DCF worker: 'I did exactly what I was supposed to'
MIAMI (WSVN) -- The Department of Children and Families investigator at the center of a controversy surrounding the death of a toddler denied she missed key signs concerning the child's mother and indicated she's taking the fall for a serious breakdown at the government agency.
"Do I feel sorry ... for this baby? Absolutely, absolutely feel sorry for this baby," said Shani Smith about 11-month-old Bryan Osceola, who died May 16 after, police said, his mother, Catalina Bruno, left him inside a car in sweltering heat outside her West Miami-Dade home.
Upon hearing the news of Bryan's passing, Smith described her reaction as "heartbreak, tears." "I know Bryan. I can pull the image in my head, and it's heartbreaking, especially for a mom," said Smith, who has two children of her own.
The DCF case worker insisted, however, that she was not responsible for the tragic outcome. "Did I do anything to contribute to the death of this child? No," she said.
Smith was assigned to protect Osceola, an assignment she said she took very seriously. "For you to say that I've stepped out and you've given me the responsibility of managing a case with a child who could possibly be in danger, and I did nothing, just as a mother, that hurts."
In a news conference last Thursday, DCF Secretary David Wilkins said Smith failed as an investigator, and had informed her she will be fired. "We confronted this employee," said Wilkins. "While she denies she falsified records, all the evidence available to us at this point in time points to the contrary."
Smith called the accusation "unfair." "I never falsified any records," she said. "There's no need for me to falsify a record."
"David Wilkins has never even seen me," she said. "He's never sat down and looked me in the face. Not once, not once, but he can stand up and say, 'We believe that she did this.' [He's] never seen me, [he's] never spoken to me. [He] never sat across from me asked me, 'Shani, what happened?'"
Smith was initially assigned to Bruno's case in November of 2012, when the troubled mother was arrested after authorities found her passed out in her car with Bryan. She was charged with child neglect and DUI.
Smith said she did everything she could to protect Bryan and assist his mother, including referring her for a substance abuse evaluation. She said she faxed this request to an agency that works with DCF.
Wilkins said Smith never asked for a substance abuse evaluation for Bruno. He also claimed that she falsified documents, including forging investigators' notes, making it look as if she followed protocol. Smith said DCF officials claim they cannot find the case file. "Give me the hard copy of the file that I turned in, and I can show you what it was," said Smith. "My fax referral was in there, the cover sheet showing that I faxed it is in there, the gain report they said I received is in there, everything is in the hard copy of the file that I turned in, and they can't find it."
When asked if it was possible that she forgot to include the hard copy of the request and the evaluation that Bruno needed no services into the case file, Smith replied, "No, there is no possibility I forgot."
David Kubiliun, Smith's defense attorney, said DCF officials are unjustly using his client to show accountability for Bryan's death. "I strongly believe that Ms. Smith is being used as a scapegoat here," he said.
DCF officials indicated there is no missing file and claimed the fax and cover sheet Smith allegedly sent is missing.
Lonnie Richardson, Bruno's attorney, released a statement that reads in part, "Our position is that Catalina Bruno never met with an independent evaluator at nay time in regard to the charge of DUI and child neglect. It's yet another example of DCF falling short of its responsibilities."
Smith said she has never lost sight that, for all the back and forth arguments between her and her employers, her current dilemma stems from an infant's death. "I would never, ever do anything to endanger the life of a child," she said.
DCF officials released a statement confirming they are going forward with Smith's termination proceedings.
Smith said she has no interest in working for DCF again.
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