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Wednesday, 23 February 2011 22:02

Swain DSS investigated for cover-up in child’s death

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The Swain County Department of Social Services falsified records relating to the abuse and neglect of a 15-month-old baby who later died, according to an investigation by the Swain County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation.

The specific charge being investigated is “obstruction of justice being infamous, done in secrecy and malice, and/or with deceit and intent to defraud.”

The social worker who handled the case, Craig Smith, altered his reports, falsifying a hospital visit and doctor’s exam that never occurred, according to law enforcement statements.

Smith claims he did so at the direction of his immediate superior, Candace Lassiter, according to a search warrant executed by the SBI at the DSS office in Bryson City.

ALSO: Suspicious death of 15-month-old prompts SBI to seize Swain DSS computers

DSS Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones met with Smith after he had falsified the reports, according to the warrant. Smith said Cagle told him at the meeting “we have to get everything in order and everything straight.”

The SBI seized computers and records from Swain County DSS offices this week. Workers were put on lock down during the raid and those with appointments to meet with DSS case workers had to come back another day.

Fifteen-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn was in the care of her great-aunt Ladybird Powell when she died on Jan. 10. Abuse and neglect are considered contributing factors, according to law enforcement records, but the investigation is still pending and no charges have been filed yet. The autopsy report is not yet final.

DSS had been to Powell’s trailer several times to investigate claims of abuse and neglect of children in Powell’s custody.

The investigation into Swain DSS was launched after Swain County Detective Carolyn Posey uncovered discrepancies in DSS records and found holes in the accounts from DSS social workers.

Posey had initially been assigned to investigate Aubrey’s death and determine what, if any, charges should be filed.

Over the course of the investigation, Posey encountered delays getting DSS records. When she finally got the reports she found there were missing pages and other things that didn’t add up.

For example, one report said that Aubrey had been seen by a doctor and was normal with no signs of injury. But when Posey called that doctor, she found that that the doctor in fact had never seen Aubrey.

Posey had interviewed several relatives and neighbors who witnessed abuse and neglect of Aubrey while in Powell’s care. Relatives said they had repeatedly informed DSS of the situation, made reports and requested intervention but got no response.

Information gleaned from relatives about the baby’s condition and treatment was “in direct contrast to the information provided by the Department of Social Services’ employees: Misty Tabor, Craig Smith, Candace Lassiter, Angela Biggs, T.L. Jones and Tammy Cagle,” the warrant states.

DSS Program Manager T.L. Jones and and DSS Director Tammy Cagle told Posey their agency had only received two reports of abuse and neglect, which Poesy noted was “in direct contrast” to what she had been told by relatives claiming they had made numerous reports.

Posey was aided in her investigation by Danny Cheatham, a private investigator hired by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to assist in the inquiry into Aubrey’s death.

Once Posey and Cheatham discovered what appeared to be cover-up by Swain DSS, they alerted District Attorney Mike Bonfoey, who in turn called the State Bureau of Investigation.

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