MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The adoptive sister of Nubia Barahona, a young girl who died in the custody of her adoptive parents, has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Children and Families.

On Valentine’s Day 2011, police found the decomposing body of ten-year-old Nubia Barahona in the back of her adoptive father’s truck parked on the side of I-95 in West Palm Beach. In the front seat, they found her twin brother Victor suffering seizures from chemical burns.

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The lawsuit alleges that Nubia Barahona’s now 11-year-old adoptive sister, referred to as “J.B.” in the complaint, is a “survivor of severe child abuse” and accuses DCF and its employees and agents of “negligence and wanton misconduct.”

J.B. was “abused physically, sexually, and emotionally” by her adoptive parents, Carmen and Jorge Barahona, and she was also “forced to witness” the Barahonas’ abuse of her adoptive siblings, according to the complaint, filed in state court. The Barahonas, awaiting trial, face the death penalty if convicted on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and neglect for Nubia’s death and the alleged mistreatment of her twin brother, Victor.

Nubia and Victor were adopted by the Barahonas in 2009 after living in their home since 2004. The kids, authorities discovered, had endured starvation, beatings, medical neglect and they had been tied up and forced to stay in a bathtub.

The DCF came under fire during the course of the police investigation into Nubia’s death for failing to piece together warning signs from medical professionals and school officials that something was wrong in the Barahona home. The agency blamed it on a system wide failure, including poor judgment by child protective investigators, overwhelming caseloads and missed opportunities at every turn.

Nubia’s death prompted the creation of a task force to recommend reforms, such as hiring more child-abuse investigators and making changes to the state’s abuse and neglect hotline.

Monday’s lawsuit states that DCF “repeatedly ignored red flags of abuse in the household,” even though the agency had “ample cause” to remove J.B. and her adoptive siblings.

Educators reported that the twins showed up at school bruised or famished, but DCF ignored or downplayed the complaints. Finally the children were removed from school by the family, purportedly so they could be home-schooled.

Todd Falzone, J.B.’s lawyer, called the case a “systemic failure.”

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“These people shouldn’t have had any children in their home,” he said. For instance, the Barahonas were allowed to adopt Nubia and Victor despite the misgivings of a guardian ad litem, an individual who represents children in the court system, who felt the parents were unfit.

“One of our main goals in pursuing cases like this is not only to compensate the kids, but to try to fix a system that is ridiculously broken and just never seems to get fixed,” Falzone said.

Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are Lacheryl Harris, a family services Counselor for the Barahona children, and two child protective investigators who had looked into allegations of abuse and neglect in the home, Jean Lacroix and Eunice Guillot.

In an unrelated incident after Nubia’s death, Lacroix was charged with engaging in sex with a foster child. He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

DCF placed J.B. with the Barahonas in 2004 when she was 7 months old, and they adopted her in 2007. J.B. was removed from the Barahonas’ home after Nubia’s death and has been in therapeutic foster homes ever since, Falzone said.

DCF declined to comment on the case.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)


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