Published On: Fri, Feb 25th, 2011

Cherokee Girl’s Death being investigated, Swain DSS accused of Cover-Up

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

                Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, a 15-month-old EBCI tribal member, was pronounced dead at Cherokee Indian Hospital at 3:56am on the morning of Jan. 10.  Aubrey was allegedly left in a car seat for 12 hours and given bites of a hot dog and a small amount of soda prior to her death. 

Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn

               The events leading up to her tragic death are under investigation along with the Swain County Department of Social Services (DSS) who is accused of a cover-up and falsifying documents including a doctor’s visit that never occurred. 

                Swain County DSS offices were raided on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 22 and computers and records were seized. 

                As of press time no charges have been filed in the case.  District Attorney Mike Bonfoey related, “There is an investigation ongoing with law enforcement at this time and the investigation continues.”            

                The child’s caregivers, LadyBird (Powell) Murphy and her husband James, brought Aubrey to the hospital along with two others on that night.  LadyBird Murphy, Aubrey’s great-aunt, was caring for the little girl while her mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, is in jail on unrelated drug charges.

                  Although Aubrey was an EBCI tribal member, the caregivers lived in Bryson City and were in the jurisdiction of Swain County DSS. 

                Principal Chief Michell Hicks commented, “Our tribe made a decision to hire a private investigator to provide us with a more comprehensive level of information in this case. We are unable to comment further about this ongoing investigation but we remain committed to following through to ensure justice is served in this case.”

                According to court papers filed in Swain County Court, the Swain County Sheriff’s Office was notified of the death and Detective Carolyn Posey was at the hospital 30 minutes later to start an investigation.  Posey then contacted the Swain County DSS and “discovered Swain County Department of Social Services had had at least two reports of neglect and/or abuse regarding Aubrey.” 

                The court papers state that Detective Posey requested those reports and received some two weeks later, but she found some of those to be questionable in nature.    

Court papers revealed, “An examination of the documentation provided to Detective Posey by the Department revealed that the documentation was incomplete:  documents were missing and forms with sequential page numbers were not complete.” 

                Some of the reports may have been falsified altogether. 

                Swain County DSS Social Worker Craig Smith documented that he placed a phone call on Sept. 24, 2010 to Cherokee Indian Hospital and spoke with a doctor regarding a visit following a fall by Aubrey. 

                According to the court papers, Detective Posey and Daniel Cheatham, the private investigator hired by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to aid in the investigation, formally interviewed the doctor in Smith’s report who told them that she had never had a phone conversation with Smith and had never seen nor examined Aubrey Littlejohn.

                The court papers state that the investigators approached Smith with evidence of the “non-existent telephone” call and he admitted to making it up. 

                Smith also related that “he had documented that false conversation because he was instructed to do so by his supervisor Social Worker Supervisor Candice Lassiter” who allegedly gave Smith a handwritten note on what to include in the narrative.

                Following a report to Swain County DSS on Sept, 15, 2010 of a fall by Aubrey, Smith reportedly made a home visit.  He initially told investigators the house was clean, full of nourishing food and “smelled of Pine Sol cleaning solution.” 

                Court papers allege that Posey and Cheatham “have interviewed numerous persons who indicated that they witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment.” 

                A message seeking comment from Tammy Cagle, Swain County DSS director, was not returned by press time. 

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