Friday, March 26, 2010

Child protection employee suspended after leaving infant girl with abusive father (Manatee, Florida)

A Child Protection employee has been suspended after they left an infant girl with broken bones in the home of her abusive father, CHRISTOPHER DOWDY, who subsequently went on to abuse her further.

Note that the reporter misleadingly refers to this situation as "an abusive home." The walls, foundation, and roof were not abusive. Neither are there any expressed concerns about the mother, who is disabled and confined to a wheelchair. It appears the only abuser was the father. Yet the children have been removed from the home anyway. We're reported on this case before.

MSO child protection employee suspended

MANATEE — An employee in the sheriff’s office’s Child Protective Investigations division was suspended for six weeks and her supervisor recently resigned after an infant girl with broken bones sustained more injuries when she was left in an abusive home, according to an internal affairs report released Thursday.

Investigator Jill Baird, who has worked for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for nearly three years, has no prior disciplinary record. She had been assigned to the case Nov. 25 because the child was not eating, according to authorities.

However, it took Baird until Dec. 29 — 35 days — to request a doctor on the county’s child protection team to review the girl’s medical records, the report said.

Upon review, the doctor expressed concerns that the girl might have suffered a broken bone or had an infected bone based on X-rays taken in November, according to the report.

The doctor then requested additional X-rays to evaluate the injuries further, because he was concerned the child had a broken leg, said Maj. Connie Shingledecker.

On Jan. 8, Baird told the child’s father, 46-year-old Christopher Dowdy, to take the child to Manatee Memorial Hospital for X-rays, the report said.

On Jan. 14, Baird learned X-rays had been taken of the 8-month-old girl. The investigation was closed that same day by the sheriff’s office after Baird had her supervisor, Tamberlyn Merritt-Dralus, review it, according to the report. Merritt-Dralus, who worked for the sheriff’s office for 10 years, also had no prior disciplinary record, according to authorities.

The second set of X-rays was never submitted to the child protection team doctor, the report said.

“Had the investigation been conducted promptly and diligently, the injuries would have been identified as being a result of abuse and the more recent injuries would have been prevented,” according to the report.

“The child was X-rayed, but that information wasn’t properly relayed to the doctor, which put the child at risk,” Shingledecker said.

It wasn’t until a few days later, Jan. 19, when the girl was taken back to the hospital to be checked for what her father thought was pneumonia, Shingledecker said.

Doctors, however, discovered she had three rib fractures, two left leg fractures and one right leg fracture, according to the report.

Investigators opened a new investigation upon learning of the fractures, the report said.

Dowdy was arrested Jan. 20 on a charge of child abuse and released from jail the next day, according to authorities.

The infant girl’s mother, who is confined to a wheelchair, said she saw Dowdy spank the child with a flip flop around Thanksgiving when the child began to “fuss,” according to a Bradenton Police Department arrest report.

The mother also told police she saw Dowdy pull down the child’s diaper and spank her with his bare hand. Dowdy admitted to the incidents and said he rubbed his chin on the infant girl’s chest in a playful way, but he denied ever intentionally abusing the girl, according to the arrest report.

Had Baird relayed the second set of X-rays to the doctor, a more thorough investigation would have been conducted, Shingledecker said.

“We stress so much more with infants because they are so much more at risk because they can’t communicate. You have to be on top of what’s going on and monitor that very closely,” she said.

Investigators are given a 60-day window to close a case or give a legitimate reason for leaving an investigation open per the Florida Department of Children and Families, Shingledecker said.

Shingledecker said while the sheriff’s office hasn’t had additional funding in several years for additional staff, and caseloads can fluctuate for child protection investigators, it’s still not an excuse for what happened.

“That’s not a legitimate excuse for what needs to be done,” Shingledecker said, noting child protection investigators have about 15 to 18 cases per month on average. “That’s why you’re in this position. We need you to do the most thorough job you can do. We don’t need you to cut corners. We need you to check everything that needs to be checked.”

According to the internal affairs report, the infant girl and her 5-year-old sister were removed from the home in January when Dowdy was arrested. Shingledecker could not comment on the child’s current living situation.

Dowdy was ordered to have no unsupervised contact with the children, according to court documents. His case is still pending.

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