Catalina Bruno is accused of leaving her son Bryan Osceola, along with her purse and a can of beer, in the car outside their Miami home. The boy had a 109-degree temperature when he was found. His mother is now jailed on charges of aggravated manslaughter.
The Department of Children and Families first became involved with the family in November when 30-year-old Bruno was accused of driving recklessly, hit several walls before she passed out with the engine still running with the baby lying in her lap. The car reeked of alcohol, according to documents released by DCF. The child was not injured.
Bruno was charged with driving under the influence and was referred to local child welfare officials, who noted in a follow-up report that Bryan and his siblings were at a high safety risk, but ultimately determined "there were no recommendations for services," including drug court and other treatment programs, according to DCF documents.
Bruno said she didn't realize how drunk she was after leaving a family gathering and fell asleep while driving home. Child abuse investigator Shani Smith warned Bruno about drinking and driving, according to DCF records. Smith was supposed to determine whether Bruno's children were safe to remain in her care.
READ: Smith's personnel file |
The investigator said she contacted a substance abuse expert to determine whether Bruno need drug or alcohol treatment but the investigator said Bruno posted no threat to her children and didn't think any substance abuse services were needed. She also visited Bruno and the baby in January and everything seemed fine, with Bruno promising it was a one-time incident.
Six months later Bryan was dead, found last week in a sweltering car, according to documents released by DCF. It's unclear how long the baby had been in the car.
"We will never know if the services we could have offered would have made a difference for Bryan's mother or changed the tragic outcome of this case," DCF Secretary David Wilkins said at a press conference Thursday.
The child abuse investigator was supposed to use an assessment tool that helps determine whether the family needs services such as therapy, drug treatment or anger management. That assessment is then sent to DCF supervisors electronically so the agency can verify that investigators are doing their job, but Wilkins said they can't find any record of Smith's assessment. It also appears she never even contacted a substance abuse expert, he said.
"While she denies that she falsified records, all the evidence available to us at this time points to the contrary," Wilkins said.
The agency is in the process of terminating Smith and placing her supervisor on administrative leave. Smith has 10 days to respond. Smith's case has been referred to the inspector general and state prosecutors.
"It is our understanding that Ms. smith did follow all protocol with this case... we are looking into reasons why DCF is making these allegations against her. She is very, very saddened by the loss of the child," her attorney David Kubiliun said.
Bryan's death comes nearly a decade after DCF came under intense scrutiny when a caseworker lied about visiting foster child Rilya Wilson for more than a year, even though she was filing reports and telling judges the girl was fine. The girl is presumed dead.
Following Rilya's case, state lawmakers made it illegal to falsify records of visits between child welfare workers and children in the agency's care.
The fired investigator is one of about 100 new investigators, mostly in South Florida, hired in a revamp of the agency that Wilkins initiated soon after starting in the position in 2011. Wilkins said DCF needs to do more to train, calling their position his top priority at the time.
Officials said Smith had a clean record since being hired in April of 2011.
"I'm extremely angry, upset, frustrated and extremely disappointed. This endangers lives," Wilkins said.