DCF worker denies falsifying document, passes lie detector test
MIAMI (WSVN) -- The Department of Children and Families employee facing termination for allegedly falsifying a report about a South Florida woman who is currently in prison for the death of her toddler said she did nothing wrong, a claim supported by a polygraph test that found she was being truthful.
Shani Smith took the lie detector test on Friday, one day after DCF Secretary David Wilkins held a press conference where he stated department officials had confronted her about a report in which she concluded Catalina Bruno did not need substance abuse counseling.
Authorities said Bruno's 11-month-old son Bryan Osceola was found unresponsive in his mother's car on May 16, after he had been left in the sweltering heat. He was rushed to Kendall Regional Medical Center where doctors would pronounce him dead.
"The department is using my client as a scapegoat," said David Kubiliun, Smith's defense attorney. In November of 2012, Smith, who had been hired as a child protective investigator at DCF the year before, was assigned to Bruno's case. Police said they had found Bruno passed out in her car with her son inside the vehicle. She was charged with DUI. About six months later, Bruno would be charged with aggravated manslaughter for Bryan's death.
Smith maintained, after the November 2012 incident, she referred Bruno to a substance abuse evaluation. The ensuing report is the document her DCF supervisors are accusing Smith of falsifying, indicating that the evaluation was never done. "While she denies that she falsified records, all of the evidence available to us at this point in time points to the contrary," said Wilkins.
The day after the DCF news conference, Smith underwent a polygraph test administered by an examiner contracted by Kubiliun. "The reason we did it is because I'm in the process of clearing Ms. Smith's name," he said.
The report, which found Smith was being truthful, reads in part, "Ms. Smith said that DCF mandates that investigative files be reviewed in a face-to-face staffing with a supervisor. Ms. Bruno's file was reviewed and options discussed in detail with her case supervisor."
The polygraph report goes on to say, "Due to this being Ms. Bruno's first contact with DCF a refusal would be noted in the file, but at this level there was no way legally to compel Ms. Bruno to comply with assessment."
"If [DCF officials] are claiming that Ms. Smith did not give a drug and alcohol referral to Ms. Bruno, then they must have picked up on it, and they didn't," said Kubiliun.
During the lie detector test, Smith was asked whether she referred Bruno for a drug and mental health assessment. She responded, "Yes."
The polygraph report states, "The overall probability that Ms. Smith was truthful when answering these questions could be roughly estimated to be 99.9 percent."
Kubiliun said the man who conducted the polygraph test is a veteran with over 30 years of experience in the field.
DCF officials said they are still planning to fire Smith. The department released a statement that read in part: "The department is proceeding with its notice of intent to dismiss the employee. In addition, the matter has been referred to the inspector general for further investigation."
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