A high-ranking Department of Children and Families official acknowledged that an email that said missing boy Dontrell Melvin was seen in October 2012 was a mistake.
The email released by DCF said that an investigator saw the child on Oct. 14, 2012, even though police have said he was last seen around July 2011.
"That was an error that was made,” said Pete Digre, DCF’s deputy secretary.
A child protective investigator made the mistake, he told NBC 6 South Florida.
A Hallandale Beach Police officer called the state’s abuse hotline two days later, on Oct. 16, 2012, to report that Dontrell’s mother said she hadn’t seen him since July 2011. He was 5 months old at that time.
“I mean, I don’t know how persistent she was in seeing her child. She still talks on and off with the father but every time she asks about the baby he is just always making excuses and never brings the baby by," the officer said in the phone call. "So she doesn’t even know, I mean, whether the baby is even alive or not."
The call was screened out, which means no investigator was sent to the home.
Parents Brittney Sierra and Calvin Melvin Jr. are being held on child neglect charges, and Hallandale Beach Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy has called them suspects in the possible death of their son. The father is also charged with obstructing a criminal investigation by providing false statements to police.
Police found enough remains in the backyard of the home where Dontrell once lived to piece together a nearly complete skeleton of a child, and are awaiting DNA confirmation of the remains.
Christina Spudeas, executive director of Florida's Children First, says she is one of many child advocates upset about the case.
"What's really disconcerting is the police having dropped the ball, not having done their investigation, but calling the hotline, the abuse hotline,” Spudeas said. “An officer obviously thought there was a need for DCF to have knowledge or be involved. Red flags should have been flying for DCF.”
DCF stands by the hotline operator’s decision.
"Based on the conversation they had there wasn't an allegation made, so it is true we did not have the authority to act," Digre said. "Somebody's got to say this is a child who I believe is being harmed."
Flournoy said earlier this week that police expected DCF to investigate.
On average 1,400 calls come into the abuse hotline every day. In mid-November, DCF opened a new command center in Tallahassee that double-checks an operator’s decision whether to send an investigator. The second person can look at a complete family history and take that into account.
Those changes took effect one month after the call was made about Dontrell. Digre said his agency and Broward authorities are now reviewing the boy’s case in depth.
"We have numerous people going through every aspect of this both at the Broward Sheriff's Office and in our regional office. And we are going to understand every aspect of it,” he said.