Published On: Wed, Mar 9th, 2011

Swain County Commissioners urge DSS Board to resign

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF 

Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn

     Swain County DSS offices were raided by the SBI on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 22 and computers and records were seized.  Those records involved the tragic death of 15-month-old Kina-Marie Littlejohn, an EBCI tribal member who was pronounced dead at Cherokee Indian Hospital at 3:56 am on the morning of Jan. 10.  

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

     Now, the Swain County Board of Commissioners is asking for the resignations of the entire Swain DSS Board.    

     A statement released from the Swain County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday, March 9 stated, “The Swain County Board of Commissioners is extremely disappointed with the actions of the Department of Social Services Board. During the last Commissioner’s meeting the Board asked the DSS Board to temporarily suspend employees that had been named in the investigation.  This is a procedure that is followed in most Counties in North Carolina.  It has never been the intention of the Board of Commissioners to accuse anyone of wrong-doing, but suspending the employees would help authorities with the State conduct an unbiased investigation and have more flexibility to do their job.”

     The statement said the suspensions would help the Department regain community trust.  “The Commissioners feel that the DSS board members are not working for the citizens of Swain County. The DSS Board did not vote on this issue at their Tuesday night meeting.  The Board of Commissioners feel that the needs of the children should have more priority than the needs of the Director or employees.  Therefore, the Commissioners urge all the current DSS Board members to immediately resign, so that these positions can be filled with people who are not afraid to put the best interests of children and families of Swain County first at all times.”

Allegations of a Cover-Up

     Court papers revealed that documents given to Detective Carolyn Posey, Swain County Sheriff’s Office, as she started her investigation of Aubrey’s death, were incomplete and some were missing. 

     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 immediately returned.

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