Investigative Panel Wants Answers In Barahona Probe

MIAMI (CBS4) – Did Miami-Dade police drop the ball after receiving a complaint of suspected abuse of the children in the now infamous Barahona case?  Police Director James Loftus said Thursday he wants to find out.

Loftus has ordered a probe into whether a complaint desk officer dodged taking a report, just days before ten year-old Nubia Barahona was found dead, and her brother Victor chemically burned in their adoptive father’s pesticide truck.

“I can tell you that there is a spinoff internal affairs investigation into the conduct of our employee,” Police Director Loftus said.

A caller to a DCF abuse hotline on February 12th said he was worried that Nubia was nowhere to be found, and that her twin Victor had a split lip that had not been stitched.  The caller told the DCF operator he had first contacted Miami-Dade Police, attempting to make a report in person.

“I happen to go to the Miami-Dade Police Department and told what I have been telling you to the officer that was there at the counter,” the caller told the DCF operator.  “But they gave me a number to call you.”

Loftus said his investigators interviewed the man Wednesday night after seeing news stories on his apparently unsuccessful effort to file a police report.

“If indeed there was a contact with someone at the front desk of our district office, we want to find out what happened, specifically,” Loftus said.  “We are looking at that.”

Loftus also announced Thursday that he has quadrupled the size of his department’s Child Exploitation Unit.  Loftus said he has reassigned 12 detectives from homicide, robbery and other divisions to the team that investigates child abuse cases.  The child abuse unit previously had only four investigators.

Today’s hearing was the panel’s third so far.

The blue ribbon panel is plowing through familiar ground, bemoaning the fact that red flags were raised and the system didn’t connect the dots.

“We were getting signs early on, very early on, but we didn’t tie it all together,” said DCF Regional Director Jacqui Colyer.

“The school system said ‘My gosh, there’s something wrong here,” exclaimed panel chairman David Lawrence, referring to repeated reports from teachers and other school officials that Nubia was being physically and emotionally abused, even starved.

As early as 2004 a home nurse reported the foster parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, were not caring for Nubia properly, and she should be removed. The report went nowhere.

In January 2005, Nubia reported she was being sexually molested by her foster father, Jorge Barahona. Records suggest, though, that investigators weren’t sure whether she was talking about Jorge or her biological father. A psychologist concluded Nubia’s complaint was not “credible,” but it’s not clear that the psychologist even interviewed Nubia after the allegations were made, or relied on the impressions of others.

In February 2006, DCF received a report that Nubia had bruises and welts on her face and body, and that her brother Victor showed signs of abuse. The kids were missing a lot of school. An investigator concluded there was no abuse.

DCF administrators acknowledged that records in the Barahona case were sketchy and incomplete.

“Boy, this is a really sloppy way of passing along information,” declared panel chairman Lawrence.

Lawrence said DCF generated thousands of pages of documents in the Barahona case, but had no snapshot of what was going on in the family.

“This is something that should be contained in a simple three or four pages, this is what is going on with this child,” Lawrence said.

Panel member Roberto Martinez said DCF investigators need to use more common sense in responding to reports of abuse.

“I think the first step should be to go to the mirror,” Martinez said. “Look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘are you thinking!'”

The panel agreed DCF investigators must respond more urgently to abuse reports, and more effectively communicate with each other, teachers, counselors and police.

“It needs to happen, because a child is dead,” declared a red-faced Lawrence.

The panel will meet twice more next week and is expected to release a report of its findings and recommendations March 11th, nearly one month after Nubia’s body was found stuffed in plastic bags in the back of Jorge Barahona’s pesticide truck. Her brother Victor was in the front seat doused in a toxic chemical. He was released from the hospital Tuesday night and placed in an undisclosed therapeutic foster home.

Jorge Barahona has pleaded not guilty to the attempted first-degree murder of the boy. No one has been charged in Nubia’s death but authorities have been investigating the couple’s Southwest Miami-Dade home as a crime scene.

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