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In Loving Memory of Aubrey Littlejohn Murdered in Foster Care Aged 1 year old

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on Mon, 08/13/2012 - 09:47
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BRYSON CITY, N.C. (AP) — Two social service workers in North Carolina have been accused of falsifying records and indicted on obstruction of justice charges in the investigation of the death of a 1-year-old girl.

Candice Lassiter and Craig Smith were indicted Tuesday. Lassiter also faces forgery charges.

Smith was a social worker for the Swain County Department of Social Services and Lassiter was his supervisor.

Police said after Aubrey Littlejohn’s death about a year ago, Lassiter ordered Smith to falsify records to make it appear as though the department had done a thorough investigation into allegations that Aubrey was being abused by her great-aunt, LadyBird Powell, who was the girl’s caretaker.

A state medical examiner said Aubrey died of undetermined causes, but noted bruises and broken bones.

An Associated Press investigation found that police and social workers had been aware of reports the little girl was being mistreated while she was staying with Powell. Two months before Aubrey died, authorities removed a different child from Powell’s home but left Aubrey behind.

Powell was charged last week with second-degree murder in the Aubrey’s death. She’s being held on a $1 million bond. Attempts to reach an attorney representing her have been unsuccessful.

An attorney representing Aubrey said the indictments show an expanding probe, but more needs to be done.

“There were other social workers who did nothing to protect this child,” attorney David Wijewickrama said Wednesday. “And when Aubrey died, they were more concerned about protecting themselves than digging for the truth. It’s vry painful to the family that this has gone on so long. That so many people lied to the family. We just want justice for Aubrey.”

Aubrey was left in Powell’s care by her mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, who was facing jail time on drug charges.

Smith’s attorney said he was still reviewing the grand jury’s indictment. Lassiter couldn’t be immediately reached.

Smith left the agency shortly after Aubrey’s death. The head of the Swain County social services agency, Tammy Cagle, was fired within weeks of Aubrey’s death for what county commissioners said were unrelated reasons.

According to the indictment, Lassiter “forged information which showed that the child would be `conditionally safe’ in the home of LadyBird Powell.”

The indictment claims Lassiter forged Powell’s signature on several documents required of caregivers in cases where abuse is alleged, including one saying an investigation into reports that Aubrey was abuse was completed Oct. 11, 2010.

Authorities said that was wrong, and the investigation was still ongoing at the time.
After Aubrey’s death, Lassiter instructed Smith to create a fabricated report that included an interview with an emergency room doctor who had supposedly examined Aubrey after she was spotted with bruises and said she was fine, the indictment said.

The purpose was “to obstruct, delay and/or prevent an investigation into the death of Aubrey Littlejohn,” the indictment said.


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CHEROKEE — Five social workers named in the police investigation into the death of toddler Aubrey Littlejohn will no longer work on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

The attorney general for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in a memo on Friday said the N.C. Division of Social Services approved a request that the social workers be excluded from duties in Cherokee during the investigation.

“Obviously, we don't have a comfort level until we see that this issue is resolved,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks said Monday.

The memo said social workers not involved in the investigation would be allowed to work on the reservation.

Cherokee doesn't have its own social services office. State offices in Swain and Jackson counties handle calls on the reservation.

The 15-month-old child died Jan. 10 after spending the previous day strapped into a car seat for 12 hours and given only bites of a hot dog and sips of soda, according to a search warrant filed by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Aubrey was a member of the tribe, though living in Swain County.

Her great-aunt, Lady Bird Powell, discovered she wasn't breathing that night and took her to the Cherokee Indian Hospital. Powell called 911 along the way and tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, according to court papers.

Powell has denied the allegation that Aubrey was left strapped in her car seat and wasn't properly fed. She said in an interview that Aubrey was well-cared-for.

Aubrey's mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, gave her daughter to Powell when the baby was only months old because she could not care for her. Littlejohn was in jail awaiting sentencing in a federal drug case at the time of the child's death. She is still in jail.

Social worker Craig Smith, who visited Powell's home five months before Aubrey died, has already been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. He was at the home acting on a tip that Aubrey fell down a set of stairs from an unbuckled car seat.

Smith told police he falsified records after the child's death to show he had made sure she was seen by a doctor for injuries from the fall, according to investigator's statements in court papers. He told investigators his supervisor instructed him to fix the records. A preliminary autopsy found Aubrey had a broken arm that had healed before her death.

The N.C. Division of Social Services plans to review foster care and child protective services cases in Swain County.

Swain County commissioners on March 10 asked that the local DSS board resign after it failed to reach an agreement on suspending the four other social workers police have named in court papers. Director Tammy Cagle was among those commissioners wanted suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

Three DSS board members resigned the next day. Commissioners control two of the seats on the five-member board.

The Eastern Band's request to have the social workers excluded is the most recent in a string of unusual steps surrounding the inquiry into Aubrey's death.

• The tribe hired a private investigator who worked with a Swain County sheriff's detective so that it could have “a more comprehensive level of information in this case,” Hicks has said. Private investigators typically don't work side by side with law enforcement.

• The move by Swain County commissioners to call for suspensions and later DSS board resignations is nearly unheard of in Western North Carolina.

• The SBI raided the DSS offices in Bryson City on Feb. 22, seizing records and computer hard drives. An SBI raid on a state office could signal high level of interest from prosecutors in the case. District Attorney Michael Bonfoey has declined comment. He typically does not discuss ongoing investigations.

No one has been charged in the case.

Justin Greene, the attorney for Swain County DSS, said his agency would honor the tribe's request.

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Trials begin Monday for social workers in death of NC child Aubrey Littlejohn

The trials of two Swain County, North Carolina social workers accused of falsifying records to hide the Department of Social Services’ role in the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn begin on Monday, the Associated Press reported on Saturday, April 13. The girl was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and the case has sparked outrage in the Native American community and divided the community of Bryson City since Littlejohn’s death on Jan. 10 2011.

Prosecutors charged Candice Lassiter, 30, with three counts each of obstruction of justice and forgery and Craig Smith, 28, with three counts of obstruction of justice, all related to the police investigation of the death of Aubrey Littlejohn. The charges stem from allegations that Lassiter ordered Smith, who was under her supervision, to falsify DSS records to make it appear that the department had done a more thorough job of investigating allegations of abuse against the girl’s caretaker.

Doriane Coleman, an expert on children's law at Duke University Law School, says that the case is unusual because social workers are hardly ever charged in relation to deaths that occur to children under their supervision:

"The usual facts are the little kid died, the social workers knew something about it and didn't take care of it," Coleman said. "This is a case where social workers are accused of falsifying documents and obstructing justice after the fact. They're not being prosecuted for failure to take care of the little girl while she was alive. They're being prosecuted for ... what they did after she died to protect themselves."

Aubrey died after being rushed to the hospital by her great-aunt, Ladybird Powell. The cause of Aubrey’s death was undetermined, but an autopsy found numerous bruises and evidence of a past fracture, where Ladybird later admitted to having “snapped” and broken the little girl’s arm. They said Aubrey’s death was consistent with hypothermia; the girl’s body temperature was only 84 degrees when she was brought to the hospital, and she was dressed in nothing but a t-shirt and a dirty diaper. DSS had investigated Powell on the night of Nov. 9, 2010 due to complaints that the children were living there with no heat and possibly being abused and neglected. They removed an 11-year old who was also living in the home but left baby Aubrey there. Ruth McCoy, Littlejohn’s great-aunt and a realty officer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, says she begged social workers to take Aubrey that night but they wouldn’t listen.

When Swain County investigators looked into the case, they found at least three reports of neglect or abuse against Aubrey. They also found pages missing from written reports on the case and suspected that DSS records had been altered to cover up their failure to properly investigate the case. This led to a raid on the Swain County Department of Social Services by the State Bureau of Investigation on Feb. 22, 2011. During the raid, the SBI seized computers and records and found evidence that they had been falsified and tampered with by DSS employees.

Ladybird began caring for Aubrey in 2010, in what was supposed to be temporary situation until Aubrey’s mother, Jasmine Powell, got out of jail on marijuana-trafficking charges. When she got out of jail and went to Ladybird to get her daughter back, family members say that Ladybird refused to return the child unless Jasmine Powell paid her several thousand dollars. She was still trying to get her daughter back when she found out that she had died. Ladybird Powell pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter, extortion, possession of drug paraphernalia and two counts of felony child abuse and was sentenced to 12 years in jail on Feb. 18, 2013.

According to AP sources, Tammy Cagle, the Swain County DSS director at the time of Littlejohn’s death, was fired for what the county called unrelated reasons. Supervisor Candice Lassiter and three other DSS workers were suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation. Craig Smith resigned not long after Aubrey’s death and started his own business.

David Wijewickrama, a lawyer hired by the Littlejohn family to represent Aubrey’s estate, has filed two lawsuits in connection with her death, at least one of which names the Swain County Department of Social Services as a defendant, along with seven current and former social workers, including Lassiter and Smith. The lawsuit accuses the county of not doing enough to protect Native American children from abuse and neglect and asks for more than $10,000 in damages.