. Powell had legal custody of the child since he was 2. Recently, he had been living with Powell on and off, but seemed to be spending more time lately at the home of Powell’s ex-husband.

That must have seemed preferable to the case worker, as she wrote in her report that the boy should live with Powell’s ex-husband rather than Powell “until notified by DSS.” But that was crossed out and replaced with “until the toxicology report is in.

Powell made derogatory and threatening comments to Swain social workers over the pending toxicology report, including that she would make them “eat the results when they come back negative,” according to the court petition.

The boy’s school expressed concern over the informal arrangement that placed the boy with Powell’s ex-husband. Since Powell still had legal custody, the school had nothing on file to prevent her from picking the boy up.

Jackson DSS apparently does not approve either, deeming the temporary placement with Powell’s ex-husband an inappropriate child-care arrangement, according to the petition filed by Jackson DSS alleging neglect of the boy.

The petition states that the boy “lives in an environment injurious to the juvenile’s welfare.”

 

Swain DSS director fired

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20110624/NEWS01/110624036/Swain-DSS-director-fired

Written by Jon Ostendorff

11:38 AM, Jun. 24, 2011

BRYSON CITY — The Swain County social services board has fired its director months after the start of police investigation into the death of a child under the agency’s care.

Tammy Cagle was dismissed on Wednesday, the Department of Social Services said in a written statement today.

She was fired for insubordination and conduct unbecoming of a state employee detrimental to state service.

The statement doesn’t provide specific examples of her insubordination or conduct.

Cagle could not be reached on Friday.

The board put her on paid leave in March after county commissioners called for her suspension to allow for an unimpeded investigation into the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.

She died Jan. 10 after spending the previous day strapped into a car seat for 12 hours and receiving only bites of a hot dog and sips of soda, according to a search warrant filed by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Social worker Craig Smith, who visited Powell’s home five months before Aubrey died, has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

He was at the home acting on a tip that Aubrey fell down a set of stairs from an unbuckled car seat.

Smith told police he later falsified records after the child’s death to show he had made sure she was seen by a doctor for injuries from the fall, according to investigator’s statements in court papers. He told investigators his supervisor instructed him to fix the records.

The cause of death for the child is undetermined, according to an autopsy, though a medical examiner, could not rule out hypothermia.

The autopsy noted a healed fracture to her left arm though it does not say how old the injury was. It also noted bruises on her head, neck and back.

A toxicology test found no drugs in her blood other than caffeine and atropine, an ingredient in anti-mucus medications. Aubrey had been congested the night she died, according to the autopsy and court papers.

The report said the child was cold when she reached the hospital but that the temperature inside the home where she was sleeping was not recorded. It is also noted that it’s not known whether she was bundled for sleeping.

Police photos show a makeshift child’s bed in the corner of a bedroom.

 

 

Swain DSS director fired, lodges appeal

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/4312-swain-dss-director-fired-lodges-appeal

Wednesday, 29 June 2011 14:50

Written by Colby Dunn

Tammy Cagle, once the leader of the Swain County Department of Social Services, has been given the ax by the department’s board of directors.

Cagle, however, is fighting the decision. She’s appealed to the board, who handed down the decision in a closed hearing last week.

The five-member board let the former director go for charges of insubordination and conduct unbecoming to a state employee, but no further details were given in the statement released last week.

Swain DSS has been embroiled in controversy since the State Bureau of Investigation raided the agency and seized its computers in February as part of an ongoing probe into an alleged cover-up following the death of a 15-month-old Cherokee baby, Aubrey Littlejohn.

The child’s family members repeatedly warned Swain DSS of abuse and neglect, but social workers failed to remove the baby from its caretaker or adequately investigate the claims. After Aubrey’s death, social worker Craig Smith, falsified records to hide the negligence. Though he claims the cover-up was at the insistence of his superiors, Cagle denied the claim at a DSS board meeting earlier this month.

“Have I led or participated in any cover-up or falsification of records with this agency? No, absolutely not,” Cagle said.

Cagle was suspended with pay after the department launched its own investigation into the incident.

Her dismissal, however, is for reasons unrelated to Aubrey’s death and the furor surrounding the cover-up.

Smith has since resigned.

Board members wouldn’t comment on the decision, but it’s the culmination of a controversy that filled three of the five DSS board seats with new members.

Two-thirds of the former board resigned in protest when county commissioners called publicly for the suspension of Cagle during the probe into Aubrey’s death and the alleged cover-up at the agency.

Commissioners were mostly mum on this latest decision, though.

“It was entirely their [the DSS board’s] decision what happened,” said Commissioner Donnie Dixon. “We just wanted an investigation.”

Commissioner Robert White, who also chairs the DSS board, referred questions to the department’s attorney, Justin Greene, and other commissioners didn’t return calls or offered no comment.

Ruth McCoy, Aubrey’s aunt, said she and her family were pleased with the decision, but wished Cagle no ill.

“It’s not about the person, it’s about the position. The person in that position has to be in control of the people under them,” said McCoy. “We’re just glad that the board made the decision that they did with the director and hopefully the new director will come in and build good relationships with the tribe and the surrounding communities, so people have faith again in the DSS.”

Cagle has spent the last 13 years of her career with social services in Swain County, the last six as the director.

She started in 1998 as an entry-level social worker, moving up the ranks to supervisor, program director and, in 2005, director.

Since her suspension, the department has brought in Jerry Smith, a social work veteran from Brevard, as an interim director with extensive experience and degrees in the field.

In waiting for the investigation to wrap up, the county has been on the hook for both Cagle’s $66,000 salary and the cost to have Smith temporarily at the wheel.

Now that Cagle has lodged her appeal, the board will schedule another hearing to reexamine the case. Cagle will have another chance to appeal to the N.C. Office of State Personnel if the board upholds their June 21 decision.

In the meantime, the board has said it will keep Smith at the helm of DSS until a permanent replacement can be installed.

 

Former Swain County DSS director’s firing upheld

 by Katelyn Hackett  07/19/2011
BRYSON CITY, NC (AP) – Swain County’s social services board has refused to reinstate the agency’s former director.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reports the board decided Tammy Cagle didn’t show evidence its decision to fire her for insubordination and conduct infractions was wrong.

Cagle was suspended and later fired following the January death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.

Former county social worker Craig Smith said he visited the girl’s home in late summer 2010 to investigate reports that she fell down a staircase. Smith said he was later instructed by his
supervisor to falsify records about whether he made sure the child received medical attention after the fall.

Investigators have said Aubrey spent 12 hours in a car seat with little nourishment the day before she died.

No one has been charged in the girl’s death.

 

Swain DSS ‘stretched thin’ prior to baby Aubrey’s death

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/4456-swain-dss-%E2%80%98stretched-thin%E2%80%99-prior-to-baby-aubrey%E2%80%99s-death

Wednesday, 20 July 2011 

Written by Becky Johnson 

 
Swain DSS ‘stretched thin’ prior to baby Aubrey’s death
 

Swain County social workers in charge of protecting children are paid less and handle more cases than those elsewhere in the state and region, factors that likely contribute to a higher-than-average turnover.

Swain’s Department of Social Services has been plagued by the loss of child welfare workers. It was chronically short staffed for much of last year — seven child welfare workers left over a nine-month period.

Each time one quit, the ones who remained had to pick up the pieces. Their work load increased. Cases were handed off midstream. The number of new hires in the ranks — lacking any formal training or education in the field — only made matters worse.

It was in this climate that the case of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn slipped through the cracks. Despite repeated warnings from relatives that baby Aubrey was being mistreated and neglected, social workers failed to intervene.

When Social Worker Craig Smith finally paid Aubrey’s caregiver a visit last September, the caregiver chalked up bruises on the baby to a fall down the stairs.

Smith told her to take the baby in for a physical exam. But the doctor’s exam never happened. Smith either forgot, or was too busy to follow up. And four months later, Aubrey died alone on a mattress on the floor in the back room of a single-wide trailer in a case that has sparked far-reaching outrage and sympathy.

Smith has since admitted falsifying records to hide potential negligence and failures by the agency, according to law enforcement documents. He claims the orders to do so came from his superiors, and that knowledge of the cover-up went all the way to the top.

Swain DSS is under investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation. Its director has been fired and the majority of its board members replaced.

On the heels of the scandal, the state Department of Health and Human Services launched its own competency review of Swain DSS in March. The state audited a random sample of 57 child welfare cases to determine if Swain DSS was properly protecting children.

The state’s evaluation raised a red flag over the “significant turnover” in the past year.

“Turnover does have an adverse effect on the functioning of the agency. Turnover results in social workers being stretched thin to cover the workload of vacant positions,” according to the state review.

Furthermore, supervisors in charge of training new hires were not fully qualified to be in management roles, according to the report.

Smith, ironically, was not one of the many new hires at Swain DSS. He had been with the agency for four years.

But he was not untouched by the ripple effect of high turnover each time someone around him left.

“That person’s workload gets distributed among the survivors,” said Evelyn Williams, a clinical associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work.

Even once a replacement is found, the more experienced social workers often continue to shoulder a disproportionate case load, including the more difficult or complex cases — all the while trying to help the new workers learn the ropes.

The loss of a coworker can be more depressing than the sheer prospect of more work. Child welfare workers in a small agency can be tight knit and get depressed when they lose one of their own.

“It is really hard work to do. It is challenging work to do. It is emotional work to do,” Williams said. “Your coworkers become vital to your support system.”

 Off the charts

Swain County’s extreme turn-over last year among child welfare workers is more than twice the average turnover in the state.

While worse off than other counties, Swain is hardly alone in its struggle. Statewide, 50 percent of child welfare workers quit within two years. Only 25 percent stick with it longer than five.

“It is not easy to keep and recruit qualified social workers,” said Bob Cochran, director of Jackson County DSS. “It is not an easy job. It can be very stressful.”

Swain DSS has been fighting abnormally high turnover for years.

The caseload carried by Swain’s child welfare workers, even when fully staffed, is higher than other counties.

But its lower salaries are most often blamed as the culprit, as the prospect of better pay in surrounding counties lured staff away.

“The agency has historically provided training to new staff who then move on to better paying jobs,” Swain DSS leaders asserted in 2009 in a “self-assessment” included in the state’s performance review that same year.

It’s a point few could argue.

“Poor counties have difficulty holding good workers,” agreed Ira Dove, director of Haywood County DSS.

But salary is not everything. Social workers who are fulfilled in their jobs are more likely to stick with it.

And that’s where smaller DSS agencies in rural counties should have an advantage.

“Smaller counties have this wonderful work environment to offer,” said Evelyn Williams, a clinical associate professor at the UNC School of Social Work. “The director probably knows your name, there are collegial relationships that are very close and supportive. The whole pace and climate is often different in a positive way that may offset to some extent the lower salaries.”

In rural counties, case workers have a stronger sense of community, which can also make the job more rewarding, according to Patrick Betancourt, Policy Program Administrator at the N.C. Division of Social Services.

“Even though it is a non-tangible thing, it does motivate the worker to strive for the best practices they possibly can,” Betancourt said.

It can not only make up for lower salaries, but larger case loads.

“They can tolerate the heavy work load when they feel like they are making a difference,” Williams said.

However, there is a tipping point.

“The higher the work load, the less able they are to be engaged in a way that might make a difference,” Williams said. And likewise, “if the salary is really low and people don’t feel like it is a fair salary, then it is a major problem that has to be solved before anything else kicks in.”

Why stretched so thin?

Swain County child welfare workers routinely work more cases than they should under state standards.

But how many social workers to hire — along with how much to pay them — is up to each county. The state and federal governments pitch in some money to cover social workers’ salaries, but counties pick up most of the tab and set their own salaries  and staffing levels.

The state does, however, dictate a reasonable caseload — one that Swain routinely exceeded. Child welfare workers should have no more than 10 open cases at a time, according to state statute. Some Swain child welfare workers had nearly double that at times.

The state does not check for compliance to determine whether county DSS agencies are exceeding the maximum caseload for child welfare workers.

“Quite honestly, I believe that is a local responsibility,” said Sherry Bradsher, the state director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Bradsher said it’s the job of the county DSS director “to make sure their agency is staffed appropriately.”

The state periodically does a performance review of each county DSS, about every three years or so. But caseload is not an area the state makes a habit of inspecting or asking about.

Bradsher said the state does keep monthly data on the number of child welfare cases in each county, and could feasibly calculate the caseload. But no one at the state level does so as a matter of course.

Besides, there are nuances behind the numbers.

“Just seeing we have 25 open cases doesn’t tell me a lot. How many are going to close in the next day or so? How many children are in each of those cases? How high risk are they?” Bradsher said. “It may be OK to be three or four cases over. I am not sure it is OK to have twice as many cases.”

If Bradsher learned that a county was routinely and egregiously exceeding the acceptable caseload, and she believed children’s safety was at risk as a result, it could trigger some heavy-handed intervention.

The state theoretically can seize control of child welfare functions, hire the necessary number of workers, and then bill the county for it, Bradsher said.

“We didn’t want situations where workers had too many cases,” Bradsher said of the state provision allowing for a take over. “Fortunately, we have never had to do that. Counties are very conscientious about the needs of child welfare. I think what you will find as far as positions across our state is most counties are appropriately staffed.”

However, an issue can arise when workers quit, Bradsher said.

“The problem comes in with vacancies. You have high turn over quite honestly, particularly in child welfare,” Bradsher said.

As the cases pile up, child welfare workers might be tempted to clear old cases from their books  to make room for new ones. But it is unlikely child welfare workers would lower the bar to close cases more quickly and stay within the maximum caseload, according to Betancourt.

“I wouldn’t say there is pressure to let cases slide,” Betancourt said. “But you are constantly evaluating cases for safety and risk. As you start getting nearer your maximum you look at is there continued risk? You start evaluating more closely.”

Social workers could theoretically spend years working with a family.

“That’s part of what drives you to be a social worker. Can you make this family the best it can possibly be?” Betancourt said.

But at some point the social worker has to decide the improvement in the child’s home environment is adequate.

“That is constantly the balancing game that social workers have to play,” Betancourt said.

Oversight in the ranks

In addition to case load, the state also sets standards for supervisor-to-staff ratio: one supervisor for every five child welfare case workers.

Many counties exceed the supervisor to staff ratio by one or two workers, but won’t bite the bullet and hire that additional supervisor until they hit three or four over.

With a staff of experienced child welfare workers, pushing the ratio may be fine. When there are lots of new hires in ranks as there were in Swain, the ratio of one-to-five may not be enough.

Finding experienced, qualified supervisors is just as challenging as finding rank-and-file child welfare workers.

Often, those who excel in their job are promoted to supervisor, Betancourt said. But a good case worker doesn’t automatically make a good supervisor.

Promoting supervisors from within without giving them proper management training was a problem at Swain DSS, according to the state’s competency review of the agency in March.

Child welfare supervisors did not provide adequate direction, coaching and oversight for the rank-and-file child welfare workers, particularly given their lack of training and the large number of new hires.

Tammy Cagle, the former DSS director, had herself risen in the ranks. She started out as an entry level social worker in 1998 and within seven years had worked her way up to director. Cagle made $66,000 a year, on the very low end of DSS directors. The DSS director in Haywood makes $93,000 and in Jackson he makes $106,000.

Cagle had not asked the county to add additional child welfare positions for at least two years, according to the agency.

However, the new interim director, Jerry Smith, told county leaders he needed an additional child welfare supervisor as soon as possible.

“He needs the staff,” County Manager Kevin King told commissioners last week.

Swain County commissioners granted Smith’s request.

Quality supervisors, and enough of them, helps with the challenge of hiring and keeping good social workers, according to experts in the field.

“I think the supervisor to worker ratio is real key,” said Bob Cochran, the director of Jackson County DSS. “That really makes the difference to help people go over cases and debrief and train, especially new workers. They need a lot of face time and support and encouragement. That is real critical.”

Betancourt agreed.

“Having a supervisor that can help in making tough decisions and provide good clinical feedback is important,” Betancourt said.

Swain DSS was suffering from low morale among workers last year, according to the minutes of DSS board meetings.

In January 2010, board minutes referenced low morale among workers and team-building efforts to improve it. In December, one board member noted an improvement in morale, at least judging by the good time staff had at the agency’s annual Christmas luncheon, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Proof is in the training

The challenge developing good child welfare workers — both recruiting and retaining them — is the on-going subject of research by Williams at the UNC School of Social Work, considered one of the best in the field.

Williams held a round-table focus group with DSS directors from several WNC counties in Sylva this winter.

All said they suffered from a limited pool of qualified applicants.

“Directors have what is called a grow-your-own strategy in many places and that makes sense. People who already live in the community, have a commitment to the community and understand the community,” Williams said.

The problem, however, is that they lack training or education in child welfare or social work.

The job can be a “rude awakening” for those who have no training in the field, Cochran said. They won’t last long as a result.

The shortage of child welfare workers, particularly those trained in the field, spawned a state incentive program offering college scholarships to students willing to major in social work and put in requisite time on the job after graduation.

Similar to the state’s Teaching Fellows concept, the Child Welfare Education Collaborative offers $6,000 a year for undergraduates majoring in the field. In exchange, they must put in one year on the job for every year of financial assistance.

Western Carolina University was among the first universities to participate when it was started four years ago.

Cochran said it has helped with hiring prospects locally.

“For people who have majored in child welfare or social work, there is a cognitive resonance in what their dreams and aspirations are and what they are doing,” Cochran said. “They are really fulfilled and living their dream and tend to stay longer.”

But for the vast majority who don’t have the degree, on-the-job training becomes a make-or-break factor, Cochran said. It’s best to ease them in to the job, allowing them to shadow other workers at first, then making sure their first solo cases are easier ones.

“That is really key to longevity: the feeling of mastery early on. If they get overwhelmed early, you can bet they won’t be around long,” Cochran said.

Of course, it’s easier said than done when the rest of the staff is over-worked, and eager to have the new hire take on a full load as quickly as possible to relieve the burden.

“If you are low staffed and have had some turnover everyone else is carrying the load and suffering a bit,” Cochran said. While it’s tempting to have them hit the ground running, Cochran refrains in favor of what he considers a “long-term investment” that starts with good training.

The qualifications to be a child welfare worker aren’t particularly tough. It takes a four-year degree in a related field — and what qualifies as a related field is open to interpretation. A basic liberal-arts English degree counts as a related field as far as many counties are concerned. If counties are particularly desperate for workers, the list of “related” fields could be quite long.

“Like many other small counties, Swain County often has to under fill social work positions with persons who demonstrate some abilities, but do not necessarily have the experience and skill level commensurate with the requirements of the position,” according to the state’s competency review of the agency in the wake of the scandal.

All new hires must attend 72 hours of classroom training. The crash course is put on several times a year at a training site in Asheville where all western counties send their new hires.

After that, they are technically certified to start working cases. The training can’t come close to preparing child welfare workers from the things they will witness: children in drug infested homes, children being sexually abused by their own fathers, children going hungry.

“You can see quite a bit of burn out in a job like this,” said Betancourt.

 Slipped through the cracks

Given the challenges recruiting and retaining child welfare workers, the lack of training for new hires, high caseloads in the face of turn over and generally stressful work, its not hard to understand how cases can fall through the cracks. But the consequences can clearly be tragic.

Smith was not the only social worker that witnessed Aubrey in a harmful environment.

In November of last year, social workers took an older child out of the same trailer where Aubrey lived, citing drug and alcohol use. Aubrey was left behind, however, despite social workers also witnessing extremely cold conditions in the trailer.

An autopsy report ruled hypothermia as a possible cause of death.

That same month, a third social worker made a yet another visit to the trailer, acting on yet another tip of abuse. Aubrey’s caregiver signed a statement promising not to physically punish Aubrey, who was only 13-months-old at the time. The autopsy report cited a previously broken arm and numerous recent bruises on her head.

Despite policies and procedures that are supposed to ensure the safety of children, there is not adequate oversight by the state when something goes wrong, said David Wijewickrama, a Waynesville attorney representing Aubrey’s family.

“The reason children contiunue to die in the state of North Carolina is because the state does not have on-site review that scrutinizes the actions of social workers and holds them personally accountable when it results in serious bodily injury of the death of a child,” Wijewickrama said.

Protecting children: by the numbers

Haywood DSS

Number of cases last year    1056

Child welfare supervisors    3.5

Child welfare workers    18

Starting salary    $37,500

Turn-over    4 last year; on par with previous years

Jackson DSS

Number of cases last year    666

Child welfare supervisors    2

Child welfare workers    11

Starting salary    $39,800

Turn-over    4 last year; higher than average

Swain DSS

Number of cases last year    528

Child welfare supervisors    2; soon to be 3

Child welfare workers    8

Starting salary    $33,000

Turn-over    7 last year

Comments on this story

Veronica 2011-07-20 18:09
Do not forget this is the same agency that allegedly had its employees using the DSS credit card for their personal use. I believe this agency has been foul for longer than that poor babys life.
 
Lisa Baldwin 2011-07-28 06:23
Scarce resources may be a problem but in Buncombe where social workers are often paid 50,000 plus. What is the excuse as 3 social workers and a supervisor-all worked our case at the same time —– held this kid hostage and punished him for being medically disabled?
By the way he is my son and I am a BSW -a social worker with a 4 year degree locally grown and raised. Is anyone getting the picture? Investigate our case as fradulent records and DSS record falsification are rampant throughout our case. This is why workers are over burdened with cases that they should have left alone and went after those monsters that let children die.Real abuse cases. Our family’s website will publish what really happened in DSS custody real soon. The torture our son was placed through. At the hands of yet another DSS agency. www.bringingryanhome.com
Scott Shannon 2011-08-31 20:54
My granddaughter, Sierra Shannon, is a victim of the Swain County DSS. This state sponsored abuse has been going on for more than a year, yet no local or regional media will write about it. My son has filed a $2.25 million lawsuit against the 28 people who are responsible for the atrocities that have been done. Interested readers can visit http://find-answers.info/Sierra-Shannon.html to see the full details. Sierra could use some community outrage about our local DSS placing a child with a child molester.

Mother still seeking answers in child’s death

http://www.news-record.com/content/2012/01/06/article/mother_still_seeking_answers_in_childs_death

SUNDAY, JANUARY 8, 2012
(Updated Wednesday, February 8 – 9:31 am)
By MITCH WEISS and
TOM BREEN
Associated Press
 
In this Aug. 8, 2011 photo, Jasmine Littlejohn talks about the death of her daughter Aubrey during an interview in her attorney’s office in Waynesville.
 

BRYSON CITY (AP) — Ruth McCoy says she pleaded for months to have her niece’s 1-year-old daughter removed from a dirty mobile home that did not have heat in western North Carolina.

When social workers and sheriff’s deputies arrived on a cold night in November 2010, they took the toddler’s 11-year-old cousin, leaving Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn behind at the relative’s house.

Two months later, the little girl was dead.

“I begged them to take my niece,” McCoy said. “I said, ‘What about her? You have to take her, too.’ They just left her. What they did was wrong.”

A year later, no one has been charged in the toddler’s death. The state medical examiner said she died of “undetermined” causes, but noted bruises and broken bones.

While Swain County authorities continue to investigate, The Associated Press found Aubrey was failed by virtually every institution that was supposed to protect her.

Despite repeated complaints from family members and friends, social workers left the toddler in an environment deemed unsafe for other children. After Aubrey’s death, social workers falsified records to cover their tracks, according to more than two dozen interviews and police and court documents. The sheriff’s department also had a chance to intervene, but deferred to social workers.

“Their behavior is inexcusable,” David Wijewickrama, an attorney for Aubrey’s mother, said of social workers and police.

Talmadge Jones of the Swain County Department of Social Services said he is prohibited by law from discussing the case.

The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the death and the way the local agency handled her case.

“No one wanted to listen,” McCoy said. “No one wanted to help. This is a tragedy.”

Aubrey was born in October 2009 in Bryson City, a hardscrabble community in the Smoky Mountains. Like her mother, Aubrey was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a sovereign tribe whose casino is one of the region’s most important economic engines.

Her mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, had been in and out of trouble most of her life. She gave birth to Aubrey just months after being charged with three others on marijuana trafficking charges.

When she went to jail for a probation violation in April 2010, she turned to her aunts.

McCoy agreed to take care of Zoey, her older daughter, while Aubrey went to live with LadyBird Powell.

“I didn’t want to burden Aunt Ruth with two children,” Littlejohn told AP. “She had enough going on in her life. Plus, I thought it would be good for my Aunt Birdy.”

While Littlejohn was in jail awaiting trial on the marijuana charges, she said she never heard from Powell, 38. Family members told her they saw bruises on Aubrey. In one instance, Powell told family members the toddler was injured when she tumbled out of her car carrier and fell down several steps, according to police documents.

No one answered the door to Powell’s home, and she didn’t return multiple telephone messages.

When Littlejohn was released in October 2010, she went to get Aubrey, but Powell refused to let the girl leave until Littlejohn handed over half of her money tribe members receive annually from casino profits, Littlejohn said.

“I was shocked,” said Littlejohn, 21. “I said, ‘I’m not going to pay for my daughter. I want her back.’ Then she started raising her voice and getting real aggressive. She didn’t put her hands on me or nothing, but I could tell it was getting to that point.

She said she was worried that if she called police, she could get in trouble. After all, Littlejohn had just been released from jail and, if there was an altercation, who would believe her? She was afraid, so she left.

Littlejohn, McCoy and other family members said they returned to the trailer. But again, they said Powell refused to let the little girl go.

McCoy, a realty officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said she continued to press authorities. She also worried about Aubrey’s cousin, the 11-year-old boy living with Powell.

“It just wasn’t a safe place,” McCoy said.

Swain County dispatch records show police visited Powell’s trailer three times between June and November 2010 on complaints that included domestic violence and a “drunk person causing a disturbance.” It’s not clear from the records who was intoxicated and or whether anyone was arrested. Police have refused to talk about the visits.

On Nov. 9, 2010, four sheriff’s deputies escorted several social workers to Powell’s home to investigate a complaint that the 11-year-old boy was living in a trailer with no heat and drugs. They removed the boy, placed him in McCoy’s custody and let Aubrey stay. The heat was off because the power bill wasn’t paid, but it’s unclear whether they found any drugs.

Under state Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, social workers are required to help all children living in unsafe conditions “whether or not they are named in the report.”

“We weren’t asked to remove the girl. We weren’t there for that,” Sheriff Curtis Cochran said. “If DSS had asked us, we would have done it.”

In North Carolina, the decision to remove a child rests with the county social services agency, according to Doriane Coleman, an expert on children’s law at Duke University Law School.

“There’s so much discretion built into the system, which is why mistakes are made sometimes,” she said. “You might get some counties that are more inclined to protect families than others. You get counties that are very ‘hear no evil, see no evil.’”

Nearly two months after she tried to get her daughter from the home, Littlejohn reported to jail to await trial in the marijuana case, with Powell still caring for Aubrey.

On Jan. 10, 2011, Powell and her boyfriend rushed Aubrey into the Cherokee Indian Hospital emergency room at 3:20 a.m. Thirty-six minutes later, the girl was pronounced dead.

Powell told Swain County Sheriff’s Detective Carolyn Posey that Aubrey was fine when she put the girl to bed. But when she checked a few hours later, she wasn’t breathing.

Posey called DSS and discovered the agency had at least two reports of neglect or abuse regarding Aubrey, according to police documents.

She met with several social workers, including Tammy Cagle, who headed the county social services agency at the time. It took two weeks, but when Posey received documents she requested, she discovered some were missing.

One report from social worker Craig Smith jumped out. He wrote that he received a complaint Sept. 15 that Aubrey had fallen down. He said he visited Powell a day later and the house was clean and stocked with food. But he also noticed a “small scratch” on the girl’s face, and told Powell to take her to the doctor.

Smith wrote he contacted the hospital to verify the visit, saying he talked to Dr. Dominique Toadt, but the physician told Posey she never treated the toddler or spoke with Smith.

Smith said he was instructed by his supervisors to falsify the records. He said his immediate supervisor, Candice Lassiter, “had given him (Smith) a handwritten note advising him what needed to be in his narrative,” according to police documents.

The detective interviewed more than a dozen people who said they “witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment,” documents said. The witnesses said they contacted social workers, but didn’t receive a response.

Investigators on Feb. 21 seized items at the county social services office, including computers and thumb drives.

Since then, four DSS workers, including Lassiter, were suspended. Cagle, the agency’s director, was fired for what county officials said were unrelated reasons. Smith resigned.

Repeated telephone messages for Lassiter, Cagle and the other social workers were not returned. Through his lawyer, Smith declined to comment.

Meanwhile, friends and family members are frustrated at the pace of the investigation.

“This little girl is dead and they haven’t told us anything,” said McCoy, who still has custody of Zoey and a son born to Littlejohn after Aubrey’s death. “No one has been charged. This is very, very hard for all of us.”

Sheriff Cochran declined to discuss details, saying it’s an active investigation.

The state HHS has a board that reviews fatalities involving children who had contact with DSS in the year prior to their death. The board is made up of local and state officials who examine the death and make recommendations. The process is supposed to be quick, so officials can learn from mistakes.

In Aubrey’s case, a board hasn’t been appointed nearly a year later.

“There will be a review,” agency spokeswoman Renee McCoy said.

She said the SBI investigation will be part of the board’s review, as well as Swain County DSS notes and other documents.

While the community waits, Littlejohn pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and is serving two years.

She spends her days thinking about her daughter.

“Why has it taken so long for Swain County to do something for my baby?” she asked. “That’s my question I have for the investigators. What’s taking so long?”

 

Woman says DSS failed her family in niece’s death

http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/01/08/1761019/mom-still-seeking-answers-in-childs.html

PUBLISHED SUN, JAN 08, 2012 04:12 AM
MODIFIED SUN, JAN 08, 2012 04:21 AM

BY MITCH WEISS AND TOM BREEN - ASSOCIATED PRESS

BRYSON CITY — Ruth McCoy says she pleaded for months to have her niece’s 1-year-old daughter removed from a dirty mobile home that did not have heat.

When social workers and sheriff’s deputies arrived on a cold night in November 2010, they took the toddler’s 11-year-old cousin, leaving Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn behind at the relative’s house.

Two months later, the little girl was dead.

“I begged them to take my niece,” McCoy said. “I said, ‘What about her? You have to take her, too.’ They just left her. What they did was wrong.”

A year later, no one has been charged in the toddler’s death. The state medical examiner said she died of “undetermined” causes but noted bruises and broken bones.

While authorities in Swain County continue to investigate, The Associated Press found Aubrey was failed by virtually every institution that was supposed to protect her.

Despite repeated complaints from family members and friends, social workers left the toddler in an environment deemed unsafe for other children. After Aubrey’s death, social workers falsified records to cover their tracks, according to more than two dozen interviews and police and court documents. The sheriff’s department in the Western North Carolina county also had a chance to intervene but deferred to social workers.

“Their behavior is inexcusable,” David Wijewickrama, an attorney for Aubrey’s mother, said of social workers and police.

Talmadge Jones of the Swain County Department of Social Services said he is prohibited by law from discussing the case.

The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the death and the way the local agency handled her case.

“No one wanted to listen,” McCoy said. “No one wanted to help. This is a tragedy.”

A failed reunion

Aubrey was born in October 2009 in Bryson City, a hardscrabble community in the Smoky Mountains. Like her mother, Aubrey was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a sovereign tribe whose casino is one of the region’s most important economic engines.

Her mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, had been in and out of trouble most of her life. She gave birth to Aubrey just months after being charged with three others on marijuana trafficking charges.

When she went to jail for a probation violation in April 2010, she turned to her aunts.

McCoy agreed to take care of Zoey, her older daughter, while Aubrey went to live with LadyBird Powell.

“I didn’t want to burden Aunt Ruth with two children,” Littlejohn told AP. “She had enough going on in her life. Plus, I thought it would be good for my Aunt Birdy.”

While Littlejohn was in jail awaiting trial on the marijuana charges, she said she never heard from Powell, 38. Family members told her they saw bruises on Aubrey. In one instance, Powell told family members the toddler was injured when she tumbled out of her car carrier and fell down several steps, according to police documents.

No one answered the door to Powell’s home, and she didn’t return multiple telephone messages.

When Littlejohn was released in October 2010, she went to get Aubrey, but Powell refused to let the girl leave until Littlejohn handed over half of her money tribe members receive annually from casino profits, Littlejohn said.

“I was shocked,” said Littlejohn, 21. “I said, ‘I’m not going to pay for my daughter. I want her back.’ Then she started raising her voice and getting real aggressive. She didn’t put her hands on me or nothing, but I could tell it was getting to that point.”

She said she was worried that if she called police, she could get in trouble. After all, Littlejohn had just been released from jail and, if there was an altercation, who would believe her? She was afraid, so she left.

Littlejohn, McCoy and other family members said they returned to the trailer. But again, they said Powell refused to let the little girl go.

McCoy, a realty officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said she continued to press authorities. She also worried about Aubrey’s cousin, the 11-year-old boy living with Powell. “It just wasn’t a safe place,” McCoy said.

A daughter’s death

Nearly two months after she tried to get her daughter from the home, Littlejohn reported to jail to await trial in the marijuana case, with Powell still caring for Aubrey. On Jan. 10, 2011, Powell and her boyfriend rushed Aubrey into the Cherokee Indian Hospital emergency room at 3:20 a.m. Thirty-six minutes later, the girl was pronounced dead.

Powell told Swain County Sheriff’s Detective Carolyn Posey that Aubrey was fine when she put the girl to bed. But when she checked a few hours later, she wasn’t breathing. Posey called DSS and discovered the agency had at least two reports of neglect or abuse regarding Aubrey, according to police documents.

She met with several social workers, including Tammy Cagle, who headed the county social services agency at the time. It took two weeks, but when Posey received documents she requested, she discovered some were missing.

‘What’s taking so long?’

Since then, four DSS workers, including Candice Lassiter, a supervisor accused of telling subordinates to misrepresent Aubrey’s well-being, were suspended. Cagle, the agency’s director, was fired for what county officials said were unrelated reasons. Smith resigned.

Repeated telephone messages for Lassiter, Cagle and the other social workers were not returned. Through his lawyer, Smith declined to comment.

Meanwhile, friends and family members are frustrated at the pace of the investigation.

“This little girl is dead, and they haven’t told us anything,” said McCoy, who still has custody of Zoey and a son born to Littlejohn after Aubrey’s death. “No one has been charged. This is very, very hard for all of us.”

Sheriff Curtis Cochran declined to discuss details, saying it’s an active investigation.

The state HHS has a board that reviews fatalities involving children who had contact with DSS in the year prior to their death. The board is made up of local and state officials who examine the death and make recommendations. The process is supposed to be quick, so officials can learn from mistakes.

In Aubrey’s case, a board hasn’t been appointed nearly a year later. “There will be a review,” agency spokeswoman Renee McCoy said.

While the community waits, Littlejohn pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and is serving two years. She spends her days thinking about her daughter.

“Why has it taken so long for Swain County to do something for my baby?” she asked. “That’s my question I have for the investigators. What’s taking so long?”

 

Great-aunt charged in Swain County toddler’s death

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/feb/04/great-aunt-charged-swain-county-toddlers-death/

 Published: Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 4, 2012 at 2:25 p.m.

BRYSON CITY, N.C. (AP) — The great-aunt of a 15-month-old baby has been charged with murdering the little girl after a yearlong death investigation and an effort to explain why social workers allowed the child to remain in the woman’s home for months after an 11-year-old boy was removed.

LadyBird Powell is being held on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, and will have her first court appearance Monday, Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran said Friday. Powell’s bail was set at $1 million.

“This has been one of the hardest cases that we have had to investigate, primarily because of the age of the child. As a parent, it is hard to imagine any child being taken away at such an early age,” Cochran said in a statement. “There has been a great expression of concern from Aubrey’s family members, and we want everyone in Swain County to know that we have never stopped working on this case.”

Powell was taking care of Aubrey while the toddler’s mother was in jail. In November 2010, several Department of Social Services workers came to Powell’s home to investigate a complaint about the treatment of an 11-year-old boy there. The boy was removed because the home had no heat, but the toddler was allowed to stay.

Social workers had also been in the house two months earlier, and one of them noted that Powell did not follow his orders to take the girl to the doctor after he noticed a scratch on her face. That worker told detectives that his supervisors told him to falsify records of the visit.

Page 2 of 2

Powell brought the toddler to the hospital in January 2011, and the baby died a short time later. Powell said the girl was fine when she put her to bed, but she found her not breathing several hours later. Authorities didn’t detail how they think the girl died, but a medical examiner’s report noted bruises and broken bones.

Powell is also charged with first-degree kidnapping, child abuse and drug counts. It wasn’t clear if she had an attorney.

The sheriff said the kidnapping charge came after Powell refused to give the girl back to her mother after she got out of jail unless she gave Powell her share of casino proceeds she was entitled to because she was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which runs the gambling hall in the county.

The case prompted state DSS officials to promise a more speedy review of high-profile cases involving mistakes made by social workers in an effort to prevent future tragedies.

The sheriff said the case remains under investigation.

 

 

Swain DSS officials arrested

Charges result from toddler’s death

http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20120207/NEWS/302070082/Swain-DSS-officials-arrested

Written by Jon Ostendorff

Feb. 7, 2012

BRYSON CITY — A supervisor and social worker at the Swain County Department of Social Services were charged with felonies Tuesday in connection with the agency’s oversight of a 15-month-old girl whose death came amid evidence of abuse.

grand jury indicted supervisor Candice Lassiter on three felony counts of forgery and three felony counts of obstruction of justice after a State Bureau of Investigation inquiry.

She is on administrative leave, said agency attorney Justin Greene, and could not immediately be reached for comment.

The same grand jury indicted social worker Craig Smith on three counts of obstruction of justice, according to court records.

Smith no longer works for the agency. He also could not immediately be reached.

SBI agents a year ago searched the county’s DSS office as part of an investigation into the events surrounding the death of Aubrey Littlejohn.

The toddler died Jan. 10, 2011, at the Cherokee Indian Hospital about 15 minutes after being brought in by her great-aunt, Lady Bird Powell.

Powell was charged last week with the child’s second-degree murder, felony child abuse, first-degree kidnapping, extortion and possession of methamphetamine.

The child was left in a car seat for 12 hours the day before and given only few bites of a hot dog and sips of soda, according to court papers.

She was wrapped in a blanket and wearing only a diaper soaked in urine and feces and a T-shirt when she arrived at the hospital, according to an investigator’s statement in a search warrant.

Officials said the child’s body temperature was 84 degrees when she was brought in.

Powell had been caring for the child while the girl’s mother was in jail. An autopsy report said the cause of death was undetermined.

Smith visited her home five months before she died but found no evidence of abuse despite a complaint the girl had fallen from an unbuckled car seat down a set of stairs, according to an SBI search warrant.

Smith later falsified his records after Aubrey Littlejohn died to show he had called the hospital to make sure she was examined for injuries from the fall, investigators said in the search warrant.

Lassiter was his supervisor.

 

 

Swain Co. DSS Supervisor Faces 6 Felony Charges In Death Of Toddler

http://www2.wspa.com/news/2012/feb/07/swain-co-dss-supervisor-faces-6-felony-charges-dea-ar-3189979/

By: WSPA Staff | News Channel 7
Published: February 07, 2012
 
SWAIN COUNTY, N.C. –A local DSS supervisor faces six felony charges stemming from the death of a 15-month-old North Carolina girl that happened nearly a year ago.Asheville Citizen Times reports Candice Lassiter, who works with Swain County’s Department of Social Services, was indicted Tuesday on forgery and obstruction of justice charges.North Carolina state investigators searched the DSS office as part of the investigation into Aubrey Littlejohn’s death.Investigators say Littlejohn was strapped in a car seat for 12 hours and given little food or water before she died.Her great aunt, Ladybird Powell, was charged with 2nd degree murder, child abuse, kidnapping and extortion last week.
 

 

Aubrey Littlejohn’s Death Leads to 2 Arrests So Far

http://www.digtriad.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=213180

5:17 PM, Feb 7, 2012

Bryson City, NC– A supervisor and social worker at the Swain County Department of Social Services were charged with felonies Tuesday in connection with the death of a 15-month-old girl.

Candice Lassiter is on administrative leave, said agency attorney Justin Greene.

A grand jury indicted her on three felony counts of forgery and three felony counts of obstruction of justice after an N.C. State Bureau of Investigation inquiry.

She could not immediately be reached for comment.

A grand jury indicted social worker Craig Smith on three counts of obstruction of justice, according to court records. He also could not immediately be reached.

SBI agents a year ago searched the county’s DSS office as part of an investigation into the events surrounding the death of Aubrey Littlejohn.

The toddler died Jan. 10, 2011, at the Cherokee Indian Hospital about 15 minutes after being brought in by her great-aunt, Lady Bird Powell.

Powell was charged last week with the child second-degree murder, felony child abuse, first-degree kidnapping, extortion and possession of methamphetamine.

The child was left in a car seat for 12 hours the day before, and given only few bites of a hot dog and sips of soda, according to court papers.

She was wrapped in a blanket and wearing only a diaper soaked in urine and feces and a T-shirt when she arrived at the hospital, according to an investigator’s statement in a search warrant.

Smith visited her home five months before she died but found no evidence of abuse despite a complaint the girl had fallen from an unbuckled car seat down a set of stairs, according to an SBI search warrant.

Smith later falsified his records after Aubrey Littlejohn died to show he had called the hospital to make sure she was examined for injuries from the fall, investigators said in the search warrant.

Lassiter was his supervisor.

 

 

More arrests in tragic Littlejohn death

http://theonefeather.com/2012/02/more-arrests-in-tragic-littlejohn-death/

February 9, 2012

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

In the wake of Ladybird Powell being arrested and charged with second degree murder in the January 2011 death of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, more arrests have been made.  A Swain DSS supervisor and her former subordinate were indicted on Tuesday, Feb. 7 on charges relating to an alleged cover-up of the incidents leading up to Littlejohn’s tragic death.

Candice Lassiter was indicted by a grand jury and charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice and three counts of Forgery and Smith was charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice.

Lassiter was Smith’s supervisor at the time of incidents leading up to Littlejohn’s death.  Smith is no longer with the agency and Lassiter is on administrative leave.

Lady Bird Powell, Littlejohn’s aunt, was arrested on Friday, Feb. 3 by officers of the Swain County Sheriff’s Office and the Cherokee Indian Police Department and charged with Second Degree Murder, First Degree Kidnapping, Extortion, Possession of Methamphetamine, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and two counts of Felony Child Abuse.

As a result of an investigation into a possible cover-up in the case, Swain County DSS offices were raided on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 and computers and records were seized.

According to court papers filed at the time, Smith documented that he placed a phone call on Sept. 24, 2010 to Cherokee Indian Hospital and spoke with a doctor regarding a visit following a fall by Aubrey.

According to the court papers, Swain County Sheriff’s Department Detective Carolyn Posey and Daniel Cheatham, the private investigator hired by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to aid in the investigation, formally interviewed the doctor in Smith’s report who told them that she had never had a phone conversation with Smith and had never seen nor examined Aubrey Littlejohn.

The court papers state that the investigators approached Smith with evidence of the “non-existent telephone” call and he admitted to making it up.

Smith also related that “he had documented that false conversation because he was instructed to do so by his supervisor Social Worker Supervisor Candice Lassiter” who allegedly gave Smith a handwritten note on what to include in the narrative.

An autopsy report was released on Littlejohn in May 2010.  The report states, “Overall, the findings of the autopsy were nonspecific.  There was no evidence of significant acute physical trauma or infection.  There were no benzodiazephines, cocaine, ethanol, opiates/opioids, or organic bases detected in the decedent’s blood.”

According to the toxicology report, the only drugs present in her system were caffeine and Atropine which, according to the autopsy report, is used in resuscitation efforts and is also found in many cold medications.

While the autopsy was nonspecific about her death, there were questions about hypothermia  as Littlejohn’s core temperature was documented the night of her death by Cherokee Indian Hospital officials as 84 degrees Fahrenheit.  “The nonspecific findings of hypothermia are not present in this case; however, it is not possible to exclude death from hypothermia,” the report states.

“This has been one of the hardest cases that we have had to investigate, primarily because of the age of the child,” Swain County Sheriff Curtis A. Cochran said in a statement following the arrest of Powell.  “As a parent, it is hard to imagine any child being taken away at such an early age.  The law enforcement community is committed to the pursuit of justice and assisting those who cannot help themselves.”

 
 

 

Lawyers file claim with state over NC girl’s death

Feb 16, 2012 5:24pm
 

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Even though social service workers had been told that 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn was in danger, the Swain County agency failed to take action that could have prevented her death, according to a complaint filed Thursday with the state Industrial Commission.

“The abuse and neglect which Aubrey suffered before her death would have been apparent to any department of social services which was properly discharging its legal duties and obligations,” reads the complaint, filed by attorneys Frederick Barbour and David Wijewickrama, on behalf of Aubrey’s estate.

Calls to the Swain County Department of Social Services were not immediately returned Thursday. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services said the agency had no comment on the wrongful death claim, which seeks unspecified damages.

According to the complaint, there were three separate reports that Aubrey was being abused by her great aunt, LadyBird Powell, between September and November 2010. The girl died the following January after being taken to a nearby hospital.

Powell was arrested last month and is being held on a second-degree murder charge in the Swain County jail.

An Associated Press investigation found that police and social workers had been aware of reports Aubrey was being mistreated while she was staying with Powell. Two months before Aubrey died, authorities removed a different child from Powell’s home but left Aubrey behind.

Two Swain County social service workers have been charged with falsifying records and indicted on obstruction of justice charges in Aubrey’s death.

Candice Lassiter and Craig Smith are scheduled to appear in court Feb. 27. Lassiter is also facing forgery charges stemming from the case.

Smith was a social worker for the Swain County Department of Social Services and Lassiter was his supervisor. Police say that after Aubrey’s death, Lassiter ordered Smith to falsify records to make it appear as though the department had done a thorough investigation into allegations that Aubrey was being abused by Powell.

Wijewickrama said he wants the state to make changes to prevent other deaths. The state Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the administration, enforcement and funding of programs for the placement, care and protection of children within North Carolina. He said the agency had a duty to monitor social service departments in the state — but failed to do its job.

“We hope that the policies and procedures that allowed this tragedy to occur are changed, and the people that were responsible for allowing this tragedy are held accountable and punished accordingly,” he said. “I am deeply concerned that the state will not take the appropriate interest and change policies and laws to make mandatory, the recommended changes that would change the way departments across the state conduct investigations and implement safety protocols that save young children’s lives.”

 

 

Lawyers file wrongful death claim with NC Industrial Commission over Swain County toddler

http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/f6efa62156a54a85b4fb7cd74a83a633/NC–Babys-Death-DSS/

TOM BREEN  Associated Press

First Posted: February 16, 2012 – 5:24 pm

Last Updated: February 16, 2012 – 8:55 pm

RALEIGH, N.C. — Even though social service workers had been told that 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn was in danger, the Swain County agency failed to take action that could have prevented her death, according to a complaint filed Thursday with the state Industrial Commission.

“The abuse and neglect which Aubrey suffered before her death would have been apparent to any department of social services which was properly discharging its legal duties and obligations,” reads the complaint, filed by attorneys Frederick Barbour and David Wijewickrama, on behalf of Aubrey’s estate.

Calls to the Swain County Department of Social Services were not immediately returned Thursday. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services said the agency had no comment on the wrongful death claim, which seeks unspecified damages.

According to the complaint, there were three separate reports that Aubrey was being abused by her great aunt, LadyBird Powell, between September and November 2010. The girl died the following January after being taken to a nearby hospital.

Powell was arrested last month and is being held on a second-degree murder charge in the Swain County jail.

An Associated Press investigation found that police and social workers had been aware of reports Aubrey was being mistreated while she was staying with Powell. Two months before Aubrey died, authorities removed a different child from Powell’s home but left Aubrey behind.

Two Swain County social service workers have been charged with falsifying records and indicted on obstruction of justice charges in Aubrey’s death.

Candice Lassiter and Craig Smith are scheduled to appear in court Feb. 27. Lassiter is also facing forgery charges stemming from the case.

Smith was a social worker for the Swain County Department of Social Services and Lassiter was his supervisor. Police say that after Aubrey’s death, Lassiter ordered Smith to falsify records to make it appear as though the department had done a thorough investigation into allegations that Aubrey was being abused by Powell.

Wijewickrama said he wants the state to make changes to prevent other deaths. The state Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the administration, enforcement and funding of programs for the placement, care and protection of children within North Carolina. He said the agency had a duty to monitor social service departments in the state — but failed to do its job.

“We hope that the policies and procedures that allowed this tragedy to occur are changed, and the people that were responsible for allowing this tragedy are held accountable and punished accordingly,” he said. “I am deeply concerned that the state will not take the appropriate interest and change policies and laws to make mandatory, the recommended changes that would change the way departments across the state conduct investigations and implement safety protocols that save young children’s lives.”

Child fatality review in Swain case held up by state backlog

http://www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/6362-child-fatality-review-in-swain-case-held-up-by-state-backlog

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 16:41

Written by Becky Johnson

 

More than a year has lapsed since 15-month-old Aubrey Kina Marie Littlejohn died on the floor of an unheated single-wide trailer in Cherokee one frigid January night, but it could be several more months before the state conducts a child fatality review required by law in such cases.

Swain County Department of Social Services alerted the state to the suspicious child death the day after Aubrey died in January 2011, but the mandatory case review hasn’t been started yet because of a statewide backlog. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services formally accepted the case for a child fatality review last April, but the review has not been scheduled yet, according to Lori Watson, a spokesperson for the state agency in Raleigh.

Ideally, a child fatality review can help prevent future tragedies. It is supposed to detect where social safety nets failed and whether there are cracks in the system that need fixing.

In Aubrey’ case, it seems there will be plenty to learn from such a review. Cops, neighbors, family members and social workers all came in contact with Aubrey’s caretaker and noticed red flags, from violent behavior and suspected drug use to poor living conditions and even visual signs of abuse.

The child fatality review is not intended to find fault, nor is it a witch-hunt to hold anyone responsible, Watson said. The state in particular is interested in whether new policies or protocols could have saved the child’s life.

It is a learning exercise that taps the insight of anyone who may have interacted with the child — teachers, daycare workers, pediatricians, friends, family and social workers — to determine what could be done differently in the future.

“They will bring all those people together that had been involved in that child’s life,” Watson said.

By design, the case review isn’t conducted on the heels of a child’s death.

“They try to plan them so they give the community an opportunity to heal and people can come back to the table and take an objective approach to looking at the case,” Watson said.

But, a year and counting is longer than it should be in an ideal world. It could be several more months yet before it is conducted.

Watson said the agency is facing a backlog of its child fatality reviews. Watson cited staff turnover and unfilled positions at the state level as reasons the agency got behind.

The child fatality review will likely determine why social workers had forcibly removed other children from the home where Aubrey was living but allowed Aubrey to stay. Social workers had documented inappropriate use of physical discipline against Aubrey when she was just a year old. In addition to bruises on Aubrey, there were also signs she wasn’t developing like a baby of her age should, but she was not being taken to the doctor for check-ups.

Cops had been to the residence multiple times, according to dispatch records. Neighbors witnessed violent behavior in the yard of the home and noted children fending for themselves.

Swain DSS records in baby’s death to remain sealed

Prosecutors in a second-degree murder and felony child abuse case in Swain County have sealed social service records for fear they could compromise the on-going investigation or the ability to prosecute the case.

Prosecutors have told the Swain County Department of Social Services not to release records that would normally be made public surrounding the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, who died more than a year ago. Ladybird Powell, Aubrey’s great-aunt and caretaker, was charged in connection with her death this month.

Since DSS records are highly personal — often revealing private aspects of family life, emotional state and financial status — they are all confidential.

There is an exception, however, when criminal charges surround a child’s death. In such cases, DSS is supposed to release a summary of the agency’s involvement with the child, describing whether social workers had the child’s well-being on their radar and what steps, if any, were taken to investigate or improve the child’s safety and care.

The district attorney’s office has the authority to block the release of the records if it is deemed a risk to the criminal case, however.

In this case, the prosecutor has done just that, citing the highly unusual circumstances of a separate yet parallel case against two social workers. The workers allegedly falsified records following the child’s death, presumably to conceal whether the agency properly followed up on complaints of abuse and neglect, according to a State Bureau of Investigation probe.

Whether social workers did their job or failed to intervene and protect Aubrey has been a source of heated and emotional controversy. The records, if released, would reveal whether social workers acted on reports of suspected abuse and neglect — assuming the records provide an accurate picture.

But releasing those records that describe DSS involvement in Aubrey’s case could compromise a fair trail in the separate case against the social workers, since their involvement — or lack of involvement — is at the heart of that case.

The release of records would “jeopardize the state’s ongoing investigation” and “jeopardize the state’s ability to prosecute” the case, the district attorney’s office told Swain DSS when blocking the release of the documents.

 

Chicago mom and CPS reform advocate, Miranda Yonts has vowed to find and bring home the remains of Tyler Payne, so he, and his mom, Jamie Hallam, can finally be at peace.

Yonts is the founder of The Miles Payne foundation, a soon to be 501(C) non-profit organization, which was named after Shavon Miles and Tyler and Ariana Payne.

She is also Jamie Hallam’s best friend.

The Miles Payne Foundation advocates needed changes to the laws that govern CPS, to ensure better protection of America’s children through the accountability and transparency of Child Protection Services.

Yonts feels that the only way to protect the children in this country, and save lives is to hold CPS liable when they fail to perform their legally required duties.

Continue reading on Examiner.com Chicago mom vows to solve cold case – Winston-Salem CPS | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/cps-in-winstonsalem/chicago-mom-vows-to-solve-cold-case#ixzz1nEI9FFzB

 

 

In Memory of Tyler and Ariana Payne

 

Tyler and Ariana

Look at what a bailiff did to my friend Jo because he didn’t like her videotaping at the courthouse, which she was told to do by an attorney.

 

A Cleveland County jury has found Dwight Stacy Justice not guilty of the first-degree murder of Jeremiah Swafford.  

The Jury did find Justice guilty of felony child abuse, inflicting serious bodily injury, a verdict that could carry a prison sentence of at least 15 years.

Immediately after the verdict was read, testimony began in the sentencing hearing to decide exactly how long Justice’s sentence will be.

Read more

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 142 other followers

%d bloggers like this: