Lawyer blames DCF worker for failing mother
MIAMI (WSVN) -- A mother with a history of parenting problems appeared in court Wednesday as the blame game continued inside the Department of Children and Families as to what went so terribly wrong as to leave a baby dead.
Catalina Bruno faces charges of manslaughter after her 11-month-old son, Bryan Osceola, died on May 16 when he was left inside a sweltering car in front of the family home. The baby's core temperature soared to 109 degrees, and he died. Bruno's lawyer, Lonnie Richardson, placed blame on the DCF worker assigned to her case. "We really hope they'll investigate the worker at great lengths," he said.
That DCF case worker, Shani Smith, has spent the past 24 hours defending herself after she essentially lost her job because she did not submit paperwork essential to the case of Bruno. Her lawyer calls Bruno a woman in crisis. "Catalina Bruno needs help," he said, "and unfortunately, she slipped through crack after crack after crack. The reality is you're never gonna really have a complaint that someone drops your case unless there's a tragedy at the end of it."
As Bruno's case meanders through the system following the ultimate tragedy, attention has turned to Smith. She was first assigned to the family case in November of 2012 after Bruno was found passed out in her car with her baby inside when he was 5 months old. "Never once did I feel there was something else that I could have done that could have prevented this," Smith said. "Did DCF make me feel that way? Absolutely."
DCF said Smith was supposed to ask for an outside expert for an alcohol and mental health evaluation for Bruno. They said she didn't do it and lied about it. Smith is adamant that she did ask for the evaluation. "You kinda become ingrained to protocol," she said. "It's almost automated after a while."
Smith maintains that, during that investigation, she faxed her request to an outside expert to have the evaluation completed for Bruno. She said the fax went through. "I faxed it. I can still remember the fax number in my head. I faxed it."
She said she received a response that Bruno needed no further services and put a hard copy of that evaluation in the family's file. "They ask you: 'Do you drink a lot? How much you drink on a regular basis?' That's the test," she said describing the evaluation. "I don't wait for the appointment for mom to make with Spectrum [Programs]. I literally just wait till I get an email that says: 'report.'"
Now, DCF says, they don't have a record of the report, either. Meanwhile, Smith protests, she did her job. "I never falsified any record. There's no reason for me to falsify a record."
Bruno, meanwhile, will remain behind bars as she awaits a hearing on June 7 and a trial date set for Aug. 19. The judge said she will be combining the DUI and child neglect case with Bruno's manslaughter case.
Normally what happens in a case like this, a DCF worker submits that referral via email, though faxing is not unheard of. Then there is a specific period of time where that evaluator must get to that troubled parent. Whether or not that DCF worker takes that report and decides to do something with the results, that depends on the facts of the situation and their own discretion.
Smith says she did all she could and is hoping people will believe her side of the story and not see any criminal charges filed against her.
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