Fired DCF Worker In Barahona Abuse Case Loses Appeal
MIAMI (CBS4)- An appeal filed by a former DCF child abuse investigator involved in the Barahona case was dismissed.
The state’s Public Employees Relations Commission dismissed an appeal filed by Andrea Fleary, the state child abuse investigator fired in March for “poor performance and negligence” in her handling of abuse allegations at the home of Nubia Barahona.
Fleary, a 22-year veteran of the state Department of Children and Families, said during an April interview that her dismissal was inappropriate because she made no mistakes in her investigation, even though the 10-year-old girl’s body was found in the back of her adoptive father’s truck in West Palm Beach four days after Fleary visited her home.
In an exclusive interview with CBS4 News Anchor Shannon Hori in April, Fleary said 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.”
Hori asked Fleary about the allegation that was brought to DCF’s attention.
“If you get an allegation that kids hands are being tied by tape and made to stand in the bathtub,” asked 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.”
In the June 7 final order, the Public Employees Relations Commission said DCF “had cause to discipline Fleary,” according to the Palm Beach Post.
Fleary has 30 days to appeal the commission’s decision to the District Court of Appeals.
Fleary’s lawyer, Matthew Ladd, said Friday that he was not surprised by the commission’s ruling. He said they would consider their options before deciding whether to appeal.
DCF Secretary David Wilkins said he agreed with the commission.
“I think we made the right decision. We expect excellence in everything we do,” he said Thursday in Orlando, where he launched projects to reform the agency’s child abuse investigative process.
Fleary’s performance was criticized by an independent review panel charged with finding out if more could have been done to keep Nubia and her brother safe.
The panel said Fleary filled out a report stating the Barahona home was safe for the twins without even contacting the children.
A Miami-Dade family court judge also was critical of Fleary when she said she did not follow-up with the Barahonas the day after the first abuse call came in because she was not allowed to work weekends.
Jorge and Carmen Barahona, the twins’ adoptive parents, are in jail and face murder and child abuse charges in Nubia’s death.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Palm Beach Post contributed material for this report)