Judge Weighs in on Controversial Department of Children and Families Case

The Department of Children and Families continues to investigate cases handled by former employee Shani Smith and her supervisor Duray Smith.

By Diana Gonzalez
|  Friday, Jun 7, 2013  |  Updated 6:34 PM EDT
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It has been four weeks since Catalina Bruno was arrested after her baby Bryan Oscoela died inside her hot car. Judge Jeri Cohen who presides over DCF cases in juvenile court weighs in on this controversial case. NBC 6's Diana Gonzalez reports.

It has been four weeks since Catalina Bruno was arrested after her baby Bryan Oscoela died inside her hot car. Judge Jeri Cohen who presides over DCF cases in juvenile court weighs in on this controversial case. NBC 6's Diana Gonzalez reports.

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Department of Children and Families Investigator and Her Supervisor Resign

A Department of Children and Families child protective investigator and her supervisor formally resigned Thursday, effective immediately. Both were the focus of an internal investigation involving the case of Catalina Bruno, charged in the death of her 11-month-old son. The former DCF investigator, Shani Smith, and her attorney David Kubiliun discussed the case. Her supervisor Duray Smith resigned in an email, while DCF Regional Director Esther Jacobo issued a statement.

DUI Case Hearing for Mother Charged in Son's Death

The Kendall mother charged in the death of her 11-month-old son after he was allegedly left in her car appeared in court Wednesday, requesting to see her other children. Defense attorney Lonnie Richardson spoke on Catalina Bruno’s behalf in court. Defense attorney Lonnie Richardson spoke on Catalina Bruno’s behalf in court. Former Department of Children and Families child protective investigator Shani Smith, who was fired by the agency for allegedly falsifying documents, said that after Bruno was arrested on driving under the influence and child neglect charges in November she sent Bruno to a substance abuse evaluation.
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It has been four weeks since Catalina Bruno was arrested after her baby Bryan Osceola died inside her hot car.

On May 23rd, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins announced he was firing Shani Smith, the protective investigator assigned to two prior cases involving this family.

Judge Jeri Cohen who presides over DCF cases in juvenile court is weighing in on this controversial case.

"In a case like this where there are so many red flags, and the steps that should have been taken are fairly obvious, that is what really causes one to pause and ask, 'What's going on?'" said Cohen, who is also a member of the Miami-Dade Community Based Care Alliance.

After Osceola's death, DCF launched an investigation into other cases handled by Smith.

The department reviewed a total of 113 cases. There were 28 cases in which she found that no indicators of abuse or neglect were incorrect. At least 10 cases required a review of referral documents, and in 13 cases, another protective investigator had to go out to revisit the family.

The abuse hotline has had to be called again in one case so far.

The fact that they see a trend here over two years raises the obvious question: Where's the supervisor?

Shani Smith raised the same issue when she resigned.

"I had two supervisors who looked over this case file and nobody said to me 'You haven't done enough, Shani,'" she said on May 30th.

Documents show her supervisor Duray Smith was working as substitute teacher for Miami-Dade Public Schools while working at DCF.

In November, Bruno was arrested for DUI after she was found asleep and intoxicated behind the wheel, with her baby sitting on her lap. That month, Duray Smith worked at South Dade High School ten full days while also putting in three to five with DCF.

"I've been doing this job 16 years, off and on, and I've learned in child welfare that it's never one instance. It's always systemic, because you start hearing the same things over and over," Cohen said.

Shani Smith is being represented by David Kubiliun.

"We are losing sight of the fact that a baby died at the hands of his mother, not my client," Kubiliun said.

Kubiliun emphasized that Shani Smith is being used as a scapegoat by DCF, that her personnel file is impeccable, and though she is accused of falsifying documents, she has yet to be charged with a crime.

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