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Category Archives: Deplorable living conditions

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.

 


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

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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

 

The jury has yet to reach a verdict in the trial of Dwight Stacy Justice. 

On Thursday, the jury continually sought clarification of laws, interview transcripts, and further jury instructions, then after considering the evidence and testimony all day Thursday, the jury informed the judge that they were divided 8-4.

The Jurists, who at times seem frustrated and confused, will continue deliberations on Monday at 9:30 a.m. at the Cleveland County Courthouse.

Read More

 

On Friday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals granted a 10 day stay, that suspended the release of DSS disclosure records regarding their investigation of reported abuse on a child that later died.

4-year-old Cedric Francois died, October 19, 2011, just 19 days after social workers visited the home where he lived with his mother, Taquita Francois and her boyfriend, Michael Antonio Dixon Jr., according to court records.

Read more

Many of you will remember the horrific case of Danieal Kelly, who was starved to death by her mother under the neglectful and blind eye of Philadelphia Social Workers, who after her death, had a document forging party.

Danieal Kelly in happier times

On October 20,  2011,  Danieal’s father, Daniel Kelly, Social Service Agency Manager, Mikal Kamuvaka, and Department of Human Services Social Worker,  Dana Poindexter, were sentenced to two and a half to five  years in prison.

Mikal Kamuvaka is also serving 17  and a 1/2 years in Federal Prison for the health care fraud she committed in Danieal’s case.

It took the Jury seven hours to return a guilty verdict on all charges,

      • Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, endangering the welfare of a child.
      • Dana Poindexter, 54, child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person, and perjury.
      • Mikal Kamuvaka, 62, involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, reckless endangerment, perjury, criminal conspiracy, and four charges involving what prosecutors called a “forgery fest” to create a case file to fool investigators into thinking Kelly actually got in-home services.

Kelly, Poindexter, Kamuvaka found guilty in the death of Danieal Kelly

Many friends and family testified for the social worker who was sentenced — noting his kindness and good character. No one testified for the deceased girl.

The prosecution pointed out that, as in life, no adults were there to speak up on behalf of Danieal.

 Two and a half to 5 years in prison does not seem long enough after what Danieal suffered through!  Life in prison would have been better, but still not enough.  Danieal Kelly suffered years of abuse and neglect, it seems only fair that the people responsible for her death should receive a punishment equal to what she went through.

“Police and paramedics were called to Danieal’s West Philadelphia home and when they opened her bedroom door, the stench of decay hit them. Danieal, who had been dead for several hours, was on a dirty mattress surrounded by feces. Maggot-infested bedsores covered her back. She had been on the mattress for such a long time, the shape of her body was imprinted into the mattress. A grand jury report was released this week, indicting nine people and describing Danieal’s life of pain, neglect, abuse and eventual death.”

Danieal Kelly Autopsy Photo

Danieal had only been dead a few hours, but her autopsy photo shows the extent of the abuse she suffered.  And absolutely heartbreaking is the barrettes in her hair, her brother loved her, he did his best to take care of her, he fixed Danieal’s hair and he begged her mom to call 911.  If only the adults in this case has shown a quarter of the care and concern that he did, Danieal would probably still be alive.

While Danieal was starving to death, Dana Poindexter, the social worker assigned to investigate the reports of abuse and neglect concerning Danieal, was stuffing his face and throwing the empty food wrappers on top of the box, where Danieal’s case file lay buried at the bottom.

During this investigation, we found a tall, filthy cardboard box in Poindexter’s cubicle, big enough to hold a file cabinet. The box was filled to the top with random case files, food wrappers, and unopened business envelopes (some with four-year-old postmarks). At the bottom of the pile was Danieal’s file. -Grand Jury Report

MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. Company co-founders Mickal Kamuvaka, 60, and Solomon Manamela, 52, and former caseworkers Julius Juma Murray, 52, and Miriam Coulebaly, 41, were all convicted of conspiracy, lying to federal agents and multiple counts of health care fraud and wire fraud.

Andrea Kelly plead guilty to third degree murder and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years

Daniel's mother, Andrea Kelly Plead guilty to 3rd degree murder and was sentenced to 20-40 years in prison.

Mother to enter plea in death of girl, 14

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/breaking/20090428_The_mother_of_a_14-year-old_girl_who_starved_to_death_NO_HEAD_SPECIFIED.html

By Joseph Tanfani

INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

The mother of a 14-year-old girl who starved to death while under city supervision will “accept responsibility” for the crime and plead guilty to third-degree murder charges, her attorney said yesterday.

Andrea Kelly, 39, will agree to serve 20 to 40 years in prison for the 2006 death of her daughter, Danieal, said lawyer Richard Quinton Hark.

The girl, who suffered from cerebral palsy, weighed just 46 pounds when she died in a sweltering apartment. Her legs looked liked bare bone and her back was full of gaping bedsores infested with maggots.

Danieal’s death and other failures by Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services resulted in nine indictments, the firing of the agency’s two top officials and a number of reforms at the agency.

Hark said Kelly was acknowledging her failures as a parent.

“It’s a very difficult time when you have to accept responsibility for starving your daughter to death,” Hark said.

The girl’s slow death happened while the family, which included 10 children, was under the supervision of DHS. Prosecutors say the DHS caseworkers failed to do their jobs, which was to protect the child from neglect.

The agency had hired a private social services agency, Multi-Ethnic Behavioral Health, to visit the home and make sure the Kelly children were being cared for.

Charges of involuntary manslaughter are still pending against a caseworker from Multi-Ethnic, Julius Juma Murray, 51. He failed to make the required home visits and the agency falsified records to cover it up, according to the indictment issued last summer.

Murray’s lawyer, William Spade, said his client did his job and Andrea Kelly is right to accept the primary responsibility for Danieal’s death.

“He did what he was supposed to do,” Spade said of Murray. “He made the visits he was supposed to make. He tried to get the girl services, and he wasn’t successful because of the inaction of the parents.”

Officials from DHS and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment yesterday evening.

Danieal Kelly’s father, Daniel Kelly, has been charged with endangering the welfare of children. Also charged in the case were Multi-Ethnic’s founder and two former DHS case workers.

Hark said Andrea Kelly’s plea agreement does not address whether she will cooperate in any of the other cases.

If she had gone to trial, Hark said, Kelly might have been convicted of first-degree murder and sent to prison for life. He said any jury would have been moved by the details of the girl’s death, and the pictures of Danieal’s body.

“If you have complex issues of an extremely malnourished mentally and medically disabled child in a mother’s care, it will really affect the jury,” he said.

The plea hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. before Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner.

Along with the murder plea, Kelly is also pleading guilty to child endangerment.

“It’s the appropriate thing to do to bring closure to a very unfortunate circumstance in her life, and her family’s life,” Hark said.

Mother Pleads Guilty in Disabled Daughter’s Starvation Death

Published April 29, 2009

Associated Press

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,518416,00.html

A mother of 10 pleaded guilty Wednesday in the starvation death of her disabled daughter, but her lawyer said social workers and city officials share the blame.

 Andrea Kelly, 39, was immediately sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison after pleading to third-degree murder.

 A grand jury investigation of the 2006 death of Danieal Kelly, who was 14 years old and weighed just 42 pounds, ignited fury in the city and prompted last year’s ouster of two top city welfare officials. Nine people were criminally charged, including the girl’s parents and four social workers.

 “If anybody at DHS (the Department of Human Services) actually showed up, the child would have been removed from the home eight to nine months earlier,” defense lawyer Richard Q. Hark said after the hearing. “She would have lived.”

 Danieal — once a chubby-cheeked child who beamed in photographs taken on school trips — had deteriorated in the years since her father split with a stepmother in Arizona and she returned to her mother’s care in Philadelphia. She lost more than half her body weight and never left the dark, squalid house for school or even fresh air.

 Danieal suffered from cerebral palsy and could not walk. In her last days alive, during an August heat wave, the bedridden girl had flies and maggots hovering near her open sores and could muster only enough energy to ask a brother for “water.” He begged their mother to call an ambulance but was rebuffed, according to the grand jury report.

 “I do accept my part in my daughter’s death. I wish I could have done more than I did to save her,” Andrea Kelly told a judge Wednesday, as an older son listened from the back row, the lone child in attendance. The minor-age children have been in foster care since Danieal’s death.

 Prosecutors will now focus on the remaining defendants, including social worker Julius Murray, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor. Murray worked for MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, a city contractor paid to help DHS provide services to needy families.

 The grand jury charged that Murray rarely if ever made the required twice-a-week visits and that he and a company owner forged reports to cover up their inaction.

 “Though it was her mother who actually killed her, there are many layers of blame for what happened to Danieal Kelly: from parents, to caseworkers, to supervisors, to administrators,” states the 258-page grand jury report, issued last year.

 Murray insists he made the visits, said his lawyer, Will Spade.

 Assistant District Attorney Ed McCann called such an assertion “ludicrous.”

 “This child’s decline cold not have been missed by anyone,” McCann said Wednesday. “If anyone would have been in that house in the months prior to her death, they would have seen a child starving to death.”

 The father, Daniel Kelly of Darby, Pa., is charged with child endangerment for allegedly deserting his daughter after they moved back to Philadelphia.

 Meanwhile, the parents have a civil suit pending against the city on behalf of Danieal’s estate, a suit the mayor and district attorney once deemed “obscene.” Lawyers involved say the likely beneficiaries are Danieal’s siblings, especially if both parents are convicted.

Also sentenced in this case:

Julius Juma Murray, 54, employee of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., pleaded guilty in February to involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and child endangerment, sentenced to four to eight years in prison. He is also serving an 11-year federal prison term for his conviction on health-care fraud and conspiracy. Murray, is in federal custody and faces deportation after he completes his sentence.

Laura Sommerer, 36, DHS caseworker, pleaded guilty in 2009 to child endangerment and was sentenced to four years' probation.

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE: Marie Moses, 37, a friend of Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty in 2009 to perjury and was sentenced to three years’ probation.

Andrea Miles, Daughter of Marie Moses and a friend of Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty in Juvenile Court in 2008 to perjury and was sentenced to probation.

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE: Diamond Brantley, 25, a friend of Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty in 2009 to perjury and was sentenced to two years’ probation.

Solomon Manamela, 53, MultiEthnic cofounder. Convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Earle McNeill, 72, pled guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to 90 months in prison. His sentence was increased about 12 months above prosecutors' recommendations after U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell determined that McNeill had not truthfully reported his Multiethnic income to a federal probation officer.

McNeill has a website where he is asking for help to appeal his sentence.  Danieal can’t appeal her death sentence at the hands of her mother,  Multiethnic, and DHS hands.

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE: Mariam Coulibaly 41, Case worker, was sentenced to 135 months (11 years). Although she  had no role in Danieal’s death she did help forge documents, lie to the FBI and hide $50,000 after the verdict to shield it from the court-ordered restitution.

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE: Christina Nimpson  66, Plead guilty and was sentenced to 20 months for one count of wire fraud, one count of healthcare fraud, and conspiracy.

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE: Manuelita Buenaflor  54, Plead guilty and was sentenced to 36 months in prison for one count of wire fraud, one count of healthcare fraud, and conspiracy

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE: Sotheary Chan 41, Plead guilty and was sentenced to 15 months for one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy

Sotheary Chan is now a physician’s assistant in Fairfax, S.C.,

NO PICTURE AVAILABLE: Patricia Burch, plead guilty to one count of perjury and was sentence to 24 months

Department of Justice release: SOCIAL SERVICE AGENCY WORKERS SENTENCED FOR DEADLY FRAUD SCHEME

The total failure of CPS and MultiEthnic Behavioral Services is documented in the Grand Jury Report, below.

Grand Jury Report

Danieal Kelly at the Madison Rose Lane School in Phoenix, Arizona

FIRED

Cheryl Ransom-Garner, DHS Commissioner–The grand-jury report found that the management failures began years ago, before Danieal Kelly even arrived in Philadelphia. DHS workers complained that MultiEthnic was not visiting families as required and was falsifying records to cover it up. An investigator for DHS found that the fraud charges were likely true. But the agency wasn’t fired. Cheryl Ransom-Garner, who later became DHS director, summoned Mickal Kamuvaka and the other directors of the agency and “read them the riot act,” the report said.

Later, a DHS evaluation lauded MultiEthnic for its “energetic” performance, calling it “remarkable.” When called before the grand jury, Ransom-Garner said she didn’t remember hearing any complaints about the agency – a response the grand jury called “incredible.”

RESIGNED

Carmen Paris, Acting Health Commissioner–She ordered the coroner not to release the autopsy results.  The grand jury report accused her of interfering with the investigation. The Grand Jury heard testimony that Ms. Paris improperly interfered at least twice in the investigation of Danieal’s death. In her own testimony before the grand Jury, Ms. Paris was not entirely truthful when asked about her involvement with the investigation

Suspended

Mayor Nutter said of Danieal, “As a city government, we have failed you. I am fully, thoroughly, and completely pissed off about what has happened here. The behaviors exhibited by public employees is unacceptable, and I am furious by their actions.” You have not died in vain.

“I am fully, thoroughly, and completely pissed off about what has happened here. Behaviors exhibited by public employees is unacceptable and I am furious at their actions. When I think of my own daughter, and if she were in someone else’s care, and they performed the way some of these individuals did, I would kick their ass myself,” Mayor Michael Nutter said during a Monday morning news conference.”

The Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, then suspended the following as a direct result of Danieal’s death:

Wesley Brown Social Service Program director, “Brown – who has been with DHS since 1975 and made $93,178 as a director in the Children and Youth Division -was suspended without pay for 10 days.”

Pamela Mayo Children and Youth Division operations director . “Mayo – who made $103,799 as DHS’ director of operations, Children and Youth Division – was suspended for two days without pay. 

“Mayo testified that she didn’t even question DHS worker Laura Sommerer or her immediate supervisors after learning that Danieal had not seen a doctor during the 10 months that Sommerer managed the case. And Brown actually defendedSommerer’s performance, insisting that she had met the ‘minimum expectations for case management,’ according to the grand-jury report.”
 
In this case, the “minimum” would seem to have fallen below even Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada’s standards.
 
This inspite of a grand jury statement that said, “…actions or inactions of these supervisors might arguably be considered criminal.” [However] the grand jury decided not to pursue criminal charges against the supervisors, even though, the report concluded, “a share of the stain of responsibility for Danieal’s death remains on their hands.” From Ethicsstupid

Janice Walker, the immediate supervisor of Dana Poindexter until she was promoted in July 2006.–Fully aware of Poindexter’s dereliction, Ms. Walker never insisted that he do his job. She falsely found reports of abuse against Danieal, unsubstantiated. “And it is equally clear that Ms. Walker neither insisted that he perform this work nor took action when the paperwork never materialized. This failure is appalling at many levels, not least because Ms. Walker’s job was to supervise five employees to make sure that they completed their investigations. If she did not do this, what on earth was she being paid for?” Grand Jury Report  

Martha Poller, supervisor of Janice Walker.–Admitted she falsified case records to make it seem that DHS had investigated old neglect reports involving the Kelly family and found them “unsubstantiated.” Called to testify, she told grand jurors that was common practice at DHS; she said it was a bureaucratic procedure that helped hasten services to families. That supervisor, Martha Poller, was given a new job: project manager for a team that will examine child-fatality cases. During a news conference, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said she was incredulous that Poller had been entrusted with that new duty.

Valerie Mond, an administrator.–defended Sommerer’s failure to complete the Family Service Plan as required in June 2006. (Ms. Mond no longer supervises Laura Sommerer, but did at the time of her testimony.) Ms. Mond insisted that the plan was completed in June, even though Sommerer had not turned it in to her supervisor and, as it turned out, had not even prepared it until after Danieal died. Ms. Mond seemed satisfied because Sommerer had met with the Kelly family before the month of June had expired. Never mind that the SCOH worker, whom Sommerer had still not met, was not at that meeting to review, among other things, SCOH’s progress in meeting the goals set forth in the plan.

Ms. Mond signed a performance evaluation for Sommerer on August 1, 2006 – three days before Danieal died – that gave the social worker an overall rating of “outstanding.” The rating was based in part on her “excellent case management skills” as evidenced by a “100% visitation and family service plan completion.” Sommerer won this 100% visitation score despite the fact that her visit to check on Danieal, while technically meeting the once-every-three-month requirement, failed to reveal that the girl was being starved to death.  Grand Jury Report

Ingrid Hawk, who assigned the Danieal Kelly case to Laura Sommerer.–Ms. Hawk did not recall ever discussing with Sommerer or Ms. Mond what services might be available or appropriate for Danieal. The supervisor never inquired about the severity of Danieal’s disability. She failed to ask why no progress was being made on the case. Although Ms. Hawk told the Grand Jury that she discussed the case with Sommerer and kept progress notes from those conferences, as is mandated by DHS policy, no records were found to support her claim. The summary of the case that Ms. Hawk left behind for her successor captures just how little she knew or cared about the case. It stated: “Washington #224062 – SCOH – 9 children. The family became known to DHS due to issues of poor supervision.” Grand Jury Report 

Shawn Davis, a supervisor of Laura Sommerer.–Had Mr. Davis adequately performed the responsibilities of his job, he would have known that the Kelly review was due, and insisted that Sommerer submit it. He would have learned of MultiEthnic’s utter failure to provide services, or even to file quarterly reports. Grand Jury Report

Danieal during happier times

A Timeline of Neglect

August 01, 2008

Jan. 3, 1992: Danieal Kelly is born in Youngstown, Ohio, the daughter of Andrea and Daniel Kelly. Danieal, who has cerebral palsy, is the third of 10 children born to Andrea Kelly by five fathers.

1994: Daniel and Andrea Kelly separate. Andrea Kelly moves with her children to Philadelphia.

1995: Daniel Kelly takes Danieal and a son, Daniel, to Pittsburgh after he hears their mother is not taking care of them. In an interview, the father says the two children had rotting teeth and had not been to a doctor in years. He and the children later move to Arizona.

1997: In Philadelphia, the Department of Human Services opens its first investigation into the Andrea Kelly family. A report says Danieal’s 3-year-old brother had bug-infested clothes and decaying teeth. DHS sustains the neglect finding and selects a private agency, Pathways of Pa., to help the family. It provides assistance until March 1999.

1999: DHS opens its second investigation of neglect involving the Kelly children but finds allegations unsubstantiated.

2000: Arizona authorities charge Daniel Kelly with violating a protective order. At some point, authorities there also substantiate a child-abuse complaint. He says he spanked his son in public, but did not abuse him.

December 2002: DHS receives its first complaints about MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, the private agency that would later be hired to check on Danieal Kelly: Company workers were not making home visits as required, and were falsifying records, according to the grand-jury report. DHS takes no action.

Summer 2003: Danieal moves back to Philadelphia with her father and brother.

Aug. 21, 2003: DHS receives its first call claiming neglect that involves Danieal. DHS has the case open for two years, and finally closes it as unsubstantiated.

2004: Daniel and Danieal rejoin their mother as their parents briefly reunite.

May 12, 2004: DHS opens a new investigation into the family. This inquiry looks into an allegation that Andrea is not providing proper medical care for Danieal. DHS closes the case, with the complaint deemed unsubstantiated.

June 20, 2004 to Sept. 13, 2005: DHS receives three more complaints that the mother does not properly care for Danieal.

 October 2005: DHS begins the seventh investigation into a complaint alleging “lack of supervision, poor home conditions.” It hires MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. to check on the children’s medical treatment, monitor the children’s school attendance, solve “housing issues,” and address Danieal’s medical needs.

April 2006: Philadelphia school officials realize that Danieal needs to be enrolled in school. The enrollment process is still incomplete at the time of Danieal’s death.

June 29, 2006: A DHS worker briefly visits the Kelly home – failing to even enter Danieal’s bedroom, the grand-jury report says.

 Aug. 3, 2006: One of Danieal’s siblings asks Andrea Kelly to call police or an ambulance for Danieal. She refuses, the grand-jury report says.Aug. 4, 2006: An ambulance is called only after it is clear that Danieal is dead. Her emaciated body is found with maggots crawling in bedsores, which went to the bone. Paramedics say the house is strewn with trash and “unfit for human habitation.” Danieal’s seven remaining brothers and sisters are removed from Andrea Kelly’s custody.Aug. 4 2006: MultiEthnic officials allegedly begin falsifying documents to hide the agency’s negligence, the grand-jury report says.

Oct. 6, 2006: In the aftermath of Danieal Kelly’s death, DHS terminates its contract with MultiEthnic.

Oct. 10, 2006: Christian Kelly, the 10th child of Andrea Kelly, is born. DHS takes custody in the hospital.

Oct: 19, 2006: After The Inquirer reports on the deaths of other children while under DHS care, Mayor John F. Street is shown photographs of Danieal Kelly. He fires DHS Commissioner Cheryl Ransom-Garner and her top deputy.

November 2006: Danieal’s death is ruled a homicide.

May 31, 2007: A child-welfare panel calls for sweeping reforms in DHS policies and procedures, including the supervision of private contractors such as MultiEthnic.

July 31, 2008: Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham announces indictments of nine people, including Andrea and Daniel Kelly, and workers for MultiEthnic and DHS. Abraham also calls for the state to take over DHS.

SOURCES: Grand-jury report issued yesterday and previous DHS reports.

NEWS ARTICLES 

Danieal Kelly’s father, social workers get jail terms in her death

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/28636-danieal-kellys-father-social-workers-get-jail-terms-in-her-death

October 20, 2011

By Elizabeth Fiedler
Thursday marked the final chapter in a gruesome case of child abuse that rocked Philadelphia after Danieal Kelly was found dead. A slew of adults blamed for the death of the disabled 14-year-old have already been sentenced, including her mother. Now, a judge has sentenced the girl’s father, Daniel Kelly, and two social workers to two and a half to five years in prison.

Danieal was covered in bed sores when she died of starvation in 2006. She weighed just 42 pounds.

Prosecutors pinned the blame on her parents and the social workers responsible for her care.

Lawyer Josh Scarpello represented social service agency manager Mikal Kamuvaka.

“It’s a horrible case where a lot of people failed Danieal and it was tough to find sympathy for any of the people involved so I can understand both the jury’s verdict and his reasoning in giving that sentence that he did,” Scarpello said.

Many friends and family testified for the social worker who was sentenced — noting his kindness and good character. No one testified for the deceased girl.

The prosecution pointed out that, as in life, no adults were there to speak up on behalf of Danieal.

“We actually looked back in the courtroom at the very beginning and saw all of these people in the courtroom and just thought to ourselves usually in a homicide case when we do sentencing we have family there,” said acting First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann. “She didn’t have a family that cared for her, so we were her voice. And that was troubling obviously, that so many people let her down.”

The case highlighted widespread problems in the city’s Department of Human Services and led to major reforms.

Prison for three in Danieal Kelly’s death

July 16, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer

Danieal Kelly’s father was not there when she starved to death almost five years ago in her mother’s squalid West Philadelphia apartment.

Neither was Dana Poindexter, the city Department of Human Services social worker who supposedly investigated reports that she was being neglected. Nor Mickal Kamuvaka, head of a DHS contractor paid to put a social worker in Danieal’s house twice a week to make sure she was safe.

But a Common Pleas Court jury Friday ruled that each played a role that inevitably led to an agonizing death for a 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who could not care for herself.

The jury deliberated seven hours before finding the three guilty on all charges:

Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, endangering the welfare of a child.

Poindexter, 54, child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person, and perjury.

Kamuvaka, 62, involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, reckless endangerment, perjury, criminal conspiracy, and four charges involving what prosecutors called a “forgery fest” to create a case file to fool investigators into thinking Kelly actually got in-home services.

None showed any emotion as the verdicts were announced shortly before 4 p.m.

“It’s been five years and I am tremendously, tremendously gratified by the jury’s verdict,” said Acting First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann, who with Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber got the case Aug. 4, 2006, upon Kelly’s death.

McCann praised the jury for seeing that all three played parts in the death in a fetid, two-bedoom apartment Kelly shared with her mother, Andrea, and eight siblings.

Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 2009 and is serving a 20-to-40-year prison term.

Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart set sentencing for Sept. 6.

McCann said Daniel Kelly faces a seven-year prison term, Poindexter eight to 16 years, and Kamuvaka up to 25 years.

Defense attorneys – Earl G. Kauffman for Kelly, Joshua E. Scarpello for Kamuvaka, and Craig Hosay for Poindexter – said they would discuss possible appeals with their clients.

Scarpello said he had hoped the jury might acquit Kamuvaka of involuntary manslaughter.

“The only reason she went to trial is she didn’t want to admit she killed anybody, and that’s what that charge means,” Scarpello said.

Daniel Kelly and Kamuvaka have been in custody. Kelly’s bail was revoked this year after he fled to Indiana. Kamuvaka was in federal custody serving a 171/2-year term for health-care fraud involving Danieal Kelly’s case.

Minehart immediately revoked Poindexter’s bail, and deputies removed him from the courtroom.

When Danieal Kelly died, she weighed 42 pounds, the weight of an average 5-year-old. Authorities said she was lying on a feces-stained mattress, her back pocked with maggot-infested bedsores, one so deep it exposed her hipbone.

Her shocking death – and those of other children under DHS supervision – triggered a wholesale review of what DHS did to protect the city’s most vulnerable families.

The Inquirer published a series on the children’s deaths, and in 2006 Mayor John F. Street fired the top two DHS officials. Other employees followed, some retiring before they were fired.

In August 2008, a county investigating grand jury recommended charges against nine people – including the three who went to trial – and blasted a “toxic culture” at DHS where workers did not do their jobs and supervisors did not hold them accountable.

DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose released a statement Friday saying the verdicts “represent the closing of a sad chapter in the history of the department.”

Ambrose cited a 2011 report of a DHS oversight board of child-welfare experts that found post-Kelly agency changes have “led to increased child safety and to improved fairness in the decision-making process for families.”

Witnesses who testified during the nine-day trial outlined a series of events where adults responsible for Danieal Kelly’s welfare went missing or ignored reports of her tortured deterioration between 2003 and 2006.

Kelly Sr. was charged for abandoning his daughter and her year-older brother, Daniel Jr., with his ex-wife even though he took them from her 10 years earlier because of neglect.

Witnesses said Poindexter, a former DHS intake social worker, never visited the Kelly house to investigate neglect complaints involving Danieal and then kept his investigation file open for 21/2 years, preventing her from getting in-home services.

And the jury found Kamuvaka ignored reports that her MultiEthnic caseworker assigned to Danieal in April 2006 never went to the house.

Four months later, the girl was dead, and Kamuvaka convened an “all-hands” staff meeting on Aug. 4, 2006, to create a case file showing she had received services.

Defense attorneys argued that only Kelly’s mother was culpable for her death.

Daniel Kelly removed the children in 1995 after in-laws reported Andrea Kelly was neglecting them. He took them to Pittsburgh, where he was living with a girlfriend, and the couple and children then moved to Phoenix, where they had three other children.

Daniel Kelly and his two children returned to Philadelphia in July 2003 after he and his girlfriend separated.

They again started living with Andrea Kelly – who by then had seven other children – and other relatives. But in March 2004 Daniel Kelly was ejected from the house after arguing with his mother-in-law.

He never again saw Danieal. He testified that his ex-wife moved and would not say where she and the children were living, though he conceded he took no legal action for visitation.

Outcomes for Other Defendants in the Case

Following is the status of those charged by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office in the Danieal Kelly case who did not go to trial:

Andrea Kelly, 42, Danieal’s mother, pleaded guilty in April 2009 to third-degree murder. She was sentenced to 20 to 40 years and is housed at the state prison in Muncy.

Julius Juma Murray, 54, Danieal’s last caseworker, an employee of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., pleaded guilty in February to involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and child endangerment, and was sentenced to four to eight years in prison. Murray is also serving an 11-year federal prison term for his conviction on health-care fraud and conspiracy. Murray, a native of Sierra Leone, is in federal custody and will face deportation after serving his sentence.

Laura Sommerer, 36, Danieal’s last city Department of Human Services caseworker, pleaded guilty in 2009 to child endangerment and was sentenced to four years’ probation.

Marie Moses, 37, a friend of Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty in 2009 to perjury and was sentenced to three years’ probation.

Andrea Miles, now 21, Moses’ daughter and a friend of Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty in Juvenile Court in 2008 to perjury and was sentenced to probation.

Diamond Brantley, 25, a friend of Andrea Kelly, pleaded guilty in 2009 to perjury and was sentenced to two years’ probation.

Other than Kamuvaka and Murray, those indicted in the federal probe who were associated with MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. were:

Solomon Manamela, 53, MultiEthnic cofounder. He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Currently at federal prison at Fort Dix.

Earle McNeill, 74, MultiEthnic cofounder. He pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to 71/2 years. Currently at federal prison in Butler, N.C.

Manuelita Buenaflor, 68, MultiEthnic cofounder and quality assurance supervisor. She pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to three years in prison. Currently at federal prison in Danbury, Conn.

Mariam Coulibaly, 42, MultiEthnic caseworker convicted at trial of fraud. She was sentenced to 11 years. She is at the federal prison in Hazleton, W.Va.

Christiana Nimpson, 55, MultiEthnic social worker. She pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to 20 months. Currently in transit between federal prisons.

Sotheary Chan, 42, MultiEthnic office worker, pleaded guilty to fraud charges and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. Currently in federal halfway house in Atlanta, Ga.

Patricia Burch, 58, former Philadelphia special education teacher who moonlighted for MultiEthnic. She pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury and was sentenced to 24 months. Currently at federal prison in Alderson, W. Va.

- Joseph A. Slobodzian

Danieal Kelly’s Death Could Have Been Prevented

How do employees who would be fired in the private sector keep working for government agencies?

http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/07/15/danieal-kellys-death-prevented/#comments

Today the jury goes back to work in the Danieal Kelly case. Given the facts of the case, I would not want to be on that jury. Like many similar cases that make headlines way too late, this case caused people to wonder, “How could a child die when being monitored by DHS?” What we learn is that DHS—or an equivalent entity in other cities and states—isnot monitoring. This causes a great hue and cry, reforms are made, and then it happens again with another child who comes to our attention only after abuse, neglect or death.

I recognize that the system is underfunded, understaffed, that social workers have brutal jobs and are severely underpaid. But in my experience working in the mental health system, I have seen social workers go above and beyond for the people they serve in the most heroic way possible. The social workers on the front lines who make a difference in people’s lives are, in my opinion, as worthy of praise as firefighters and police officers. And they prove that it’s far from impossible to do the job well.

Because their jobs are so stressful, it’s key to have good managers who facilitate good performance but also hold them accountable when they don’t excel, or worse, when they are neglectful. In my experience, I was shocked to see how many employees were retained even when everyone at an agency knew they were doing a terrible job. In the private sector these employees would have been terminated, albeit after the requisite HR mandates. So why, in the nonprofit and public sector, are poor employees kept on?

Let me give you an example. At one agency, there was an employee who slept on the job every day. He worked at a place where people with mental illnesses came for help, comfort and company. They generally weren’t in crisis, but they were entitled to be treated with respect. To have the staffer on duty sleeping all the time—what message does this convey to the visitors, who are already treated poorly by society? This staffer failed to do other work that was unrelated to interacting with people, i.e., paperwork and the like. He slept and slept and slept.

He was thought of as a joke. His manager wanted him fired. But the administration was reluctant to make a move. In this case, it was a question of being understaffed. Would a replacement be any better? The pay was so incredibly low, and applicants were often unqualified. If he was fired without a suitable replacement, the agency would be violating laws by not having sufficient staff at the location. But initiating a hiring process would be tough too, given that the job would be posted publicly and Sleepytime would find out. There was also a feeling that this guy—who was working additional jobs to make ends meet—was entitled to his sleep. As is so often the case, the needs of the clients, as they are sometimes called, was absolutely secondary.

Another example: A woman employee at a different facility was having increasing trouble coming to work regularly. Her behavior was erratic when she was there. In fact, several times she compromised the safety of her clients with her bizarre behaviors. Everyone felt keenly for her because she wasn’t well. She needed help. In the meantime, though, she simply wasn’t fit to be responsible for people. But I heard she wasn’t being fired because the administration feared a lawsuit for wrongful termination or discrimination. This fear was deeply entrenched. Employees often said, “I can’t get fired. They’re terrified of lawsuits.” This enabled some pretty bad behavior.

There was another employee who called out of work every Monday after payday. Each time he called out, he’d say a different family member had died and he had to go to the funeral out of state. Pretty soon his whole family was dead, including distant cousins. He missed as much work as he could get away with without violating rules. He was in direct service, meaning that clients depended on him particularly. His cavalier attitude about attendance was disrespectful and caused his co-workers to have to pick up his slack, thereby causing problems for their clients. Yet everyone laughed about his “antics.” And his supervisors said they couldn’t fire him because no one had proof that he was lying. Other aspects of his performance were subpar as well.  Then he was accused of sexual harassment—which he’d been fired for at his last job. The accuser in this case was credible. But, to be fair (and I agree with this), the agency launched an investigation—an investigation that took a very long time. Ultimately, the results of the investigation were termed inconclusive. He kept his job.

And in a similar instance, an employee who was accused of sexual harassment—and was found culpable—was not terminated but simply demoted and moved to a different department. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the transfers I saw were not unlike the Catholic Church shifting guilty priests around.

In the case of Danieal Kelly, social worker Dana Poindexter’s employment history was appalling. In the private sector—and I’m talking even at a Barnes & Noble or something—he would have been fired 20 times over. But instead of working at a bookstore, he was responsible for safeguarding the lives of vulnerable children. The Inquirer has done excellent reporting on this case and revealed a very problematic work history. From the paper:

As a DHS intake social worker, Poindexter was assigned to investigate hotline allegations of child abuse or neglect. Poindexter had 60 days to file a report recommending services or close the case.

In a June 25, 2003, evaluation, [supervisor Donna] Grubb wrote that Poindexter still had eight cases assigned to him in 2001—all awaiting determinations.

“This failure to move your cases deprives children and families of the services that they desperately need,” Grubb wrote.

Emphasis mine because this kind of evaluation—that acknowledges he is not working hard enough to protect children—was probably filed away in an HR drawer somewhere and essentially forgotten. I have seen that countless times. Rather than sound an alarm and say, “He is jeopardizing lives!” things just move along. Also from the Inky:

DHS social worker Catherine Mondi testified that she was sent to investigate the Kelly household on June 20, 2004, after an anonymous call to the DHS hotline….. Mondi, who said she believed Andrea Kelly and her children needed services immediately, told the jury she followed DHS protocol and reported to Poindexter.

More than a year later, on September 15, 2005, social worker Trina Jenkins testified that she was sent to the Kelly household, at a new address, responding to another anonymous hotline call. Jenkins said she also found Andrea Kelly overwhelmed and, two years after Danieal’s case was first opened, none of the children was in school and Danieal had not received medical or therapeutic care…. Like Mondi a year earlier, Jenkins said she went to Poindexter and his supervisor, Janice Walker, but got a hostile reception.

The blog Dreamin Demon (which I confess to being unfamiliar with) puts things more bluntly:

Poindexter received a report in October 2002 about Andrea Kelly’s children living in a house with no gas, no water, no working toilets, and a collapsed roof. All he had to do was determine, by December 8, 2002, that the Kelly family needed services or that the children were not at risk. However, he did nothing. And this was crucial for Danieal, because whenever a case is not properly closed by the intake unit, any subsequent reports will go to the worker with the unclosed case: in this case, Dana Poindexter. Danieal’s family was hotlined four more times between October 2002 and April 2005. All four reports landed on the desk of Dana Poindexter. And every single time, he did nothing. NOTHING. According to the grand jury’s report, he “failed to complete a single investigative report, progress note, risk assessment, or any other document required by DHS.” …

In April 2007, a detective with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office searched Poindexter’s work area. In his cubicle, she found a cardboard box large enough to hold a file cabinet. It was filled to the top with case files, food wrappers and unopened mail (some four years old). At the bottom of the box was the Kelly family file. …

And yes, of course, the story becomes even worse when you consider that Poindexter’s immediate supervisor Janice Walker referred to his paperwork as “horrendous” yet gave him satisfactory and even superior ratings on his evaluations. Not enough for you? Janice Walker’s immediate supervisor Martha Poller falsified DHS records to conceal Poindexter’s nonperformance. Poller subsequently was promoted … to oversee child fatality reviews.

So now that you’ve read all this, are you surprised Danieal Kelly died? I’m not. I wish I were.

Commet from this story:
George Arthur Says:
July 16th, 2011 at 11:27 pm
You really disappoint me but I shouldn’t be surprised since all the profesional journalists have accepted the Grand Jury report. I am speaking specifically of your statement that “Martha Poller falsified records to conceal Pondexter’s nonperformance. That is simply not true despite what the vicious and sarcastic grand jury report said. (By the way if you think the report was written by anyone other than the D.A. specifically Ed McCann you are deluding yourself. Martha took action to facilitate the transfer of the case. When she testified at the trial the District Attorney even conceded that that was her motivation. I know because I was there. I am her husband. Yes, what happened was horrible to that child. And yes, Martha concedes that perhaps she should have been tougher with Dana. But please do not contribute to the mob mentality and hysteria. You are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.

Prosecution grills Danieal’s father at trial

July 13, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

Daniel Kelly Sr. said he loved his disabled daughter Danieal, would never have done anything to harm her, and had accepted that she “would be totally dependent on me for the rest of her life.”

He also conceded that he had “procrastinated” when it had come to such things as getting Danieal a new wheelchair, eyeglasses, and doctor visits and enrolling her in school.

And when his ex-wife and her mother ejected him from the house, moved with the children, and refused to provide new contact information, Kelly acknowledged, he did not go to police, a lawyer, Family Court, or anyone else to fight for visitation.

By turns polite and prickly, soft-spoken and sarcastic, Kelly tried Wednesday to convince a Philadelphia jury that he bore no responsibility for Danieal’s 2006 starvation death.

“You loved your daughter?” asked defense attorney Earl G. Kauffman.

“I loved her very much,” Kelly quietly replied. “I loved her with all my heart.”

“Did you do anything to put her in a dangerous situation?” Kauffman continued.

“Never,” Kelly replied.

Danieal, 14, who could not care for herself, was found dead Aug. 4, 2006, in her mother’s squalid two-bedroom West Philadelphia apartment. She weighed 42 pounds – the weight of a typical 5-year-old – and was on a feces-stained mattress, her back covered with maggot-infested bedsores, one that went bone-deep.

Kelly, 40, is charged with child endangerment on allegations that he abandoned Danieal and her year-older brother, Daniel Jr., in 2005 with ex-wife Andrea Kelly, though he had taken them from her 10 years earlier because of neglect.

Kelly was the only one of three on trial who chose to testify. The last defense witnesses are to testify Thursday morning, followed by closing arguments.

Kelly spent almost three hours before the Common Pleas Court jury, including an hour of rigorous questioning by acting First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann.

McCann retraced Kelly’s custody of Danieal and her brother from 1995, when he took them to Pittsburgh after removing them from Andrea’s custody, to his return with them to Philadelphia in July 2003 after years living with a girlfriend in Arizona.

At each problem along the way, McCann pressed Kelly to explain what happened.

“Well, there were multiple reasons for that,” was Kelly’s common reply, as when he began a protracted tale of bureaucratic delays that kept him from getting Danieal care and schooling after returning to Philadelphia.

Finally, McCann cut Kelly off: “So, in nine months, she never went to school and never got her wheelchair and never got set up for services?”

Kelly paused: “That’s correct, sir.”

During seven days of testimony, prosecution witnesses portrayed Kelly as a father who had been there for his children only when he had someone’s support.

In Pittsburgh and Arizona, it was girlfriend Kathleen Ward, who told the jury how Danieal had thrived getting physical therapy and going to a special-education school.

But when Kelly and Ward split in 1999 and he moved with the children to an apartment in Mesa, Ariz., the children stopped going to school.

Kelly acknowledged that he had depended on others – Ward’s mother and sister, a roommate’s girlfriend – to watch the children while he worked.

Ultimately, Kelly conceded that he had left the children alone, giving his son Ward’s phone number in an emergency. In October 2001, a report by his roommate’s girlfriend resulted in an intervention by Arizona child-protection services.

After returning to Philadelphia, Kelly said, he and the children briefly lived with Walter Ingram, Andrea’s uncle.

Kelly said he then had rented a house with his mother-in-law. Soon, Andrea and her seven other children joined him, followed by Andrea’s sister and her children and other relatives until 19 people lived in the house.

But in March 2004, Kelly said, he got into an argument with his mother-in-law about conditions in the house. Police were called, and he was ejected and told not to return.

After several months with a friend, Kelly got an apartment in South Philadelphia. He said he had seen his son once or twice before Danieal died; he never saw Danieal again.

Kelly insisted he had not abandoned his children. He said Ingram had given him reports of their condition but had refused to divulge an address or phone.

Kelly insisted he’d had no indication that Danieal’s condition had been deteriorating.

McCann, however, cited testimony by Ingram, who said he had told Kelly “the kids were not doing well.”

“That’s not what he told me, sir,” Kelly replied.

Also on trial are Mickal Kamuvaka and Dana Poindexter, social-service workers who prosecutors allege neglected their legal duty to ensure Danieal and her eight siblings were safe.

Kamuvaka, 62, was founder and top administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., an agency hired by the city Department of Human Services to do twice-weekly in-home visits to ensure that Danieal and her eight siblings were safe and getting needed social services.

Kamuvaka is charged with involuntary manslaughter and counts involving falsifying paperwork to try to fool investigators into believing the Kelly household got the twice-weekly at-home visits DHS authorized.

Poindexter, 54, the first DHS social worker assigned to investigate neglect allegations against Danieal’s mother in September 2003, is charged with reckless endangerment and perjury. He is accused of never visiting the house and of keeping his investigation open for 21/2 years without recommending services.

Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 2009 and is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.

Danieal Kelly’s death was ‘a matter of time,’ witness says

July 13, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer

The death of Danieal Kelly – the 14-year old with cerebral palsy who starved to death in her mother’s West Philadelphia apartment – was “a matter of time,” testified a cofounder of the city-hired private agency that supposedly provided at-home visits and care to Danieal and her eight siblings.

Manuelita Buenaflor broke down before a Philadelphia jury Tuesday as she described the dysfunctional operations of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc.

Under a contract with the city Department of Human Services, the West Philadelphia firm was to send workers once, twice, even three times a week to visit and help Philadelphia’s poorest at-risk families and children in their homes.

But Buenaflor described an agency plagued with caseworkers who made “ghost visits” to families and papered files with phony case notes.

Buenaflor, “quality assurance supervisor” for MultiEthnic and cofounder with Mickal Kamuvaka, said her July 20, 2006, audit of the Kelly case showed no visits had been made to Danieal and her family since that March 29.

Two weeks after the audit, Danieal, who could not care for herself, was found dead in her mother’s fetid two-bedroom apartment. She weighed 42 pounds and was laying on a feces-stained mattress, her back covered with maggot-infested bedsores, one that went bone-deep.

“It was horrific,” said Buenaflor, weeping before the Common Pleas Court jury. “I don’t even want to remember it.”

Buenaflor, 68, a native Filipino and former missionary worker in Thailand, said ghost visits by MultiEthnic employees were so problematic that “it was just a matter of time, just a matter of time before someone would die.”

Buenaflor is serving a 36-month federal prison term after her 2009 guilty plea to wire and health-care fraud and conspiracy involving federal funds MultiEthnic took for performing nonexistent casework for DHS.

Buenaflor was a prosecution witness in the March 2010 federal trial in which Kamuvaka and three other MultiEthnic workers were convicted of fraud.

In June 2010, a federal judge sentenced Kamuvaka to 17 1/2 years in prison.

Buenaflor was one of a series of witnesses who testified as prosecutors completed their case against Kamuvaka, 62, MultiEthnic’s chief administrator; Dana Poindexter, 54, a former DHS social worker; and Danieal’s father, Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, for their alleged roles in Danieal’s Aug. 4, 2006 death.

Kamuvaka is charged with involuntary manslaughter and counts involving falsifying paperwork to try to fool investigators into believing Danieal and her family got the twice-weekly at-home visits DHS had authorized.

Poindexter, the first DHS social worker who was supposed to have investigated neglect allegations against Danieal’s mother in September 2003, is charged with reckless endangerment and perjury for allegedly never visiting the house.

Daniel Kelly is charged with child endangerment for allegedly abandoning Danieal and her year-older brother, Daniel Jr., in 2003 with his ex-wife, though he knew she had neglected them in the past.

When the trial resumes Wednesday at the city Criminal Justice Center, defense lawyers are to begin their cases.

Daniel Kelly’s attorney has said his client will testify. It is unknown whether Kamuvaka or Poindexter will do the same.

Lawyers for all three have argued that Andrea Kelly, Danieal’s mother, was solely responsible for the girl’s death. They contend that in early 2006 she moved with her children to another West Philadelphia address and kept their whereabouts secret from her ex-husband and other relatives.

Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 2009 and is now serving 20 to 40 years in prison.

Ex-girlfriend paints Danieal Kelly’s father as loving dad, abusive partner

July 12, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer
  • Danieal Kelly in a school photo in 1999-2000 in Arizona. In 2006, she died of starvationin Philadelphia.

    Danieal Kelly in a school photo in 1999-2000 in Arizona. In 2006, she died of starvationin Philadelphia.

An ex-girlfriend gave a Philadelphia jury a paradoxical portrait of Daniel Kelly Sr. as a loving father to his son and his disabled daughter, Danieal – and a paramour by whom she was beaten and abused during the four years they lived together.

“I wanted to come here to prove that Daniel loved his daughter and he would never do anything to hurt her,” testified Kathleen Ward, formerly Kathleen John, who flew from Arizona to testify in Daniel Kelly’s behalf on Monday.

Kelly, 40, is charged with child endangerment in the 2006 starvation death of Danieal Kelly, 14. Prosecutors allege that after Kelly and Ward split up, he returned with the children to Philadelphia in 2003 and abandoned them to their mother, his ex-wife Andrea Kelly.

Two child welfare workers are also on trial, charged with failing to ensure weekly visits to check on Danieal Kelly’s welfare.

The girl, who had cerebral palsy and could not move about or care for herself, was found dead on Aug. 4, 2006 in a two-bedroom West Philadelphia apartment she shared with her mother and eight siblings.

An autopsy ruled that she starved to death. Her weight was down from 100 to 42 pounds, and she was found on an excrement-stained mattress, her back pocked with deep bedsores.

The jury also heard testimony Monday that there was almost no paperwork involving Danieal Kelly or her family when detectives searched the cubicle of Dana Poindexter, 54, the Department of Human Services social worker assigned to investigate neglect allegations. What paperwork existed was at the bottom of a five-foot-tall cardboard box filled with trash, debris, and unopened mail.

Other prosecution witnesses testified that Mickal Kamuvaka, 62, the head of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a DHS subcontractor, held a mandatory staff meeting on Aug. 4, 2006, to create paperwork to document twice-weekly visits to the Kelly household that never happened.

Prosecutors are expected to complete their case Tuesday.

Kelly’s lawyer Earl G. Kauffman, with the agreement of judge and prosecutors, was allowed to call Ward to testify out of turn, in the middle of the prosecution case, to accommodate her flight schedule.

Ward, who lived with Daniel Kelly and children Danieal and Daniel Jr. from 1995 to 1999 in Pittsburgh and then Phoenix, provided crucial testimony supporting the elder Kelly.

Ward, who also had three daughters with Kelly during their time together, wept continually as she remembered her two stepchildren.

Prosecutors have said Ward gave Danieal and brother Daniel Jr. the only loving home atmosphere they knew.

“I was her mom,” Ward said, describing how Danieal thrived in Arizona in a special education school and regular physical therapy.

“She was the joy and blessing of my life,” Ward told the Common Pleas Court jury.

She said Kelly was a full partner helping raise his two children and their three girls.

“He never treated her bad – ever,” Ward said of Kelly’s feelings toward Danieal. “He loved her to death.”

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber, Ward also detailed a darker side to Kelly – a man she reluctantly acknowledged beat and abused her in their time together.

Once, Ward said, Kelly hit her in the head with a phone receiver and she needed stitches to close the wound. Another time, Ward said, Kelly called her an epithet and spat in her face.

Ward also acknowledged that Arizona police once investigated a child-abuse complaint after Kelly struck Daniel Jr. with an electric cord, leaving three large welts on the young boy.

But Ward insisted Kelly loved his children: “He may have been tough with Dan-Dan but he still loved his children.”

Ward said she lost touch with Daniel Jr. and Danieal when Kelly took them back to Philadelphia and Andrea Kelly would not let her speak to the two children.

A key part of Kelly Sr.’s defense is that Andrea Kelly hid the children, changed phone numbers, and refused to divulge her new address to her ex-husband or others.

Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty in 2009 to third-degree murder in her daughter’s death and is serving a 20-to-40-year sentence.

Two testify of severe decline in Danieal Kelly’s health over five years

July 07, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer

The Arizona special education teacher and the Philadelphia school psychologist each knew Danieal Kelly – separated by five years.

Both agreed on one thing: They would never have recognized the Danieal the other knew.

The contrasting portraits of Kelly, a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy, dominated testimony Wednesday in the criminal trial of the girl’s father and two social services workers for their alleged roles in the starving death in 2006.

Teacher Lynn Levin recalled the 9-year-old girl who attended Madison Rose Lane School in Phoenix from 1999 to 2001.

In two hours of testimony, Levin told the Common Pleas Court jury that despite her physical and mental limitations, Kelly loved school, was learning to speak, and sang along with a Shania Twain recording.

“Her personality was so sweet, so endearing,” Levin testified. “She was appreciative for whatever was being done with her or for her.”

The Danieal Kelly seen by Philadelphia School District psychologist Wendy Galson on June 12, 2006, at a school admissions evaluation at her mother’s West Philadelphia house, was anything but.

“She appeared thin, small, and she was sitting in a larger umbrella stroller,” said Galson. The Danieal she met did not speak, screamed loudly when Galson tried to move her stroller, and was unable to tolerate even an hour’s evaluation.

Less than two months later, she was dead, her weight down from 100 to 42 pounds, her body dehydrated and pocked with deep bedsores.

Galson looked shocked when Acting First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann projected a photo of a grinning, exuberant Danieal in Arizona at a school party.

“Look at her chubby cheeks,” said Galson, who also commented on the flexibility of Danieal’s arms, which were raised in a cheer.

When she met Kelly, Galson said, her arms and hands were curled and locked close to her body, the result of a lack of physical therapy.

Danieal’s father, Daniel Sr., 40, is charged with child endangerment for leaving her with his ex-wife, Andrea, whom he knew had neglected her before.

Daniel Kelly had taken their two children, Daniel Jr. and Danieal, from Andrea Kelly’s custody in 1996. He and the children moved to Arizona with his girlfriend; the three returned to Philadelphia in 2003 when the relationship ended and he then again left the children with his ex-wife.

Andrea Kelly, 42, has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.

Two others are charged with failing to provide at-home social services deemed crucial to Danieal Kelly’s health and safety and then lying about it.

Dana Poindexter, 54, a former intake social worker at the Department of Human Services, was supposed to investigate child-abuse complaints, verify them, and, if they were found to be true, start the process of getting services.

Also charged is Mickal Kamuvaka, 62, cofounder and chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a now-defunct DHS contractor that was paid to have a worker monitor the health and safety of Danieal Kelly, her brother, and Andrea Kelly’s eight other children.

Daniel Kelly’s lawyer has said Kelly will testify in his own defense. Lawyers for Poindexter and Kamuvaka have said that only Andrea Kelly is responsible for Danieal’s death.

Also testifying Wednesday was DHS social worker John Dougherty, who on Aug. 4, 2006, was sent to investigate after the girl was found dead.

Dougherty called the house in the 1700 block of Memorial Avenue “one of the worst I’d ever seen.”

“The house was deplorable, full of clothing and debris. The smell was atrocious. It hit you when you first walked in,” said Dougherty.

Dougherty’s testimony supported the prosecution’s claim that the two social workers on trial never provided services – including twice-weekly visits to the home – approved for the Kelly family.

Dougherty testified that the DHS caseworker responsible for the Kelly household, Laura Sommerer, joined him on that 2006 emergency call.

Dougherty said Sommerer was supposed to have inspected the Kelly house at least once a month. The household was also supposed to receive twice-weekly visits from Julius Juma Murray, a MultiEthnic employee.

Sommerer, now 36, pleaded guilty to child endangerment in 2009 and was sentenced to four years probation.

Murray, 53, pleaded guilty in February to involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and child endangerment, and was sentenced to four to eight years in prison.

On Tuesday, Daniel Kelly Jr., now 20, testified that he recalled just three social worker visits to the home in the three years he and his sister lived with their mother in West Philadelphia.

Danieal Kelly trial: Damning memos read

BRIAN HICKEY
PHILADELPHIA
Published: July 07, 2011 10:00 p.m.
Last modified: July 08, 2011 9:27 a.m.
As the child-endangerment trial of Danieal Kelly’s father and two social workers continued Thursday, a retired DHS supervisor testified that the worker assigned to the case faced numerous reprimands and suspensions on the job.Danieal Kelly’s father, Daniel, and two social workers, Mikal Kamuvaka and Dana Poindexter, are on trial for their alleged roles in the 14-year-old cerebral-palsy stricken girl’s gruesome, DHS-altering death.Reading from her evaluations of Poindexter, Donna Grubbs, who retired from DHS in 2006, said it’s “obvious you care less and less about your responsibilities as a social worker.” She then spoke about another case that Poindexter “put on a back burner,” but when police responded, they “became nauseated when they entered the house.”

When Poindexter received a 10-day suspension, a memo from then DHS Commissioner Alba Martinez concluded, “I hope this is the last time we have to remind you of these issues.” It wasn’t.

When DHS case worker Catherine Mondi fielded a hotline call about Danieal in 2004 — that she could be heard screaming at times and didn’t receive necessary services — she deferred to Poindexter, who was already assigned. She would die two years later.

Daniel Kelly is expected to testify.

Danieal Kelly trial bores in on record of social worker

July 09, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer

When Philadelphia social worker Dana Poindexter was suspended in August 2008, after a grand jury recommended criminal charges for his role in the 2006 starvation death of Danieal Kelly, his bosses could not have been shocked.

After all, Poindexter’s supervisors in the Department of Human Services had already suspended him three times – twice in 2003 and once in 2005 – including one incident where an infant in his caseload died at home.

But Poindexter remained a DHS employee and even got a “superior” rating on a job evaluation two months before a 30-day suspension in 2005.

Poindexter’s troubled work history – and DHS’s inability to get rid of an employee one former supervisor said “didn’t seem to want to be a social worker” – was dissected Friday in the Common Pleas Court trial of him and two others in the death of the disabled 14-year-old girl.

Danieal’s father, Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, is charged with child endangerment. He allegedly abandoned Danieal Kelly and her year-older brother, Daniel Jr., with their mother, Andrea, in 2003 after returning with them to Philadelphia following several years living with a girlfriend in Arizona.

Also charged is Mickal Kamuvaka, 62, cofounder and onetime chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a now-defunct DHS contractor paid to do twice-weekly visits to monitor Danieal Kelly’s welfare after the case was taken from Poindexter in September 2005.

Poindexter is charged with child endangerment, as well as perjury over what he told the grand jury.

Lawyers for the three contend that only Andrea Kelly is responsible for her daughter’s death. Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.

Poindexter’s attorney Craig Hosay struggled Friday to rehabilitate his client’s image before the jury. He spent more than an hour questioning Martha Poller, a retired DHS administrator, about Poindexter’s job evaluations.

Hosay focused particularly on Poindexter’s Aug. 1, 2006, review, in which supervisor Janice Walker rated him “superior” in every category.

Hosay got Poller to confirm what he has described as personal animosity between Poindexter and his previous supervisor, Donna Grubb. Hosay also noted that Poindexter’s performance improved under Walker, who had supervised him years before as well.

Grubb, who has retired from DHS, testified Thursday that Poindexter was suspended for 10 days in 2003 after the death of a three-week-old infant.

Social worker’s performance at issue in Danieal Kelly trial

July 08, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

When Philadelphia social worker Dana Poindexter was suspended in August 2008, after a grand jury recommended criminal charges for his role in the 2006 starvation death of Danieal Kelly, his bosses could not have been shocked.

After all, Poindexter’s supervisors in the Department of Human Services had already suspended him three times – twice in 2003 and once in 2005 – including one incident where an infant in his caseload died at home.

But Poindexter remained a DHS employee and even got a “superior” rating on a job evaluation two months before a 30-day suspension in 2005.

Poindexter’s troubled work history – and DHS’s inability to get rid of an employee one former supervisor said “didn’t seem to want to be a social worker” – was dissected Friday in the Common Pleas Court trial of him and two others in the death of the disabled 14-year-old girl.

Danieal’s father, Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, is charged with child endangerment. He allegedly abandoned Danieal Kelly and her year-older brother, Daniel Jr., with their mother, Andrea, in 2003 after returning with them to Philadelphia following several years living with a girlfriend in Arizona.

Also charged is Mickal Kamuvaka, 62, cofounder and onetime chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a now-defunct DHS contractor paid to do twice-weekly visits to monitor Danieal Kelly’s welfare after the case was taken from Poindexter in September 2005.

Poindexter is charged with child endangerment, as well as perjury over what he told the grand jury.

Lawyers for the three contend that only Andrea Kelly is responsible for her daughter’s death. Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.

Poindexter’s attorney Craig Hosay struggled Friday to rehabilitate his client’s image before the jury. He spent more than an hour questioning Martha Poller, a retired DHS administrator, about Poindexter’s job evaluations.

Hosay focused particularly on Poindexter’s Aug. 1, 2006, review, in which supervisor Janice Walker rated him “superior” in every category.

Hosay got Poller to confirm what he has described as personal animosity between Poindexter and his previous supervisor, Donna Grubb. Hosay also noted that Poindexter’s performance improved under Walker, who had supervised him years before as well.

Grubb, who has retired from DHS, testified Thursday that Poindexter was suspended for 10 days in 2003 after the death of a three-week-old infant.

Grubb testified that Poindexter had been assigned in September 2002 to investigate reports of neglect involving three siblings. Poindexter visited one of the siblings, a boy, at his school and reported that “the child appeared to be safe.”

But Poindexter’s file noted that he went to the home to check on the boy’s sisters, found no one there, left his business card, and never returned. On Dec. 20, 2002, DHS was notified that a 3-week-old baby born to the boy’s 14-year-old sister had died.

Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber, Poller confirmed Poindexter’s other suspensions, including one of 30 days in October 2005.

Poller said Poindexter was suspended – and Walker orally reprimanded – after Poindexter was sent to take a 14-year-old girl from her school to a grandmother’s house after the girl reported she was abused at home.

Poindexter picked up the girl, Poller testified, but the grandmother was not home, so he dropped her off at 52d and Jefferson Streets with bus tokens and a few dollars to get to her grandmother’s later.

The grand jury that recommended charges in Kelly’s death criticized DHS’s management then as a “toxic culture” where caseworkers failed to do their jobs and supervisors failed to hold them accountable.

Friday, Poller said she was not sure if Poindexter should have been suspended. She said she agreed to the discipline only after meeting with her boss and a city personnel officer.

As an intake social worker, Poindexter was supposed to investigate and refer a case for at-home services within 60 days, or close the case. When the Kelly file was taken from him in September 2005, it was still uninvestigated after three years.

Though the Kelly case was given to a new social worker to arrange at-home services through MultiEthnic, prosecutors allege that the DHS subcontractor did almost as little as Poindexter.

Kelly, who had cerebral palsy and could not care for herself, starved to death Aug. 4, 2006, in the filthy two-bedroom West Philadelphia apartment she shared with her mother and eight siblings. She weighed just 42 pounds and was resting in her own waste on a bare mattress, her back covered with deep bedsores.

Philadelphia jury hears Danieal Kelly’s brother

July 06, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer

Though he lived with his mother and nine siblings, 15-year-old Daniel Kelly Jr. knew he was the only one responsible for himself and his severely disabled 14-year-old sister, Danieal.

His father had abandoned them in 2003 to the care of their mother, who had moved them all to a squalid two-bedroom apartment in West Philadelphia without heat, electricity, or water.

“After a while, I would take care of me and my sister because nobody else would,” Kelly told a Philadelphia jury Tuesday.

Kelly, now 20, testified in the criminal trial of his father and namesake and two social workers charged for their alleged roles in the events leading to the Aug. 4, 2006, starvation death of Danieal Kelly.

Kelly testified that in 2006, Danieal, who had cerebral palsy and could not move around or care for herself, was losing weight and becoming increasingly incommunicative.

The night before Danieal died, Kelly said, he tried to give her water and begged his mother to call an ambulance.

Kelly said Andrea Kelly refused: “She’s just sick, she’ll get over it tomorrow.”

Kelly said he woke the next morning and “heard her [his mother] crying. I already knew what happened.”

Kelly described a childhood of constant deprivation at the hands of a father who seemed not to care about his children and a mother unable to care for them or her eight other children.

Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, is charged with child endangerment for leaving his children with his ex-wife, whom he knew had neglected them before.

Two others are charged with failing to provide at-home social services deemed vital for the safety and health of Danieal and her siblings and then lying about it.

Dana Poindexter, 54, a former intake social worker for the city Department of Human Services, was supposed to investigate child-abuse complaints, verify them, and, if true, start the process of getting services.

Mickal Kamuvaka, 62, was cofounder and chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a now-defunct DHS contractor assigned to monitor the health and safety of Danieal and the children who lived with Andrea Kelly.

Andrea Kelly, 42, has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.

Daniel Kelly Jr. was the first witness Tuesday as the prosecution resumed its case before a Common Pleas Court jury.

He testified in a soft monotone, staring at the tabletop as if in shock. He looked at his father only when asked to identify him by acting First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann.

The elder Kelly watched his son without apparent emotion. Only when Daniel Kelly Jr. testified that his father had disciplined him by “whippings” with an electric cord, and that he once had kicked Danieal because she ground her teeth at night, did the elder Kelly furrow his brow and shake his head from side to side.

According to court documents, the elder Kelly took his children from his ex-wife in 1996 after finding them neglected. He took them to Pittsburgh and began a relationship with a woman named Kathleen John.

The following year Kelly, John, and his two children moved to Phoenix, Ariz.

Daniel Kelly Jr. told the jury his “stepmother” was his only good childhood memory. Both he and Danieal went to school and she began flourishing: learning to speak and, with therapy, gaining some use of her hands and arms.

Daniel Kelly Jr. wept when McCann showed him photographs of Danieal, laughing, at her birthday party, taken in Arizona.

But Daniel Kelly Sr. and John separated, and he and the children moved to an apartment. They no longer went to school, his son said, and Danieal got no more therapy.

At night, he said, his father went to work, leaving them alone.

After they returned to Philadelphia in 2003, Kelly said, his father again left them in the care of their mother and moved out.

He saw his father once more before his sister died and once afterward, the younger Kelly testified.

As for the twice-weekly visits from social workers the “at-risk” family was supposed to get through DHS, Kelly recalled two or three visits.

Prosecutors say Danieal, who weighed about 100 pounds when she lived in Arizona, weighed just 42 pounds when she was found dead in her mother’s West Philadelphia apartment. Her body was riddled with maggot-infested bedsores, one of which went to the bone.

Danieal Kelly’s body appeared to be decomposing, opening witness says in neglect trial

July 02, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, Inquirer Staff Writer

Helen Garczynski said the call to the Philadelphia Examiner’s Office was unusual: the decomposing body of a 14-year-old.

Even with a long list of bodies to be retrieved for autopsies from around the city, said Garczynski, the Aug. 4, 2006, call about a child was enough for her to immediately be dispatched to the scene.

She said the 1700 block of Memorial Avenue in West Philadelphia was eerie: “The whole street seemed like it was condemned. It didn’t look like nobody lived there.”

But police were in front of 1722, Garczynski said, and with them a little boy who asked, “Can my Nana say goodbye to my sister?”

Inside the filthy, stinking house, Garczynski said, was the recently dead Danieal Kelly, whose body was so emaciated and bedsore-ridden it must have appeared decomposed to police.

Garczynski was the first prosecution witness Friday in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court trial of the disabled child’s father, Daniel Kelly, 40, and two social services workers for their alleged roles in Danieal’s starving by her troubled mother.

Andrea Kelly, 41, pleaded guilty in 2009 to third-degree murder and is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.

Garczynski, a veteran of 11 years with the Medical Examiner’s Office, told the jury it was clear Danieal, who had cerebral palsy and could not move around or care for herself, had lived in unspeakable conditions for some time.

Feces were piled on the floor in front of the bed as if someone had brushed them off, she testified.

Garczynski said the odor from the girl’s body was “real bad, but it wasn’t the normal decomposing body smell I’m used to. It was more like some infectious smell.”

Garczynski said Danieal was wrapped in sheets on a bed in a rear first-floor room. The house had no electricity, running water, or ventilation.

The body was abuzz with flies, and maggots were crawling from a bedsore. She said Danieal’s body was literally “embedded into the mattress.”

“I actually had to physically pull her from the bed,” Garczynski testified.

After Garczynski’s testimony, the trial recessed for the Independence Day holiday. Testimony resumes Tuesday.

In her opening to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber acknowledged that Andrea Kelly killed Danieal.

But Kelly’s ex-husband, social worker Dana Poindexter, and social services agency head Mickal Kamuvaka each committed acts that “predictably and inevitably led to her death,” Selber said.

Each had a “legal duty of care” to Danieal that they ignored, Selber said.

In their openings, the defense lawyers – Earl G. Kauffman for Kelly, Craig Hosay for Poindexter, and Joshua Scarpello for Kamuvaka – said Danieal’s mother alone caused her death.

Andrea Kelly secreted her eight children and undermined efforts to locate and get care for Danieal and her siblings, they said. They said prosecutors were trying to spread blame for a notorious tragedy that should not have happened.

Kauffman said Kelly, charged with child endangerment, will testify and tell how he cared for Danieal.

Poindexter, 54, was an intake social worker for the city Department of Human Services who Selber said ignored five reports about Danieal’s mistreatment. Poindexter is charged with child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person, and perjury.

Kamuvaka, 62, was cofounder and chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a now-defunct private firm DHS hired to monitor the health and safety of Danieal and her siblings.

Kamuvaka is charged with involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, conspiracy, and counts involving an alleged cover-up of the circumstances surrounding Danieal’s death.

Starvation death trial opens on gruesome note

July 01, 2011|By Joseph A. Slobodzian, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
http://articles.philly.com/2011-07-01/news/29726647_1_danieal-kelly-mickal-kamuvaka-starvation-death
A technician for the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office described to a Common Pleas Court jury today the gruesome scene in the West Philadelphia house where 14-year-old Danieal Kelly’s body was found.“It smelled real bad, but it wasn’t the normal decomposing body smell I’m used to,” testified Helen Garczynski, recalling the early afternoon of Aug. 4, 2006, when police let her inside the house in the 1700 block of Memorial Avenue in West Philadelphia.“It was more like some like some infectious smell,” Garczynski.

Police then led Garczynski to the rear first-floor room where the rigid, nearly skeletal body of Danieal was in a bed, wrapped in sheets.

The body was abuzz with flies, and maggots were crawling from a bedsore. Garczynski said the girl’s body was literally “embedded into the mattress.”

“I actually had to physically pull her from the bed,” Garczynski testified.

Garczynski was the first witness to testify in the start of the trial of the girl’s father, Daniel Kelly, 40, and two social services workers for their roles that allegedly led to the disabled child’s starvation death at the hands of her mother.

Andrea Kelly, 41, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and is now serving a 20-to-40-year prison term for third-degree murder.

In her opening statement to the jury, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber acknowledged that only Andrea Kelly killed her daughter, who was born premature with cerebral palsy and could not move around on her own.

But Kelly’s ex-husband, social worker Dana Poindexter, and social services agency head Mickal Kamuvaka committed acts that “predictably and inevitably led to her death,” Selber said.

In their openings, the three defense attorneys said the blame for Danieal’s death rests solely on the mother, who hid her family and undermined efforts to locate and care for Danieal and her siblings. Defense attorneys said prosecutors were trying to spread blame for a tragedy that should not have happened.

Daniel Kelly’s lawyer, Earl G. Kauffman, told the jury that Kelly – charged with child endangerment – would testify in his own defense and describe how he tried to see that Danieal received proper care.

After the first witness, the trial recessed for the Independence Day holiday weekend. Testimony resumes Tuesday before Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart.

Poindexter, 54, was an intake social worker for the city Department of Human Services who, the grand jury alleged, tossed Danieal’s case file into a trash-filled file box. Poindexter is charged with child endangerment, recklessly endangering another person, and perjury.

Kamuvaka, 62, was cofounder and chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a now-defunct private firm hired by DHS to monitor the health and safety of Danieal and eight siblings who lived with Andrea Kelly.

Kamuvaka is charged with involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, conspiracy and a half-dozen other counts involving record-tampering and perjury – part of an alleged cover-up of the circumstances surrounding Danieal’s gruesome death

Judge: Patronage led to Danieal Kelly death

Friday, June 11, 2010

By MARYCLAIRE DALE

http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/local&id=7489300

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PHILADELPHIA – June 10, 2010 — Political patronage contributed to the starvation death of a disabled Philadelphia girl under the city’s watch, a federal judge said Thursday in sentencing a social-services contractor to 17 1/2 years in prison.

The city paid Michal Kamuvaka’s politically connected firm $1 million a year to ensure that its neediest families got specialized attention.

Company workers assigned to the chaotic home where 14-year-old Danieal Kelly was wasting away in a wheelchair were supposed to ensure she and her siblings had proper housing, schooling and medical care.

But after 10 months of supposed twice-weekly visits, Danieal, who had cerebral palsy, was still not enrolled in school and had not been seen by a doctor. By the time she died in the sweltering home in August 2006, she weighed 42 pounds and had maggot-infested bedsores.

City audits of Kamuvaka’s company, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Services, were “laughable,” since the firm got a heads up weeks in advance to get its paperwork in order, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell said Thursday.

Dalzell doubted that even a whistle-blower, had one stepped up, could have interested the city in the contractor’s failings.

“It was patronage – plain and simple,” Dalzell said. “It was a deal, and nobody was taking this seriously” within the city’s Department of Human Services.

Case worker Julius Murray made just 10 visits, not the 46 noted in records dummied up on orders from Kamuvaka after Danieal died, Dalzell found.

“Here was a woman with a doctorate in social work who ran the operations of an agency so lackadaisically that, in the words of one of her colleagues, ‘It was just a matter of time’ that one of her charges died,” Dalzell said in giving Kamuvaka the maximum term and revoking her bail.

Later Thursday, Dalzell sentenced another company co-founder, Solomon Manamela, to 14 years for his role in the fraud. Manamela, a 52-year-old political refugee from South Africa, faces deportation when he gets out.

“Part of me died (after Danieal did),” Manamela, who oversaw training, told the judge.

Kamuvaka, 61, came to the U.S. from Liberia on a college scholarship, and went on to earn a Ph.D. and become a beloved mentor to social-work students at Lincoln University, several of whom spoke on her behalf Thursday.

She and co-defendant Earle McNeill, 72, formed the company in about 2000 to bid on the city contract. They had no other clients, and their primary experience was with adults and addicts.

“McNeill was, by whatever magic, indeed able to win the … (contract) in the summer of 2000, notwithstanding the reality that (the company) had no experience whatever in dealing with ‘at risk’ children,” Dalzell wrote in a recent opinion.

Even after Danieal died, the judge said Thursday, Kamuvaka visited an ally at City Hall, a DHS program director, in an effort to keep and even extend the $3.7 million, multiyear contract.

Then-acting Health Commissioner Carmen Paris soon ordered a coroner not to release the grim autopsy results, the coroner testified at Kamuvaka’s trial this year. But it was too late. Investigators – and the public – were becoming aware of the case. Paris resigned in 2008, days after a 258-page county grand jury report on Danieal’s death accused her of interfering with the investigation.

“It took a lot of people to kill this little girl,” said Dalzell, who faulted MultiEthnic, City Hall and the school district, which also made a home visit.

But the blame starts, he said, with the girl’s parents. Her mother, Andrea Kelly, is serving a 20- to 40-year state sentence after pleading guilty to third-degree murder. The girl’s father, Daniel Kelly, was accused of abandoning his daughter and faces child-endangerment charges.

Kamuvaka and Murray also still face a November trial in state court on involuntary manslaughter charges.

In all, nine MultiEthnic employees were convicted in the federal case – Kamuvaka, Manamela and two others at trial and five others through pleas. McNeill was previously sentenced to 7-1/2 years. The two others who went to trial will be sentenced Friday.

“I don’t think anybody should think of Dr. Kamuvaka as an evil person,” defense lawyer William Cannon argued. “This situation certainly got away from her, there’s no denying that. But that she would be indifferent to the situation that enveloped Danieal would just not be accurate.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben said the case is not one where children fell through the cracks. The Kellys, and other families ill-served by MultiEthnic, were identified by the city and assigned help.

“She (Kamuvaka) asked for this responsibility. She was given it and paid for it,” Witzleben said. “There was hope for that child to have a decent life.”

Two social-service administrators get long jail terms in Danieal’s death

June 11, 2010|By MICHAEL HINKELMAN, hinkelm@phillynews.com 215-854-2656

Two administrators and co-founders of a city-funded social-service agency, convicted in March of conspiracy and fraud charges stemming from the death of Danieal Kelly, were sentenced yesterday to long terms in federal prison.

Kelly, who was 14 and had cerebral palsy, died in August 2006 from bedsores and malnutrition.

Mickal Kamuvaka, 61, who ran the day-to-day operations of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., was sentenced to 17 1/2 years by U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell.

Solomon Manamela, 52, a supervisor of caseworkers at MultiEthnic, drew a 14-year sentence.

Dalzell ordered both defendants taken into custody immediately.

The Department of Human Services had hired MultiEthnic to provide in-home social services to 500 families with children at risk of abuse or neglect. The agency was paid more than $3.6 million between July 2000 and December 2006.

Authorities said that after Kelly died, Kamuvaka, who is known as “Dr. K” and who has a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, orchestrated a fraud to backdate and falsify records in an attempt to fool city auditors into thinking that the agency had been making visits to children, including Kelly, that never occurred.

When the feds began investigating, prosecutors said Kamuvaka convinced one former MultiEthnic co-worker to lie to federal agents and schemed to obstruct the federal grand jury’s investigation by withholding and shredding agency records related to Kelly and dumping them into a trash bin.

Before imposing sentence, Dalzell said Kamuvaka’s stewardship of MultiEthnic was so “lackadaisical” that it was “just a matter of time” before one of the children under its care would die.

The judge also said that Kamuvaka and Manamela had engaged in an “orgy of document fabrication” and that neither defendant appreciated the “full import” of the crimes.

Kamuvaka declined to address Dalzell at sentencing.

Defense attorney William Cannon said she wanted to preserve her appellate rights. He said in court papers that “should not be looked upon as some coldhearted indifference to . . . the tragic death” of Kelly.

Prosecutors said that nearly every MultiEthnic employee – with the exception of one – who was interviewed by investigators described some illegal or improper act Kamuvaka had asked or directed them to take.

Absent case worker for starved girl gets 11 years

Published: Friday, June 11, 2010

By MARYCLAIRE DALE,Associated Press Writer

http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2010/06/11/news/doc4c1259e1c724d652744560.txt

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The morals of social workers who routinely skipped home visits to Philadelphia’s most troubled families, leading to a disabled girl’s starvation death, reminded a federal judge Friday of the “banality of evil” seen in Europe during the Holocaust.

U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell sentenced the family’s case worker, Julius Juma Murray, 52, of Upper Darby, and another employee of a social-services contractor to 11 years each for fraud and obstruction.

Witnesses this week called the pair and their seven convicted co-defendants — who include a former missionary nun and doctoral-level social worker — good people for whom the charges are anomalies.

The comments reminded Dalzell of Nazi Party members who were kind to neighbors and dogs.

“‘The banality of evil.’ Isn’t that what’s going on here?” Dalzell asked, citing a phrase coined by political theorist Hannah Arendt. Arendt, a German Jew, argued that the great evils in human history are committed not by psychopaths, but by ordinary people who accept the status quo.

Dalzell presided over a harrowing five-week trial this year that laboriously detailed the slow, painful demise of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly. She had cerebral palsy but had once thrived in the care of her father and his attentive girlfriend in Phoenix. A photograph from that era taken on a class trip shows a bright-eyed girl in pigtails grinning broadly for the camera.

But when his relationship failed, Daniel Kelly left Danieal with her unfit mother in Philadelphia, who was raising eight children in a squalid two-bedroom home.

By the time Danieal died in August 2006, starved and dehydrated, she weighed 42 pounds and had maggots crawling in her deep bedsores. She had not been to school or seen a doctor in the previous 10 months, despite being on the city’s radar.

The city was paying a startup firm called MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc. $1 million a year to focus on its neediest social-work cases.

But the politically connected firm — led by experienced, Ph.D.-level social worker Michal Kamuvaka — frequently skipped home visits, assigned student interns to the Kellys and other complex cases, and furiously forged documents to try to cover their tracks after Danieal died.

“‘Dr. K’ had a dozen people who just think she’s a saint. But we know just the contrary. We heard it over five weeks,” Dalzell said Friday. A day earlier, he had sentenced the 61-year-old Kamuvaka to 17 1/2 years in prison, despite pleas from friends and proteges.

Case worker Julius Juma Murray, 52, of Upper Darby, was supposed to be the final safety net for the long list of people who failed Danieal. But Murray — hired despite his lack of social work training — skipped visits as Danieal wasted away.

Andrea Kelly is serving 10 to 20 years for third-degree murder, and Daniel Kelly is charged with endangerment for allegedly abandoning her.

In all, nine MultiEthnic workers were convicted in the case, including case worker Mariam Coulibaly, sentenced Friday to 135 months. Coulibaly, 41, a mother of three from Brookhaven, had no role in Danieal’s death but helped forge documents, lied to the FBI and hid $50,000 after the verdict to shield it from the court-ordered restitution.

Danieal Kelly Starved to Death with Maggot-Infested Wounds; Social Workers Convicted in Fraud Case

By Edecio Martinez
March 5, 2010 1:42 PM
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-6267226-504083.html?tag=contentMain;contentBody
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) Four social workers have been convicted in a fraud case stemming from the starvation death of disabled Philadelphia teenager Danieal Kelly.

Photo: Danieal Kelly, 14, starved to death in August, 2006.

A federal jury in Philadelphia returned the verdicts Wednesday afternoon in the trial involving now-defunct MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc.

Company co-founders Mickal Kamuvaka, 60, and Solomon Manamela, 52, and former caseworkers Julius Juma Murray, 52, and Miriam Coulebaly, 41, were all convicted of conspiracy, lying to federal agents and multiple counts of health care fraud and wire fraud.

Prosecutors say the company defrauded the city of millions of dollars by not visiting needy families – then covering it up with false paperwork.

14-year-old Kelly, who had cerebral palsy, weighed less than half her expected weight when she was found dead in 2006, an expert witness for the prosecution testified. Officials also said she suffered from maggot-infested bedsores when she died.

“Danieal Kelly paid the ultimate price for these defendants’ fraud, and we hope that this is some measure of justice for her and the other children who were the victims, really, of this fraud,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Bea Witzleben said.

Kelly’s mother is already in prison after previously pleading guilty to third-degree murder. 

Ex-DHS worker receives probation Laura Sommerer, Danieal Kelly’s last social worker, got 4 years for endangering the child, who died at 14.

July 16, 2009|By Joseph A. Slobodzian INQUIRER STAFF WRITER

In sentencing the last Philadelphia social worker assigned to Danieal Kelly – the 14-year-old with cerebral palsy who starved to death in 2006 in her mother’s squalid apartment – a Philadelphia judge said yesterday that the woman’s bosses should have been charged with her.

“That the people at the top walked away from their positions and even advanced without any significant consequences is a crime which almost equals or maybe surpasses the crime in this case,” Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner said.

Lerner made his remarks before sentencing Laura Sommerer, 34, to four years of probation for pleading guilty to child endangerment.

Even before the scathing grand-jury presentment in August resulted in criminal charges against Sommerer and eight others, including Danieal’s parents, the girl’s gruesome death had taken a toll among officials at the city Department of Human Services.

In October 2006, two months after Danieal’s death, DHS Commissioner Cheryl Ransom-Garner resigned, her deputy was fired, and a regional state welfare director was demoted. Carmen Paris, the city’s acting health commissioner when Danieal died, resigned days before the grand-jury report was made public.

After the criminal charges were filed, seven DHS administrators or supervisors were suspended without pay.

But only Sommerer and DHS caseworker Dana Poindexter, 52, her predecessor on the Kelly case, were criminally charged. Both were supposed to have ensured that contract caseworkers DHS hired visited Kelly’s house twice weekly to make sure she was well. It was later learned that she had not been visited for almost two months before her death.

In January, state welfare officials recognized improvements at DHS by restoring its full operating license, although they warned that “much more work needs to be done.”

Lerner said DHS’s management problems had persisted through several mayoral administrations and said, “I hope things change. It’s a terrible thing that it takes the example of a case like this, and the unrelenting glare of publicity, before those changes occur.”

Sommerer’s sentence was far less than the 3 1/2 to seven years in prison she could have received. The sentence was negotiated by Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann and defense attorney Nathan J. Andrisani. Both said it took into account her cooperation in the criminal probe and good works in the community.

DHS Commissioner to Dismiss Laura Somerer and Dana Poindexter 

PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia Department of Human Services Commissioner, Anne Marie Ambrose announced her intent to terminate Laura Sommerer and Dana Poindexter, the two social workers indicted in the Danieal Kelly case.

Both Poindexter and Sommerer were subject to disciplinary panel hearings yesterday, during which their respective cases were evaluated by an internal committee of peers, supervisors, and union representatives. The Commissioner conducted a careful review of all the evidence presented. Her decision to release Sommerer and Poindexter is in line with the disciplinary panel’s recommendations. 

The investigation of seven other DHS employees with varying degrees of involvement in the Kelly case is ongoing. In the meantime we continue to review cases and visit families to assure safety. All seven individuals remain on suspension.
Commissioner Ambrose said “it is our mission at DHS to support and protect vulnerable children. I intend to hold every staff member and provider accountable for upholding that mission.” 

Plea deals reached in DHS case stemming from 14 year old’s death

June 11, 2009 — 11:45am ET | By  

http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/story/plea-deals-reached-dhs-case-stemming-14-year-olds-death/2009-06-11

One employee from the social-service agency MultiEthnic Behavioral Health has plead guilty to charges of fraud and obstructing justice, and two other employees are set to do the same very soon in the wake of a 14-year-old girl’s death, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The guilty pleas come as part of an agreement where all three will testify against the agency, which tried to cover up the death in 2006. The organization had been paid upward of $3.7 million by the city to take care of patients like Danieal Kelly.

Christina Nimpson, Manuelita Buenaflor and Sotheary Chan all worked for MultiEthnic Behavioral Health when Kelly, a cerebral palsy patient, died of starvation in a hot apartment in Philadelphia while under the care of the agency. While none of the three employees were specifically assigned to take care of Kelly, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, all three participated in covering up various failures on the agency’s part. Buenaflor, for example, a supervisor, created documentation of visits that never occurred, erased documentation of lack of oversight and backdated various records. Nimpson, according to her plea agreement, “frequently did not make the required visits to the families assigned to her.”

The girl’s mother, Andrea Kelly, was also charged in her daughter’s death. She pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in April, and was sentenced to between 20 and 40 years in prison. Case worker Julius Juma Murray and MultiEthnic head Mickal Kamuvaka also face involuntary manslaughter charges in the case.

OUTRAGE! PARENTS of DANIEAL KELLY SUING CITY and DHS for NOT PREVENTING THEIR DAUGHTER’S DEATH!

Andrea Kelly Starved Her 14-year-old Daughter to Death, Blames DHS and City!

Patricia Sicilia
Aug 13, 2008

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/953489/outrage_parents_of_danieal_kelly_suing.html?cat=17

In a stunning display of hubris, the parents of Danieal Kelly, the 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who was neglected and starved to death by her mother, are suing the City of Philadelphia and its Department of Human Services (“DHS”) for not preventing their daughter’s death!

In my previous article on this subject, I recounted how her emaciated, bedsore ridden, maggot infested body was found by rescue workers on August 4, 2006. At last count, nine people have been indicted for charges ranging from murder, manslaughter, endangering the welfare of children, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment to forgery, tampering with public records, conspiracy and perjury. Those charged include the parents, DHS workers, staffers at an outsourced agency hired to check on Danieal, and three of Andrea Kelly’s friends. Seven others have been fired and/or suspended from their jobs at DHS, pending posible charges, and the head of the city’s health department has resigned.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that, the day after the parents were charged in her murder, Eric Zajac and Brian Mildenberg, attorneys for Andrea and Daniel Kelly, filed a complaint charging the City, DHS, the Commonwealth and several caseworkers with failing to protect Danieal, and want them to compensate the family for its loss. The suit blames Danieal Kelly’s death on caseworkers for DHS and MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a firm the city hired to provide support to the family. The suit states that the parents and siblings of Danieal were deprived of her “love, tutelage, companionship, support, comfort and consortium” as well as the “economic value of her life expectancy,” and seeks unspecified damages, as well as reimbursement for medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and attorneys’ fees!

This mother kept her daughter in a dirty, airless room on a mattress on the floor, didn’t feed her or give her water, take her to school or the doctor, and didn’t even clean up the girl’s waste, knocking it onto the floor and letting it dry there for rescue workers to step on when they found her body!

After criticism that the Kellys were attempting to profit from their daughter’s death, their names were removed from the suit, and any proceeds would go to her nine brothers and sisters who are now in foster care.

District Attorney Lynn Abraham was outraged. “”The nerve, the gall,” she said yesterday. “This is such a perversion of what parents are supposed to be.”

However, this suit opens the Kellys up to questioning under oath — a prospect that has the DA chomping at the bit. “I would like to depose her right away,” Abraham said, “I could cross-examine her myself for two weeks.

The Inquirer reports that lawyers for the City and Commonwealth stated that: “Daniel and Andrea Kelly have inverted the maxim in which a child kills his parents and throws himself on the mercy of the court, claiming that he is an orphan.” In an interview, Chief Deputy Attorney General Barry N. Kramer, who represents the State Department of Public Welfare which oversees DHS stated, “It’s the definition of chutzpah.”

City and Commonwealth lawyers have filed papers calling the suit meritless and moved for dismissal, saying the child’s death was the result of “parental neglect.”

Just unbelievable! This makes me so glad I don’t work for lawyers anymore!

Danieal Kelly’s parents sue DHS – Philadelphia News

by David Henry & Dann Cuellar

http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news/local&id=6322915

CENTER CITY – August 12, 2008 (WPVI) — Danieal Kelly’s parents have filed a wrongful death suit.

It is a document that has outraged the mayor and district attorney, who can’t believe Danieal’s parents had the nerve to sue the city, and that they were able to find a lawyer willing to take their case.

“I have never heard of anything so crazy in my life,” Mayor Michael Nutter said.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the city because 14-year-old Danieal Kelly was under DHS supervision at the time of her death two years ago.

Danieal lived with her mother and nine brothers and sisters in a vermin infested row home.

She had cerebral palsy and couldn’t fend for herself.

She weighed just 42 pounds and had a mass of open bedsores when she died.

Daniel’s last word was “water.”

“The parents, essentially, murdered their daughter and then turn around and sue us,” Mayor Nutter said.

Danieal’s mother Andrea Kelly is charged with murder.

Her father, Daniel Kelly, who didn’t live in the house, is charged with endangering her welfare.

They filed the lawsuit against the city the day after they were arrested.

The district attorney can’t believe any lawyer would take the case.

“I think this lessens the reputations of attorneys in general and doesn’t do anything to them either; in my judgment, they look terrible as attorneys and professionals,” D.A. Lynne Abraham The lawyers who filed the suit are Brian Mildenberg and Eric Zajac.

Action News tried to get responses from both lawyers.

At the home of lawyer Eric Zajac, who’s also an elected member of the Radnor Township school board, there was no direct response to the D.A.’s explosive statements.

Zajac did refer Action News to a written statement saying they have filed legal petitions to have a trustee represent the estate in light of the charges against Danieal’s parents. The statement says “if Danieal’s parents are convicted, the proceeds would go to her brothers and sisters.”

Abraham says the lawyers are only interested in what she calls, a fat payday for themselves.

“The other children are going to be well taken care of for the state and these lawyers are not suing for them, they’re suing for themselves,” Mayor Nutter said.

Brian Mildenberg responded to the case on Action News at 11: “It’s just outrageous, it is outrageous. We are suing on behalf of Danieal Kelly. Her estate is suing. Her parents are not suing. There are legal beneficiaries to the estate that will be determined by Pennsylvania law by a judge in the orphan’s court. We have no part in determining who the legal beneficiaries are and I’d like to make another comment because Lynne Abraham and Mayor Nutter stated that the remaining children would be taken care of by the state. Well, I hope they’re taking care of better than the state took care of Danieal Kelly.”

The lawsuit says Danieal suffered “unbearable conscious pain and suffering, mental anguish and physical and mental injuries.”

It also says Danieal’s parents have been deprived of, among other things, her love and companionship.

The D.A. wonders where was the love when Danieal was dying of starvation.

 Mayor Nutter says the city will eventually seek reimbursement for whatever money it spends defending itself against the lawsuit.

Nutter forcefully announces DHS shakeup – Philadelphia news

David Henry 

PHILADELPHIA – August 4, 2008 (WPVI) — An emotional Mayor Nutter used strong language to announce more shakeups at the Department of Human Services after criminal charges were filed against DHS workers last week.

“I am fully, thoroughly, and completely pissed off about what has happened here. Behaviors exhibited by public employees is unacceptable and I am furious at their actions. When I think of my own daughter, and if she were in someone else’s care, and they performed the way some of these individuals did, I would kick their ass myself,” Mayor Michael Nutter said during a Monday morning news conference.

You can watch the entire news conference held by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter by CLICKING HERE.

The District Attorney filed criminal charges last week against nine people, including DHS caseworkers Dana Poindexter and Laura Sommerer.

They are charged in connection with the death of 14 year old Danieal Kelly.

The girl suffered from cerebral palsy and was allowed to rot to death in her bed.

The grand jury report was critical of seven other DHS workers, mostly administrators and supervisors, but they were not charged.

Today they were suspended, pending further action.

Nutter has ordered a thorough internal investigation of how the Kelly case was handled.

“It is possible that further suspensions and personnel actions will be made as a result of these investigations,” the mayor said.

The fallout over the Kelly case began two years ago.

The DHS Commissioner at the time, Cheryl Ransom-Garner, was fired by Mayor Street.

Carmen Paris was acting health commissioner at the time of Danieal’s death.

This weekend she resigned her current post as an assistant health commissioner.

The grand jury report accused her of interfering with the investigation.

Back in 2006, Mayor Street appointed an oversight committee.

It made a number of recommendations that were presented to Mayor Nutter in January.

He says many of the reforms are being acted on and that the DHS of 2008 is vastly improved.

A leading child welfare advocate disagrees.

Richard Gelles is dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

He testified before the grand jury.

Gelles says DHS continues to lurch from crisis to crisis with no adequate oversight.

Mayor Nutter says he has full confidence in new DHS commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose and health commissioner Donald Schwarz.

Mayor Nutter will be issuing new marching orders during two meetings tomorrow with the entire DHS staff. He wants the dedicated workers to know they’re appreciated, but will be telling the slackers their days are numbered.

The Death of Danieal Kelly: Philadelphia’s Shame

Despite Reports that Danieal Kelly, Who Suffered from Cerebral Palsy, was Being Abused and Not Cared for Properly, Philadelphia’s DHS Failed to Take Action

Patricia Sicilia
Aug 4, 2008 
Danieal Kelly, the third of Andrea Kelly’s nine children by five fathers, was 14-years-old when her curled, 42-pound body, starved body was found on August 4, 2006. Police and paramedics were called to Danieal’s West Philadelphia home and when they opened her bedroom door, the stench of decay hit them. Danieal, who had been dead for several hours, was on a dirty mattress surrounded by feces. Maggot-infested bedsores covered her back. She had been on the mattress for such a long time, the shape of her body was imprinted into the mattress. A grand jury report was released this week, indicting nine people and describing Danieal’s life of pain, neglect, abuse and eventual death.

Danieal Kelly suffered from cerebral palsy and, according to a grand jury report, her mother was said to be “embarrassed by her disabled daughter, didn’t want to touch her, take her out in public, change her diapers or make sure she had enough fluids.” According to a grand jury report, Andrea Kelly’s family and friends constantly confronted her about Danieal’s deteriorating condition, but while she would promise to get help for her, she failed to do so, and eventually banished the concerned relatives from her home. While Danieal’s condidtion worsened, Andrea Kelly was said to have entertained, attended classes and tended to her other children. Danieal was not enrolled in school or given medical attention. The report stated that Andrea Kelly “rebuffed one of her sons when he begged her several times to call 911 to get help for Danieal in her final days.”

The house where Andrea Kelly lived with her nine children was in squalor, with mattresses on the floor. Kelly’s other children are now in foster care, including the baby she gave birth to the fall after Danieal’s death, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to reports, Daniel Kelly, long separated from Andrea Kelly, had custody of Danieal and her brother Daniel in 1995, when he moved to Arizona and lived with a girlfriend who cared for the girl. Those years are documented with photographs of her riding a pony, at a party at a bowling alley, and smiling with classmates in her special needs class. When Daniel Kelly broke up with his girlfriend in 2001, the girl was withdrawn from school. In 2003, he returned to Philadelphia and asked his estranged wife and her other children to move in with him. Soon after, he moved out, abandoning Danieal to Andrea Kelly’s care.

Danieal was supposed to be under the supervision of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (“DHS”), but a grand jury investigation has uncovered gross negligence in this girl’s care. A 258-page grand jury report documented that neither DHS nor the now defunct, non-profit agency MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., which was out-sourced to follow Danieal’s case, had even seen the girl or properly reported on her care during their tenure. Neighbors contacted DHS numerous times reporting that Danieal was in danger, but those complaints were ignored. Anthony Miller, the father of some of Andrea Kelly’s children, called the DHS hotline on April 20, 2005. The grand jury states: “Mr. Miller said he was moved to make the report to DHS because ‘I seen Danieal Kelly upstairs in a hot room laying in pee, no curtains, no blinds, no fans, just laying in pee.'” Mr. Miller said no one from DHS ever contacted him.

Nine people have been indicted in her death: her mother, charged with murder, and her father, charged with endangering the welfare of children. In addition, four social workers, suspected of falsifying home visits and progress reports, have been charged with crimes including involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, forgery, tampering with public records, conspiracy, endangering the welfare of children. Three of Andrea Kelly’s friends were charged with perjury for lying to the grand jury about the girl’s condition before her death.

The Philadelphia Inquirer this week reported that Assistant Health Commissioner Carmen Paris resigned the day after the release of the grand jury report. Paris was acting health commissioner and oversaw the Medical Examiner’s Office in August of 2006 when Danieal was found dead. Paris allegedly tried to cover up the details of Danieal’s death and told the doctor who performed Danieal’s autopsy and a supervisor in the Medical Examiner’s Office “not to speak to anybody,” not even homicide detectives, about the case. While Paris has not yet been charged with a crime, District Attorney Lynne Abraham said charges could not be ruled out.

Danieal’s case was brought to the public’s attention in late 2006 when the Philadelphia Inquirer published a series of articles focusing attention on the failings of DHS, particularly on the case of Danieal Kelly, and over 20 other children who died while they or their families were supposed to be under the supervision of DHS.

Top Aide Quits in DHS Fallout Carmen Paris, acting health chief at the time of Danieal Kelly’s death, came under heavy criticism.

http://articles.philly.com/2008-08-02/news/25258808_1_grand-jury-report-danieal-kelly-starvation-death

August 02, 2008|By Jennifer Lin, Dwight Ott and John Sullivan INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS

Philadelphia’s former top health official resigned yesterday amid allegations that she interfered with an investigation of the starvation death of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly.

Carmen Paris, 51, was acting health commissioner at the time of the teen’s death. A 28-year city employee who most recently was paid $110,845 as an assistant health commissioner, Paris resigned one day after being suspended and escorted from her office.

Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz, a deputy mayor, said in an interview that he was able to confirm on his own what he read about Paris in a scorching grand jury report released Thursday.

“I’m a pediatrician, and I was incredibly sad and pretty determined that the information in that report makes a difference in the lives of children in Philadelphia going forward,” Schwarz said.

The grand jury report accuses the Department of Human Services of gross negligence in the death of Danieal Kelly and charges nine people, including her parents. Paris was not charged, but was singled out for criticism for telling the medical examiner to keep quiet about the case.

Calls to Paris yesterday were not returned.

Yesterday’s development came nearly two years after The Inquirer published investigative articles that detailed the deaths of children under DHS supervision. After the reports appeared, then-Mayor John F. Street appointed a blue-ribbon panel to overhaul the agency.

Yesterday, DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said the department was finalizing plans on how to conduct an investigation into the roles of other employees named in the report but not charged.

“This is a top-to-bottom look at what needs to change,” Ambrose said in an interview.

She said she was prepared to make those plans public on Monday and that they would involve an extensive investigation. As of yesterday, no one else had been suspended, she said.

Danieal Kelly, who had cerebral palsy, starved to death in full view of her family, DHS social workers and employees for an outside contractor, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc.

Of the nine defendants – including two DHS social workers, Laura Sommerer, 33, and Dana Poindexter, 51; two employees for a contractor; and three friends of the mother – only one remained at large yesterday.

A warrant is out for the arrest of Diamond Brantley, 22, a family friend, who is accused of lying before the grand jury.

Six defendants were arraigned, with bail of $50,000 to $200,000 set for all except the victim’s mother, Andrea Kelly, 39, who is charged with murder. The mother of nine other children, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Two employees for MultiEthnic – caseworker Julius Murray, 51, and director and co-owner Mickal Kamuvaka, 59 – face manslaughter charges, which carry a maximum sentence of five years.

The victim’s father, Daniel Kelly, 37, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. He was released yesterday on $50,000 bail.

On Aug. 4, 2006, paramedics found her emaciated body, covered with bedsores, maggots and flies, in a fetid, hot bedroom in a West Philadelphia rowhouse.

The criminal charges have left workers at DHS reeling, with some proposing that they walk off the job in protest – an idea that was squelched yesterday by union officials.

To do so would have brought the department back to the depths of despair it felt in October 2006, after Street fired the top two officials and hundreds of workers walked off the job in protest. The firings came days after The Inquirer exposed the deaths of more than 20 children whose families were known to the agency.

The series led to investigations by the District Attorney’s Office as well as by federal authorities.

According to research by city prosecutors, Philadelphia taxpayers have spent $321,167.80 so far on outside law firms to represent DHS employees in grand jury proceedings.

Kahim Boles, an official for the union that represents DHS rank-and-file workers, said there is a disciplinary process at the agency.

“They should not be going to jail for the work they do,” said Boles, president of District Council 47, Local 2187, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

He said he was also troubled that only lower-level social workers were charged in the case and not supervisors.

“My members should not be the only people on the chopping block,” Boles said. “They don’t do their jobs in a vacuum. This goes all the way up the chain. They were all supervised by a supervisor, who was supervised by an administrator, who was supervised by a director.”

Rita Urwitz, a vice president of the AFSCME unit that represents DHS supervisors, District Council 47, Local 2186, took issue with the grand jury report, saying it was based on a case that, although tragic, is now two years old.

“This case traumatized the agency when it came out two years ago, and it has been very alive since then,” she said. “Not to diminish the case, but the [district attorney's] report is using testimony about a time that isn’t today.”

Preliminary hearings for the defendants are scheduled on Aug. 11.

The highest bail – $200,000 – was set for Kamuvaka, a native of Namibia who was also ordered to surrender her passport.

A family friend, Andrea Miles, 18, was charged with perjury and was being processed as a juvenile because she was a minor at the time of the incidents. Another friend, Marie Moses, 34, was also charged with perjury.

Starved, disabled girl was failed at every turn

For days before Danieal Kelly died in a fetid, airless room – made stifling hot by a midsummer heat wave – the bedridden teenager begged for something to drink until she could muster only one word: water.

Unable to help herself because of her cerebral palsy, she wasted away from malnutrition and maggot-infested bedsores that ate her flesh. She died alone on a putrid mattress in her mother’s home, the floor covered in feces. She was 14 but weighed just 19.05 kg.

The nightmare of forced starvation and infection that killed Danieal while she was under the protection of the city’s human services agency is documented in a 258-page grand jury report released this week that charges nine people – her parents, four social workers and three family friends – in her ghastly death.

The report describes a mother, Andrea Kelly, who was embarrassed by her disabled daughter and didn’t want to touch her, take her out in public, change her nappies or make sure she had enough fluids. It portrays Daniel Kelly, the father who once had custody of Danieal, as having no interest in raising her.

And it accuses the city Department of Human Services of being “uncaring and incompetent.”

“It was this indifference that helped kill Danieal Kelly,” an angry District Attorney Lynne Abraham said. “How is it possible for this to have happened?”

The report should “outrage the entire Philadelphia community” and bring about “earth-shattering, cataclysmic changes” at the Department of Human Services, Abraham said.

Andrea Kelly, 39, the only defendant charged with murder, was ordered held today without bail. The social workers – suspected of falsifying home visits and progress reports in the case – face charges ranging from child endangerment to involuntary manslaughter. The family friends are accused of lying to the grand jury about the girl’s condition before her death.

None of the lawyers for any of the defendants had any immediate comment.

Human Services commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose, in office only a month, said yesterday that she is intent on improving child safety and worker accountability in an agency that has repeatedly been accused of failing to protect children.

Late today, the city announced the resignation of Assistant Health Commissioner Carmen Paris. The grand jury had accused Paris of interfering in the investigation of the girl’s death while she was acting health commissioner, but found insufficient evidence to charge her with obstruction of justice.

The report on Danieal’s death in August 2006 documents a downward spiral from the early years that she spent in Arizona with her father and his girlfriend.

Though Danieal attended special-needs classes only sporadically, a school report described her as an active learner and “one of the sweetest students ever enrolled in this program.” But allegations of parental neglect soon surfaced, and following Daniel Kelly’s breakup with his girlfriend in 2001, Danieal never again attended school.

Daniel Kelly and his children moved to Philadelphia in 2003. He eventually asked his estranged wife to move in, even though she had several other children and he knew she was incapable of caring for Danieal, authorities say. He then moved out.

“Daniel Kelly was well aware what deserting his daughter meant to her safety and welfare,” the grand jury report said. “He just did not care.”

The Department of Human Services received at least five reports of Danieal being mistreated between 2003 and 2005. All described a “helpless child sitting unattended, unkempt and unwashed, in a small stroller in her own urine and feces,” her screams ignored by her mother, the grand jury report said. The stroller, which served as a wheelchair, apparently never left the house.

Agency employee Dana Poindexter, assigned to investigate, also ignored Danieal, authorities say. Already having been suspended after a 3-week-old baby died on his watch in 2002, Poindexter continued his “slovenly, neglectful and dangerously reckless work habits” after being assigned the Kelly case, the grand jury said. He did not file a single report, authorities said.

The Kellys finally were assigned help from a private agency in 2005. Employee Julius Murray was required to visit the family twice a week, but authorities believe he may have come to the house only once – to have Andrea Kelly sign predated forms attesting to future visits.

The grand jury report said Laura Sommerer, a city social worker, failed to hold the now-defunct company accountable when, months later, Danieal still was not enrolled in school or receiving medical care.

And after Danieal died, authorities say, company director Mickal Kamuvaka held a “forgery fest” in her office where she had employees “concoct almost a year’s worth of false progress reports.”

But authorities say Andrea Kelly, whose other children are now in foster care, is primarily responsible for her daughter’s death.

The report said she was confronted repeatedly by her own mother, uncle, friends and even two of her sons about Danieal’s deteriorating health. She would lie or put them off by saying she would seek help, or banish them from the house, authorities say.

In the meantime, the report said, she entertained friends, attended classes and fed her other children.

“This behaviour indicates that Andrea Kelly did not merely allow Danieal to die,” the report said. “She may have even wanted her disabled daughter to die.”

When an ambulance responded to an emergency phone call for Danieal on Aug. 4, 2006, the girl had been dead for several hours. Authorities said she was so emaciated she looked like the victim of a concentration camp.

She had been lying on the filthy mattress for so long that her body outline was imprinted on it.

9 charged in death of neglected, disabled Pa. teen

http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-07-31-pa_N.htm

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Four social workers were among nine people charged Thursday in the death of a disabled 14-year-old girl who authorities say wasted away from neglect before dying at 42 pounds.

Danieal Kelly’s mother was charged with murder; counts against other defendants range from involuntary manslaughter to perjury. District Attorney Lynne Abraham said any of the nine could have foreseen the horrific fate of Danieal, whose emaciated body was found in her mother’s squalid house covered with bone-deep, maggot-infested bedsores in August 2006.

Abraham had scathing words for the city’s Department of Human Services, calling its handling of the case “callous, indifferent, unconscionable” — and all too familiar.

“Danieal did not fall through the cracks,” she said. “It was a failure of institutional inclination. Saving Danieal was just too much trouble.”

Two of the social workers are city employees; two others worked for a company hired by DHS. Department Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose scheduled an afternoon news conference to discuss the case.

Warrants were issued for all nine defendants Thursday. Andrea Kelly, the mother of Danieal (pronounced “Danielle”), was charged with murder, and father Daniel Kelly, who did not live with the family, was charged with child endangerment.

A 258-page grand jury report recommending the charges said not only that Andrea Kelly refused to get her daughter food, water and medical treatment, but that she repeatedly prevented one of her other children from calling an ambulance “for his obviously dying sister.”

A listing for Andrea Kelly’s attorney, Vincent Giusini, rang unanswered Thursday. It was not immediately clear if Daniel Kelly had an attorney.

Two employees of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health, a now-defunct company that DHS hired to provide social services to Danieal, falsified documents to cover up the fact they rarely, if ever, checked on her, the grand jury said.

Julius Murray and Mickal Kamuvaka were charged with involuntary manslaughter and tampering with public records.

An e-mail sent to Kamuvaka was not immediately returned. Contact information for Murray could not immediately be located.

Murray’s “fraudulent nonperformance of a job” — he seldom went to the Kelly house, which he was supposed to visit twice a week — allowed Andrea Kelly to starve her daughter over a period of months, the grand jury said.

After Danieal’s death, Kamuvaka directed Murray to fabricate and backdate reports on the family, grand jurors said.

DHS social worker Dana Poindexter was charged with child endangerment for what the grand jury said were his “less than meager” efforts to look into several reports over three years that Danieal, who had cerebral palsy, was not receiving medical care, social services or schooling.

“He did not complete a single investigation or risk assessment,” the report said. “Indeed, his file on the family was buried at the bottom of a filing-cabinet-sized box, beneath food wrappers and unopened envelopes relating to other children’s cases.”

A message left for Poindexter’s attorney was not immediately returned Thursday.

Another DHS employee, Laura Sommerer, faces a child endangerment charge. As Danieal’s social worker for 10 months, she didn’t notice Danieal’s deterioration, even after a visit June 29, 2006 — about five weeks before the teen died.

“The children appeared safe and comfortable in the home,” Sommerer wrote in a report, according to grand jurors.

Sommerer’s attorney, Lisa Dykstra, declined to comment Thursday.

Also charged were Andrea Miles, Marie Moses and Diamond Brantley, all of Philadelphia, who were friends with Andrea Kelly. The report accuses them of perjury for telling grand jurors that Danieal had been fine on Aug. 3, 2006, the day before her festering corpse was taken from the house.

It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys.

The report should “outrage the entire Philadelphia community” and bring about “earth-shattering, cataclysmic changes” at the Department of Human Services, Abraham said.

Abraham said that although at least 55 children have died under the agency’s watch, it has given only “lip service to halfhearted corrective action.”

“You can’t continue to bury these children and say things are getting better when they’re not,” she said.

Report shows how DHS failed

The remedy: A new dedication to children—and oversight.

By John Sullivan and Craig R. McCoy

Inquirer Staff Writers

Posted: Thu, Jan. 24, 2008, 7:55 PM

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/special_packages/inquirer/child_welfare/20070601_Report_shows_how_DHS_failed.html?viewAll=y

 Children have died needlessly because of “significant system failures” that plague the city Department of Human Services, a panel of experts said in a wrenching report made public today.The agency has been adrift for years, confused about its mission and resistant to change. As a result, it “fails to protect some of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children,” the panel said in a much-anticipated review of the $600 million-a-year department.Appointed by Mayor Street after articles in The Inquirer raised question about DHS, the panel said the agency had to make sweeping changes or children would remain “at risk of continued abuse and neglect.”The panel scrutinized 52 children whose families were known to DHS who died from 2001 through 2006 – and found that 27 died of abuse or in suspicious circumstances. A dozen others died needlessly in unsafe “co-sleeping” episodes, panelists said.

“There were preventable deaths,” said panelist Cindy W. Christian, a pediatrician who heads the child-abuse unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

To overhaul the agency, the panel recommended a series of reforms ranging from a rethinking of its core mission to the development of new investigative tools. Among other steps, it said the agency must:

Visit all children under 5 within two hours of receiving a warning that they might be abused or neglected. Currently, the agency takes up to five days to conduct many such visits.

Require social workers to use a common set of guidelines to evaluate whether children are in danger. Before the scandal broke, DHS had no such common standard, leading it to render important decisions about families randomly and capriciously.

Monitor more closely the outside contractors who handle most of the face-to-face contacts with children, parents and guardians. The agency should issue public report cards grading their performance, the panel said.

The panel said the mayor must appoint a permanent oversight commission to keep watch on DHS.

“This is urgent and doable,” said panel co-chair Carol Wilson Spigner of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Acting DHS Commissioner Arthur C. Evans Jr., who took over after Street forced out the previous commissioner, said the agency had already implemented some of the changes and would phase in the rest.

“DHS is embracing all of the recommended reforms,” Evans said.

Street, through a spokesman, commended the work of the unpaid panel but said a detailed response would come later. “The report is a road map to lasting reform and we welcome it,” spokesman Joe Grace said.

Michael Nutter, the Democratic nominee for mayor, said last night that, if elected, he would use the report as “a blueprint for change.”

Nutter added: “DHS must be fixed on behalf of the children of Philadelphia.”

Al Taubenberger, the Republican candidate, said he found the report powerful and convincing.

“It’s unconscionable that children are dying on the watch of the city and this agency,” Taubenberger said.

The panel suggested that DHS’ problems lie in a lack of leadership, not a lack of money.

As the report noted, “DHS is better financed and resourced than most, if not all, [agencies in] other major cities.”

Nor is the problem a lack of outside scrutiny. The agency’s pervasive problems have been documented in more than 20 lawsuits and reviews over the last two decades.

“Throughout the reports, there were themes that persist and remain unresolved today,” the panel wrote.

Said Spigner: “What we found was, the system does not know how to turn itself around.”

One key issue, the panel found, was that the agency had become the angel of last resort for the city’s most desperate residents, forcing social workers to try to solve an array of problems brought on by poverty.

The report said the agency long ago lost sight of its core mission: protecting children.

Again and again, the panel noted how random the decision-making had become within DHS.

To end that, the agency has already developed a new “safety-assessment tool” to guide all social workers in their contacts with clients.

The tool instructs DHS staff to focus on such issues as drug abuse, alcohol abuse and domestic violence – rather than, say, the cleanliness of a home.

Without guidelines, the panel found, social workers responded differently to the same set of problems in a family.

In particular, this “wide, wide variation in response” was noticeable in the case of children who died, said panel member Carol E. Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Center in Philadelphia.

The panel said the agency had also been hamstrung by its allegiance to state recommendations about how to classify clients.

Following those state rules, the agency has been responding quickly to cases in which children were allegedly being abused or sexually assaulted. But it responded much more slowly to warnings about possible neglect.

“Children die from neglect. They didn’t just die from physical abuse and sexual assault,” said Spigner. “So it’s a false dichotomy.”

At the panel’s urging, DHS had already begun responding with the same speed to all complaints involving younger children, regardless of their nature.

To underscore the new philosophy, Evans said, he has told his people, with a bit of hyperbole: “If we get a call saying, ‘The hair isn’t combed right,’ we go out and see the kid.”

The panel also called on DHS to do a better job of analyzing its performance and become more open with the public.

The department had piles of data in expensive computer systems, but made almost no effort to analyze it, the panel found.

“It’s all there, but it never really comes together,” said Evans.

He has been more transparent about the agency’s inner workings since taking the post in October.

To turn around the agency, Evans will have to rely on the existing cadre of DHS managers, many of whom have been promoted over the years from social worker positions to management jobs without proper training, the panel said.

“Managing requires a different set of skills, and there has not been an investment to help people acquire them,” said Spigner. “There are people in key positions who don’t know how to manage.”

Rita Urwitz, head of the DHS supervisors’ union, said she did not quarrel with the need for more management training.

“There has been for many, many years a problem with the infrastructure and zero training for staff and no real plan to fix it,” Urwitz said.

Estelle B. Richman, who once was the senior child-welfare official in Philadelphia and now heads the state’s Department of Public Welfare, said the report was a powerful critique of DHS.

“Unfortunately, the report is also a reminder that we’ve gone though this before,” she said. “The challenge for me and everyone else is to never have to go through another report like this again.”

Inquirer Investigation: ‘Bury Your Mistakes’

By Ken Dilanian and John Sullivan

Inquirer Staff Writers

Posted: Tue, Jun. 12, 2007, 11:57 AM

In September, five months shy of her second birthday, Alayiah Turman was pummeled to death after she interrupted a video game.

 Marrieon Currie, 11 weeks old in January, took his final breaths as he was being doused in hot water, thrown down stairs, and beaten with a mop handle.

Bryanna Redmond, a skinny 2-year-old known as “Princess,” died last year from a punch that split her spine.

Before they were killed – each by a parent, police say – all three children had come under the scrutiny of the city’s child-protection agency, the Department of Human Services, which has the power to remove children from abusive homes. In each case, relatives or neighbors say they saw signs of danger. DHS either never saw those signs or discounted them.

Three years after a string of blunders by DHS were widely blamed for failing to prevent the torture-murder of toddler Porchia Bennett, an Inquirer investigation has found that young children are still regularly abused to death after coming to the attention of DHS. Although 3-year-old Porchia’s death prompted the department to solicit expert advice on how to improve its investigative procedures, agency officials have failed to act on most of those recommendations.

From 2003 through 2005, at least 20 children died of abuse or neglect after coming to the attention of DHS, including 10 just last year, according to department records. Those numbers were coaxed out of the agency after four weeks of repeated requests.

In recent interviews, DHS Commissioner Cheryl Ransom-Garner acknowledged that the agency had made mistakes, but she declined to discuss them, citing confidentiality rules.

I think DHS is doing a great job,” she said. “Our staff do a heroic job every day, working to save Philadelphia’s children. One child death is too many. And from every death we do a review to determine what can we do differently.”

Those reviews, however, are secret.

“In Philadelphia, you can bury your mistakes,” said Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work.

Ransom-Garner declined to discuss details, but said DHS reviews had found that no policies or procedures were violated in six of the eight cases The Inquirer examined. In two of the cases, DHS could not answer the question by the time this article went to print.

There always will be deaths that child-protection authorities could not have foreseen or prevented. And the agency is in much better shape than two decades ago, when a class-action lawsuit forced it to improve.

But experts who consulted for DHS in recent years told The Inquirer that the agency’s system for evaluating risk is inadequate. They said the agency still had not addressed key failings uncovered after Porchia Bennett’s death.

“Their investigators are not being given a policy for how to make decisions or an understanding of what risks can be tolerated,” said Gelles, a former DHS consultant who became so disillusioned that he now serves as an expert witness for lawyers suing the agency.

Mayor Street, walking into City Hall yesterday to attend a chess lecture, declined to answer questions about the performance of his human-services department.

“I don’t have any comment,” he said. “I don’t have any comment on that at this time.”

In the three cases with the most extensive public records about the department’s actions, an Inquirer review of court documents and interviews with relatives and neighbors found that people had concerns about the children’s welfare before they died – red flags that could have been apparent to inquiring caseworkers.

Five other cases, where there is less public information about DHS actions, raise questions about whether the agency could have done more to prevent the deaths. The Inquirer examined only cases in which the agency’s involvement could be determined from other sources, because DHS would not disclose which of the dead children it had checked on.

The Inquirer found:

In the Bryanna Redmond punching death, the toddler was killed after the agency closed a case involving her mentally disabled mother, who had talked of abandoning the baby at birth. A grandmother testified in court that she had asked DHS for help, to no avail.

Marrieon Currie’s mother, Lea, who had a history of mental and physical problems, told neighbors that she was hearing demons. DHS had been providing her services and left the infant in her custody. But neighbors, who tried to help with the baby, told The Inquirer that she was incapable of caring even for her dog.

When Alayiah Turman was beaten to death last month, DHS had been investigating an abuse allegation. The agency said it had not detected any injury; Alayiah’s grandmother said she had seen bruises on the child, and the medical examiner found a healed arm fracture during the autopsy.

A video game unplugged

Police say Alayiah’s father, Tyrone Spellman, confessed to killing his daughter after she pulled the plug while he was playing Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, a violent combat video game.

Ransom-Garner told The Inquirer on Sept. 13 – before the newspaper launched its inquiry into child deaths – that the agency had been investigating the family.

A few weeks before Alayiah was killed, the commissioner said, an anonymous caller reported that an adult was yelling at a 2-year-old, and that there were holes in the floor of the home. The next day, she said, a caseworker interviewed Alayiah’s mother, Mia Turman, and inspected the child. There were no bruises, Ransom-Garner said, and the toddler appeared happy and playful. She said there had been no other complaints.

The agency made another surprise visit a few days later. The caseworker asked Turman whether anyone else lived in the house, in order to perform a background check on each adult. The caseworker took Turman’s word that no men lived there, Ransom-Garner said.

Neighbors and relatives told The Inquirer, however, that Spellman had been born at the Brewerytown rowhouse where Alayiah was killed. He was living there with his brother and another relative, Keith Walker.

Turman had moved to Spellman’s house only recently, said neighbors, many of whom say he is innocent.

Walker told The Inquirer that he had tried to revive the little girl when he arrived home that night. Detectives later told him that there were obvious signs of past abuse, he said. Alayiah’s grandmother Marvine Turman told The Inquirer that she remembered seeing bruises.

Asked about that, Ransom-Garner said she could not discuss the case, even though she had talked about it previously.

Asked whether caseworkers were instructed to interview neighbors during their investigations, she said that they were not prohibited from doing so, but that there were no specific guidelines about it.

A shattering death

Alayiah died three years after a killing that was supposed to change the culture at the Department of Human Services.

In August 2003, 3-year-old Porchia Bennett died after enduring months of abuse at the hands of a couple her mother paid to care for her. DHS acknowledged it erred in the case.

First it lost track of the family before Porchia was born, even though the agency had not resolved a previous abuse investigation.

Then, three days before she died, a DHS worker failed to investigate an abuse report at her house.

In the aftermath, DHS did make some changes. It overhauled the way caseworkers search for families, authorizing the use of databases and private investigators.

So why are children in its system still dying?

One answer, experts say, is that while the agency fixed its tracking system, it failed to adopt proposals for significant changes in how it investigates abuse and weighs risk to children.

As a result, the agency still depends on the judgment of individual caseworkers – some of whom are incompetent, according to DHS critic Gelles.

After the Bennett case, then-Commissioner Alba Martinez hired several consultants to examine and overhaul the agency’s risk-assessment procedures.

DHS officials said Friday that they might implement some of the recommendations.

“This is a work in progress,” Deputy Commissioner John McGee said.

Ransom-Garner said the agency was working to improve its systems on its own timetable, consistent with state regulations. She also argued that the Bennett case did not point to profound problems in how DHS operated.

“What happened to Porchia Bennett, we looked at that case and said, ‘Lessons learned, what do we need to do here?’ ” she said. “The system was not broke.”

Losing sleep

Ransom-Garner’s predecessor, Martinez, struck a different tone when she hired a Penn team led by Gelles, a nationally recognized child-welfare expert, and Carol Wilson Spigner, a child-welfare official in the Clinton administration.

“This was Alba’s project, because she wanted to prevent another Porchia Bennett,” Gelles said. “She lost a lot of sleep over it.”

Gelles said the DHS policy manual “said you should do this you should do that, but it gave almost no guidance as to how.”

That policy manual on investigations is still in place.

Gelles now believes the best way to change the agency is to fight it, he said.

“I said to Cheryl, ‘You can do this the easy way or the hard way: You can change, or I’m going to sue you.’ They’ve chosen to do it the hard way,” Gelles said.

In May, the Penn team handed over two major recommendations: a new policy on investigating child fatalities, and a new policy on assessing the safety of a child in a home.

The city has not adopted them.

John Goad, former deputy director of the Division of Child Protection at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, had a similar experience.

He had helped engineer a turnaround in Chicago’s system, where, he said, reports of repeat child abuse fell by half. Martinez hired him to evaluate her agency.

Goad said DHS workers had a difficult time deciding how to handle cases and sometimes made the wrong decisions.

“Their decision-making structure is wanting,” he said. “They tended to lose focus on some things that pertain to child safety.”

After visiting the city in 2003, Goad wrote 65 pages of guidelines and definitions. His report included 14 scientifically determined factors that contribute to a child being unsafe.

Ransom-Garner said the agency had improved its call-routing system, but had not implemented Goad’s other recommendations.

One year after Porchia died, McGee, then the agency’s operations director, said: “It’s much less likely that a case like Porchia’s will happen again.”

Not again

People knew Bryanna was in danger from the day she was born.

Nurses at Frankford Hospital-Torresdale Campus became concerned when her mother, Viola Redmond, a 22-year-old with an IQ below 90, told them that she didn’t want the child.

“It was alarming. . . . She didn’t pay any attention at all to the baby,” testified the social worker, Columbia Elmelhaoui.

Her testimony, and this account, is drawn from court documents in the Viola Redmond murder case, interviews, and other public records. DHS declined to comment on the case.

A DHS caseworker went to the hospital shortly after the birth in January 2003. Three days later, the worker visited the home in the tidy Crescentville section of Northeast Philadelphia where Viola Redmond was living with her parents.

Along with baby Bryanna, Redmond was caring for a 16-month-old son, Jaleel. She worked a cleaning job at the nearby IRS office.

The caseworker, Robin Goodwin, reported that Redmond seemed “mentally retarded” and “childlike.”

Though at risk, Bryanna would be OK, Goodwin decided, “because of the fact that there are both maternal grandparents in the home.” She did not respond to a request for comment.

DHS referred the case to a private contractor, paid by taxpayers to train Redmond in parenting skills, according to DHS records.

“Most of the time they came, [Viola] was at work,” testified Rosetta Redmond, the baby’s grandmother, at her daughter’s sentencing hearing.

On Dec. 8, 2004, DHS closed the case, deeming the children safe at the grandparents’ house.

Two months later, Viola Redmond and her boyfriend, Damor Davis, decided to move into their own apartment.

Rosetta Redmond testified that she had repeatedly warned DHS that the couple intended to move out. A caseworker promised to get back to her, she said, but never did.

Not long afterward, Viola Redmond’s sister, a parole officer, made an anonymous call to DHS to report that “the child may have a broken bone in her face.”

The call arrived at the DHS hotline at 10:12 a.m. July 15.

It was too late.

Across town, Bryanna was buckled over in her bed, slipping into shock after a death blow to her stomach.

Davis testified that he had found the child in that condition when he returned home from work about 6 a.m., and met Viola on her way out the door.

By 11:58 a.m. Bryanna was dead.

Ian Hood, a Philadelphia deputy medical examiner, testified that the toddler had died of an injury more severe than all but one or two he had seen in his career.

In a statement to detectives, Viola Redmond said she had punished Bryanna for having a temper tantrum by punching her in the stomach.

On the day Bryanna died, a DHS caseworker named Lekisha Harvey tried to investigate the sister’s abuse complaint. But somehow the address had gotten garbled.

It took DHS three days to search a public-assistance database, which turned up Viola’s former address on Reach Street in the Northeast.

The judge in the case, Benjamin Lerner, commented from the bench that the case raised questions about the agency.

“Who is in charge, who gives little children to people who are so obviously, absolutely completely incapable of taking care of them?” Lerner wondered.

From the bench

Lerner, who has been dealing with DHS for decades, as a public defender and then a jurist, argues that the agency is not aggressive enough in removing children from potentially abusive homes.

“I don’t think the system has changed at all” since Porchia Bennett’s death, he said in a recent interview. “I believe that we have to be more forceful earlier in children’s lives when we see that they are simply not being taken care of. I believe that we have to be more accepting of the fact that good motives are not sufficient in parenting, and that many people lack either the will or the ability to raise children in a safe and healthy environment.”

DHS is credited with improving significantly since its worst days in the 1980s, when a series of scandals led to a 1990 class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups.

In 2000, outsider Martinez took the helm and quickly won high marks for a variety of changes. The next year, DHS settled the class action, known as the Baby Neal case. The settlement allowed advocates to audit how the agency handled a sampling of cases for two years. The arrangement expired in 2003.

But experts say the Philadelphia agency remains seriously flawed, with a staff of uneven quality overburdened by caseloads that can exceed 30, nearly double the 17 that national standards recommend.

“In general, they’ve done a lot of great things at the department, and it’s a totally different place than when we sued them,” said Frank Cervone, who runs an agency that provides free legal advocacy for children. Cervone was part of the 1990 lawsuit and is among the city’s foremost DHS experts.

“That said,” he added, “they remain a public agency that has a lot of problems.”

Hearing demons

Almost everyone who knew Lea Currie had serious doubts about whether the 25-year-old could care for her newborn son, Marrieon.

“She was hearing demons,” said neighbor Felix Cruz, 33, who lived just two doors away from Currie on Charles Street in the East Frankford section of the city.

“She was off-balance,” he added, echoing nearly a dozen others interviewed on the block. “She shouldn’t have been raising that kid on her own.”

Currie had tried to kill herself at 17, and she suffered from cerebral palsy, a muscular disorder that left her barely able to walk up the stairs.

Yet after Marrieon was born last fall, DHS decided to leave the baby in her home and send a contract worker to provide support services, neighbors said.

Three months later, Marrieon was dead.

On Jan. 23, Currie held the infant under hot water, threw him down a flight of stairs, and beat him with a mop handle, according to court records.

She quickly confessed and was charged with murder, records show.

Currie told neighbor Amelia Lewis, 35, that demons had confined her and the baby to an upstairs bedroom, Lewis said.

Neighbors said Currie was incapable of even caring for her dog, which they eventually took away.

“She was always calling people to buy food for the dog when she remembered,” said Paul Wons, 45, who worked with Currie’s mother and now lives in the Currie house.

Awaiting trial, Currie has been committed to Norristown State Hospital. Psychiatrists initially ruled her unfit for court, noting that she had “stopped eating and drinking” and had been “soiling herself and lying in her own menstrual fluid.” Court records refer to her as “severely mentally disabled.”

Timika Bowens, 29, who lives across the street, has known Currie most of her life. She can’t understand how DHS left Marrieon in her care.

“DHS killed that baby,” she said.

Bowens and four other residents recalled that in a meeting several weeks before the baby died, a DHS worker asked neighbors to care for the child.

“Who would leave it on the neighborhood to care for a child?” asked Timika Bowens’ mother, Irene.

DHS officials said that it wasn’t their policy to ask neighbors to care for a child, and that if that had happened, it would have been inappropriate.

Neighbor Blanche Jacobs, 41, recalled a day when Currie made a startling confession to her. ” ‘I don’t know how to love my baby,’ ” Jacobs said Currie told her. ” ‘Ms. Blanche, please tell me how.’ “

In one of her few references to a specific case, Ransom-Garner insisted that neighbors had not relayed their concerns to DHS.

“People have a lot to say after a child death,” she said.

But in interviews, neighbors said it should have been clear to anyone, after a few moments of conversation with Currie, that the young mother was in trouble.

“Anyone who would see her, who talks to her, interacts with her, would know right away she couldn’t care for that child,” Timika Bowens said.

“They should have done their job.”

Danieal Kelly, Mom Let Daughter With Cerebral Palsy Rot And Starve To Death Because She Was Ashamed Of Her.

http://unforgottenangels.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/danieal-kelly-mom-let-daughter-with-cerebral-palsy-rot-and-starve-to-death-because-she-was-ashamed-of-her/

A simple offender search was all it took to find that, Michael Antonio Dixon Jr., the man charged with killing 4-year-old Cedric Francois, has a criminal history of assault.

Dixon was incarcerated for two months, in 2009, after convictions for ASSAULT ON PUBLIC OFFICIAL (PRINCIPAL) a CLASS A1 MISDEMEANOR SS  and  SIMPLE ASSAULT/AFFRAY (PRINCIPAL) a CLASS 2 MISDEMEANOR SS.

It is unclear at this time, if Buncombe County DSS was aware of Dixon’s criminal past.

Continue Reading

Cries for help for Jeanette Maples got no answer

 

http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/01/cries_for_help_for_jeanette_ma.html

 

By Susan Goldsmith, The Oregonian

January 02, 2010, 5:24PM

EUGENE — Many in this community were heartbroken last month when they learned that 15-year-old Jeanette Maples was killed, but few were surprised when authorities charged her mother and stepfather with murder.

For three years, people in Jeanette’s life tried to get child welfare authorities involved, to no avail. Her step-grandmother, a concerned parent of a friend and educators all called the state Department of Human Services because she was bruised, constantly hungry and said she had been beaten at home.

Though police and prosecutors have released few details about the case, citing an ongoing criminal investigation, Jeanette’s relatives, friends and former teachers say she died a horrific death at her Eugene home after being starved and abused for years.

Her mother, Angela McAnulty, 41, and stepfather, Richard McAnulty, 40, have been charged with aggravated murder as a result of “intentional maiming and torture.” Both could face the death penalty if convicted, and both have pleaded not guilty.

DHS officials won’t comment, because they’ve convened a critical incident response team review to examine how the agency handled the case. The internal inquiry is expected to wrap up this month.

“The CIRT investigation under way is aggressively reviewing all prior contacts with the family to find out what happened,” said Gene Evans, a DHS spokesman.

Jeanette, a quiet, dark-haired girl who sought refuge in books at her school’s library, tried unsuccessfully to hide her injuriesduring her middle school years, friends recalled. But many days when she got into her clothes for gym class, friends saw bruises on her abdomen and legs, which she said came from falling.

One classmate, Amber Davis, wouldn’t accept Jeanette’s explanations about her injuries and pressed her for the truth.

“She told me her mom was abusing her when we were in seventh grade,” said Davis, 15, one of Jeanette’s closest friends during her years at Cascade Middle School.

Davis told her parents and school officials about Jeanette’s bruises in 2007, and they contacted the state’s child welfare office in Eugene. Cascade Middle School officials, who didn’t want to be identified because of the ongoing investigations, say they contacted the DHS at least twice while Jeanette was a student.

Jeanette’s stepgrandmother, Lynn McAnulty, who lives in Leaburg and saw her grandchildren only occasionally, says she twice called child welfare authorities anonymously in six months to report abuse. At the funeral, grieving friends, their parents, teachers and family members said they trusted that social workers would rescue Jeanette, but they never did.

“It’s hard to understand. I told. Everybody told, and nothing happened,” Davis said.

Jeanette’s death follows five years of critical incident reviews into child deaths and serious injuries of youngsters who’ve had contact with the DHS. Twenty-one reports since 2004 identify a myriad of problems, including a failure to investigate and follow up on cases, inadequate documentation and lack of ongoing assessment.

“This agency cannot hold itself out as protecting children when they repeatedly fail,” said David Paul, a Portland attorney who has sued the department on behalf of 10 children. “I am tired of hearing they need new resources. They don’t need new regulations or a blue-ribbon panel. What’s needed is accountability and public oversight, and it’s just not happening.”

Signs of trouble

People who know Angela McAnulty, Jeanette’s mother, describe her as a high-strung and controlling woman who made little money, once lived in her car, and isolated her children from others.

In Sacramento in 1995, McAnulty lost custody of Jeanette, who was then 1 year old, and the girl’s two older brothers because of suspected abuse and neglect. The children’s father, Anthony Maples, was in prison for drug offenses and had little contact with his children.

In a phone interview, Anthony Maples said his two sons, Jeanette’s brothers, grew up in foster care after they wrote a letter to the family court judge overseeing their case pleading to not be sent back to their mother.

Jeanette spent 5 1/2 years in foster care in Sacramento before she was returned to her mother in 2001, Anthony Maples said.

By that time, Angela McAnulty, who was a cashier at a discount store, had another daughter. Sometime after being reunited with Jeanette, Angela met Richard McAnulty, a truck driver, and the two were married in 2002.

Angela and Richard had a son, and the family moved to Eugene in late 2005, according to Lynn McAnulty, Richard’s mother.

Jeanette started at Cascade Middle School in the middle of her sixth-grade year in 2006. Her mother sent her there in ratty sweatpants and an old yellowing T-shirt, and children made fun of her, her friends said.

Despite the teasing about her clothing and appearance, friends said, Jeanette loved school. She liked writing and reading poetry and being away from home.

But there were signs of serious trouble. Jeanette was constantly hungry, and each day when it was time to go home, her demeanor changed, friends said. She became sad, withdrawn and anxious. Her mother was strict, they said, and wouldn’t allow friends to call her or let Jeanette visit their homes or invite them over.

“Once the bell rang to go home, you could see she didn’t want to go,” said Karina Mora, 15, a friend from middle school who attended her funeral.

Amber Davis said Jeanette confessed that her mother beat her after Davis pushed her to explain the repeated injuries. She encouraged her friend to get help, but Jeanette feared that would enrage her mother.

“She got scared and said she didn’t want her mom to take her out of school because she thought things would get worse,” Davis remembered.

Davis then told her mother, Holly Sams, who called the DHS office in Eugene.

Sams said child welfare screeners downplayed her concerns and told her secondhand accounts of abuse were not sufficiently serious to send social workers out. So Sams told her daughter to enlist officials at Cascade Middle School, which she did.

One school official who asked not to be named and who spoke at Jeanette’s funeral said: “We cared about her. We did what we could, and we fed her.”

Stepgrandmother reported her concerns to state

After graduating from eighth grade in the spring of 2008, Jeanette was home-schooled by her mother. Friends and family say she was hidden away with almost no contact with the outside world while her siblings attended school and appeared healthy and happy.

Richard McAnulty was often out of town driving trucks across the country. Last summer he ended up in a California hospital for open-heart surgery. Angela McAnulty and the children showed up at the hospital.

Jeanette “looked bad, really thin, her hair had been chopped off, and she had a busted lip,” her stepgrandmother, Lynn McAnulty, said.

A few weeks later, McAnulty called the DHS to report suspected abuse. She didn’t give her name because she was worried her son and daughter-in-law would find out.

“I said I was a neighbor and told them to check on the kids and said the older girl is extremely thin, and they said they’d check into it,” McAnulty said.

In October, she was briefly allowed into the family’s home. Jeanette was inside, facing a wall because she was being punished by her mother. McAnulty tried to talk to Jeanette as her daughter-in-law hovered nearby. The girl was emaciated, and she had a split lip, the stepgrandmother said.

Angela McAnulty told her mother-in-law that Jeanette had fallen.

Lynn McAnulty left the house and said she again called the DHS anonymously to report suspected abuse. That was the last time she saw Jeanette.

On the night of Dec. 9, Lynn McAnulty got a frantic call from her son and daughter-in-law that Jeanette was cold and had stopped breathing. Lynn McAnulty said she screamed at them to call 9-1-1, which they did. The couple were arrested later that night after Jeanette was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

No official cause of death has been released. Detectives took away boxes of evidence, and Lynn McAnulty was given the grim task of cleaning out the house.

She found food padlocked in kitchen cupboards and a blood-spattered bedroom. She described the inside of the house as filthy, with junk and toys everywhere. Investigators urged her not to view her stepgranddaughter’s body.

“They all told me that I did not want to see this body because it was the most horrific thing they’d ever seen,” said McAnulty, who took their advice.

“Dropped into the abyss”

Even though the DHS investigation will not be made public for weeks, one child welfare advocate in Oregon is confident the agency is making important strides and diligently examining its mistakes.

“The leadership of DHS is finally willing to work with advocates and scrutinize themselves,” said Robin Christian, executive director of the nonprofit Children First For Oregon.

But she added: “The state is not making the kind of child welfare investments they need.”

Attorney David Paul isn’t convinced. After deposing scores of state child welfare workers and administrators and examining reams of internal agency documents, he says he does not believe any meaningful change will come from the inside.

“Trying to make this agency accountable is like trying to push a freightliner with a canoe paddle. They are interested in maintaining the status quo,” Paul said. “People call the hot line expecting something is going to happen, but you are dropped into the abyss without any rope.”

Lois Day, administrator for the DHS’ Office of Safety and Permanency for Children, said all calls about abuse and neglect are documented. She said if an allegation of abuse or neglect is made, department officials determine how quickly a family needs to be seen.

“Our response times are within 24 hours to five days,” Day said. “We have to document that a delay does not compromise the safety of a child.”

If a social worker goes out and determines abuse or neglect is not a concern, that is also documented, she said.

In Jeanette’s case, what steps the agency took after receiving calls won’t be known until its report is made public.

“The injuries on Jeanette were completely obvious,” Amber Davis said. “There’s no way anyone from the department could have seen her and said she was OK.”

– Susan Goldsmith

Child welfare worker found nothing amiss before baby death

 

http://www.lacrossetribune.com/news/state-and-regional/wi/article_234dd5ac-f690-11de-867e-001cc4c03286.html?mode=story

MILWAUKEE – A report from Milwaukee child welfare officials conflicts with a medical examiner’s report after the death of a 6-month old.

The body of Dekia Mattox was found Saturday stuffed under a mattress in her home. A 36-year-old Milwaukee man has been charged in her death.

The medical examiner’s report states the home had broken windows, empty alcohol containers and not much food. That matches what police have said.

The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare had investigated the home seven weeks earlier but reported nothing out of the ordinary.

The bureau was reacting to a complaint that Dekia had scratches and cuts, but the child welfare worker said she found no marks.

Bureau director Arlene Happach said clearly something dramatically changed in the home.

Petition for Shavon’s law to hold CPS workers liable for failure to protect

 

 

http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-29636-Surry-County-CPS-Examiner~y2009m12d12-Petition-for-Shavons-law-to-hold-CPS-workers-liable-for-failure-to-protect#

When Shavon Miles passed out in front of her Chicago area home on August 6, 2007 her mother and step-father did not react the way that normal parents would have.

Instead of seeking immediate medical attention for Shavon, they allegedly accused her of faking a seizure and dragged her into her home where Shavon was then beaten to death with an electrical cord and wooden 2×4 until, in the words of the Chi Town daily news, “the wood was stained red with the child’s blood.”

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