DCF secretary: worker lied about dead toddler's mother
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WEST MIAMI-DADE (WSVN) -- A Department of Children and Families employee has come under fire for allegedly falsifying a report about Catalina Bruno, the South Florida mother who is currently behind bars for the death of her toddler.
"I'm extremely angry, upset, frustrated and extremely disappointed," said DCF Secretary David Wilkins about his government agency's findings. "This endangers lives."
Eleven-month-old Bryan Osceola was found unresponsive in his mother's car May 16 after he had been left in the sweltering heat. Police said the toddler had a 109-degree temperature when he was taken to Kendall Regional Medical Center, where he was declared dead.
According to Wilkins, one of his department's own employees may have kept potentially life-saving help from reaching Bruno. "I thought we were better than this," Wilkins said.
Bruno was arrested in November of 2012 for driving while intoxicated and child neglect after, a police report states, officers found her "passed out asleep behind the wheel of her vehicle." The report continues, "An infant child [lay] to the right of the driver's seat with his head down between the front seats."
Suzanne Von Paulus, a prosecutor in Bruno's case, indicated, "Her breath alcohol level at that time was .17. The child was placed in danger at that time."
Officials said DCF child protection investigator Shani Smith handled the case and noted that she would have an expert do an assessment to determine if Bruno had an alcohol or drug problem. Smith wrote in her report that she received results from the expert that "showed no evidence of of substance misuse," and that the specialist "had no recommendations for mom."
"In our review of the case, we found that the assessment was not there," said Wilkins.
In fact, officials said, there's no evidence Smith even contacted a substance abuse expert. "This morning, we confronted this employee," Wilkins said. "While she denied that she falsified records, all of the evidence available to us, at this point in time, points to the contrary.
Wilkins said his agency made many changes since the death of Nubia Barajona, days after a DCF visit to the 10-year-old's home. "We replaced over half of our investigators here in Miami with new investigators," he said. Among the newly hired personnel was Shani Smith. "We will never know if the services we could have offered would have made a difference for Bryan's mother or change the tragic outcome of this case," Wilkins said.
Bruno's attorney, Lonnie Richardson, said his client is suffering from depression and that she also suffered from postpartum depression following Bryan's birth.
Dave Kubiliun, Shani Smith's attorney, released a statement that reads, "At this time, it's my understanding that Ms. Smith followed all DCF protocol with respect with Ms. Bruno's prior case management. She is deeply saddened by the tragic incident."
According to DCF officials, Shani Smith is technically on leave but measurements to expedite her termination are underway. She has 10 days to appeal the department's decision.
DCF officials have forwarded their findings to the State Attorney's Office.
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