Swain County commissioners voted 4 to 1 in a special meeting Thursday (March 3) to formally recommend that the Department of Social Services Board suspend with pay four employees involved in a State Bureau of Investigation probe into an alleged cover-up at the agency.
Commissioners emphasized that their recommendation is not a reflection of whether they think the DSS employees are guilty of wrong-doing. But commissioners said that suspending the employees will protect the integrityof the ongoing investigation.
The DSS board will meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, at the DSS office to discuss the commissioners recommendation.
Swain County commissioners met with three members of the DSS board in closed session for over an hour Thursday evening prior to the commissioners' vote. The meeting could legally be held behind closed doors since the discussion centered on personnel and a criminal investigation.
About 30 friends and family of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, a 15-month-old baby who died in January, waited outside during the duration of the closed meeting to see what commissioners would do. Relatives say they had appealed to DSS to take Aubrey away from her caregiver and complained of suspected abuse and neglect. The SBI is investigating whether DSS employees engaged in a cover-up following Aubrey's death to hide potential negligence on their part.
Several social workers came to the meeting as well and expressed their dismay that their agency was under attack. They pointed out the many dedicated social workers in Swain County who put their heart and soul into what is a very tough job.
So far, only one of the employees named has been put on leave – Craig Smith, a social worker with the agency since 2006, who was directly involved in falsifying records following the death of a child, according to an SBI search warrant. However, Smith told investigators he was acting on orders from his boss. Smith also told investigators that the DSS director and program manager knew he had never followed up on whether the child saw a doctor, even though he had fabricated a report to the contrary.