MIAMI (CBS4) – Andrea Fleary, the Florida Department of Children and Families caseworker fired for allegedly botching the investigation the Barahona family abuse case, believes she did everything she could to investigate the charges.
Fighting to regain her job, she told CBS4 News anchor Shannon Hori, in an exclusive interview, that she was a dedicated caseworker who did the best she could when the stopped at the home of Jorge and Carmen Barahona just before Valentine’s day. She had been sent to investigate allegations that their 10-year-old adopted daughter, Nubia, was being abused.
She did not find Nubia, or evidence of abuse, but days later, Nubia was dead, and her parents were charged with her murder.
“Not a day, not a day past that I don’t think about those kids,” Fleary said. “People may look at me and think that I’m heartless, but every case that I touched, it stays with me.”
None more so than the case of Nubia Barahona and her brother, Victor, twins found on February 14th in their adoptive father’s pick up truck.
Victor was alive, but convulsing and covered with chemicals. Nubia was in the back of the truck, covered with chemicals and dead.
Andrea Fleary says the first time she heard of the Barahonas was four days before that gruesome discovery, Thursday, February 10th.
A caller to the Florida abuse hotline said that children in the Barahona’s Southwest Miami-Dade home were tied by their hands and feet with tape and made to stay in the bathtub all day and night.
Fleary says she went to the home that day but no one was there.
She has been accused of not following through
“If you get an allegation that kids hands are being tied by tape and made to stand in the bathtub,” asked CBS4News anchor Shannon Hori, “that’s a pretty severe and specific allegation.”
“Again, like I said, it’s an allegation,” Fleary said. “A lot of cases come in to the hotline with allegations as such.”
She went back to the home on Friday, February 11th, and said the adoptive mother, Carmen Barahona answered the door.
“Based on information that mother had provided me at that time, the children were safe, ok,” Fleary said
Asked why, knowing how serious the allegations were against the parents, she didn’t ask to see the bathroom where the abuse had allegedly taken place, Fleary said she didn’t have the right.
“I don’t have the authority to go in a person’s house without probably cause,” she said.
Fleary says Carmen Barahona told her the twins were living with her husband, Jorge, at another location.
Fleary’s been criticized for not using that information to continue the search for the children over the weekend over the weekend. She blamed DCF rules and regulations regarding overtime.
“I was not authorized to work on Saturday and Sunday,” she said. “I not been preapproved to work overtime.”
She has heard the scalding criticism of her handling of the case, and the claim that she couldn’t be bothered to work on a weekend. She thinks it is unfair.
“The public can say we are lazy,” she said. “I can’t see any investigator that works with the Department of Children and Families that’s lazy, none of us, cause we work hard.”
When asked what she would say to Nubia now, if the murdered child could hear her, she answered through tears, “That I wish I could have saved her. I wish I would have seen her.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Children and Families disputed Fleary’s claim that she could not have followed up on the case over the weekend. DCF said has she asked to work over the weekend that request would have been approved because that is standard procedure.
Fleary said she wants her job back, and is appealing the decision to fire her.
Carmen and Jorge Barahona have been charged with First Degree murder, and face the death penalty if convicted.