MIAMI (CBSMiami) — A former child protective investigator is under arrest on charges of official misconduct related to a case where a child died after he was left in a hot car.
Shani Smith, 36, who used to work at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) turned herself into the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Miami Office Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re very surprised that after two years the state has decided to levy charges upon Miss Smith. It caught us all off guard,” Smith’s attorney David Kubiliun told CBS 4’s Lauren Pastrana. “Not only are these charges unfounded, but they really have no merit.”
FDLE officials said an investigation found she falsified records in the case of a mother, Catalina Bruno, whose 11-month-old son, Bryan Osceola, was found dead in his family’s car after he had been sitting in the hot Florida sun in May 2013. Would-be rescuers said he had an internal body temperature of 109 degrees.
Bruno was arrested, charged, and ultimately took a plea deal in the case.
At the time, it was revealed the Bruno had a history with DCF stemming from a previous incident in which she was found passed out drunk in her car with the baby sitting on her lap.
According to Smith’s case notes, Bruno had been referred for a substance abuse evaluation which came back negative. However, the investigation found Smith never referred Bruno for the substance abuse evaluation.
Five months after Smith’s investigation closed, Bruno’s son was found dead. At the time of the child’s death, Bruno had been drinking alcohol.
Smith resigned the same month amid the falsification accusations. She was facing termination from her position, but decided to resign before the state agency could fire her. It was later learned Smith wasn’t certified as an investigator.
At the time, Smith defended her actions.
“I am not a criminal. I did nothing wrong,” said Smith almost two years ago. “I have no regrets. What I regret is that this baby died. That’s the regret I have.”
On Wednesday, DCF issued a statement on her arrest saying, “The DCF Office of Inspector General referred this case to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and assisted in the investigation. DCF has very high standards for its employees and employees must to do their jobs fairly and honestly. In this particular case, this former employee violated the public trust and did not uphold the standards we expect for those entrusted with the duty of protecting children in our community. We appreciate the work of FDLE and the State Attorney’s Office in bringing criminal charges.”
Kubiliun said his client “is being used as a scapegoat here, because as the public knows, DCF has had a myriad of problems over the past couple years and they’re using her as the fall girl.”
As of Wednesday evening, Smith was being held at the Turner Gilford Knight Correctional Center.
“We are going to defend these charges to the end and we’re confident at the very end of this case she will be exonerated,” Kubiliun added.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office will prosecute the case.
Smith is expected to appear for a bond hearing Thursday.