Sunday, June 15, 2008

Caseworkers criticized in death of 3 Nassau children

The Nassau County Commissioner of Investigations, in a report to be released Saturday, lambasted the work of Child Protective Services caseworkers investigating an abuse complaint against a New Cassel mother less than a day before her three children were drowned.

CPS did not fully investigate a Feb. 22 complaint that Leatrice Brewer was threatening her three children, according to a draft report by Investigations Commissioner Bonnie Garone. On Feb. 24, Brewer's three children -- Jewell Ward, 6, Michael Demesyeux, 5, and Innocent Demesyeux, 18 months -- were dead, all by drowning. Brewer, 27, has been charged with murder.

One part-time caseworker will be fired, a night supervisor will be demoted to a caseworker and day caseworker will be demoted and retrained, officials said Friday. Garone said she would refer some findings from her four-month probe to Nassau District Attorney
Kathleen Rice.Among the report's findings:

A caseworker assigned to the 12:26 p.m. complaint visited Brewer's home but "did not take sufficient steps to determine whether the family in fact was at home." The caseworker spoke to a woman who lived in the building and could have asked permission to come inside and knock on Brewer's door, but instead she left a form requesting a callback.

The caseworker then received a 90-second phone call from Brewer but did not take notes and did not inform a supervisor. Asked about the phone call by investigators, the caseworker said she "maybe" received a call from Brewer but did not recall what was discussed.

After another caseworker found no one home that evening, a Friday, a night supervisor assigned a part-time caseworker to visit the home on Sunday, instead of Saturday. Someone should have been assigned Saturday, the report said, noting that "the only identified benefit of leaving [the case] for Sunday was to provide an additional day of work for a part-time caseworker who was paid by the hour and who could then be scheduled to work on both Saturday and Sunday."

The part-time caseworker exercised his 5th Amendment right to not incriminate himself when asked about the case by investigators. The report suggests he may not have intended to visit Brewer's apartment at all: Interviews with co-workers showed the caseworker did not learn of the children's death until Sunday evening, by which time he had not tried to contact the family.

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the union that includes CPS, the Civil Service Employees Association, had not seen the report Friday but dismissed its findings.

"I had no doubt this was going to be a biased report," Laricchiuta said. "This is not a neutral report ... this is a report generated by management."

The report did not find systemic problems in CPS or the Department of Social Services administration. It also found that the county "thoroughly investigated" nine previous neglect complaints against Brewer over the past five years and had "no legal basis to remove the children from the home."

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Caseworkers criticized in death of 3 Nassau children --

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