Fired Department of Children and Families Child Protective Investigator Denies Wrongdoing | NBC 6 South Florida

Fired Department of Children and Families Child Protective Investigator Denies Wrongdoing

Shani Smith said she has been made "a scapegoat"



    (Published Wednesday, May 29, 2013)

    The child protective investigator fired by the Department of Children and Families last week for allegedly falsifying documents denied Tuesday that she falsified any information.

    "I'm not a criminal. I did nothing wrong,” Shani Smith told NBC 6. “I followed the policies and procedures and I submitted my case to the best of my ability."

    Smith had worked for DCF since 2001. But she was fired last week, accused of falsifying records in a case involving Bryan Osceola. Police said the 11-month-old boy died May 16 after he was left unattended in the car of his mother, Catalina Bruno, 30. She is charged with aggravated manslaughter in his death.

    Previously, in November, Bruno was arrested on driving under the influence and child neglect charges. A DCF report said that Bruno drove recklessly and passed out, with her son in her lap at the time of an accident.

    DCF Secretary Discusses Firing of Child Protective Investigator

    [MI] DCF Secretary David Wilkins Discusses Firing of Child Protective Investigator in Connection With Catalina Bruno Case
    A Department of Children and Families child protective investigator has been fired for falsifying documents in a case related to the boy who died a week ago in his mother’s hot car, the agency's leader said. At a Thursday press conference, DCF Secretary David Wilkins described how employee Shani Smith falsified records after mother Catalina Bruno, 30, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in November. Smith denies she falsified records, but all available evidence points to the contrary, Wilkins said.
    (Published Thursday, May 23, 2013)

    Records state that Bruno underwent an evaluation and that a family intervention specialist recommended no services for her. But DCF Secretary David Wilkins said last Thursday that she never had an evaluation and the case was never referred to a specialist.

    "I heard about that on TV like everyone else," said Smith, referring to allegations that she falsified information.

    "When they released me, on that day that they took my phone, never once did they say anything about criminal charges – third-degree felony. I'm a liar, I'm an embarrassment?,” she said in an interview at her attorney’s office in Brickell.

    Mother Facing Aggravated Manslaughter Charge Held Without Bond

    [MI] Woman Facing Aggravated Manslaughter Charge in Son's Death Held Without Bond
    A mother charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child in the death of her 11-month-old son was ordered held without bond Saturday. Miami-Dade Judge Andrew Hague ordered Catalina Marista Bruno, 30, held on no bond in connection with a previous case involving her son. He set her bond at $250,000 for the new case, and set numerous conditions if she posts bond.
    (Published Saturday, May 18, 2013)

    Smith said she met with Bruno at the time, recommended a substance abuse evaluation – and said that a family intervention specialist performed it.

    "FIS had no concerns, mom was negative for any substances, and they had no recommendations," she said.

    DCF says none of it happened. Last Thursday, Wilkins cited an internal investigation for Smith's termination.

    “She is stating that these things occurred. None of our providers are saying that they did occur," Wilkins told NBC 6. "We can find no electronic records or documentation that said these things occurred, so we basically feel that there's been a crime committed. There's been a falsification of records in this situation, and so we have now terminated this employee.”

    VIDEO: DCF Child Protective Investigator Fired in Bruno Case

    Smith talked about passing a lie detector test to prove she requested the evaluation, and that it was performed. She said she put copies of the paperwork in the file, but that the paperwork is now nowhere to be found

    "I'm a scapegoat. That's just the bottom line. They have to point the finger at someone, and it can’t be DCF," she said.

    "She has a spotless record. Her record’s public – anyone can look it up – and in fact we encourage people to look at her personnel file," her attorney David Kubilium said.

    DCF has turned over information regarding the case to the state attorney's office.

    "I'm facing criminal charges. You're going to take me away from my children? I dedicated my entire adult career to this job," Smith said.

    It is a job she doesn't plan to return to. She said perhaps the system itself needs to be re-evaluated, insisting she did everything in her power for the family.

    "If you wanted me to do more, give me the ability to do more,” Smith said. “If there was nothing else I could have done, don't make me out to be a criminal."

    DCF is continuing with the dismissal process. NBC 6 has also learned Smith's supervisor is being put on paid leave for the duration of the investigation.

    Smith said she's focused on clearing her name. She and her attorney are not ruling out filing a wrongful termination lawsuit.

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