Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Defy me and I'll jail you, judge in Facebook Live suicide case tells DCF lawyer

A Miami child welfare judge is threatening to jail a lawyer for the Florida Department of Children & Families, suggesting in a strongly worded order that agency attorneys lied to her about the welfare of foster children who may have witnessed a teenager hanging herself at their Miami Garden's foster home. The suicide was live-streamed on Facebook.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia ordered Clarissa Cabreja, the state's regional child welfare legal director, to appear before her on March 8. More generally, the order requires "CLS," a reference to DCF's Children's Legal Services, to appear in court "to show cause why they should not be held in indirect civil contempt of court."

In her order, Sampedro-Iglesia, who heads the court's child welfare division, wrote that the failure of Cabreja "to appear at the hearing may result in the court issuing a writ of bodily attachment for your arrest. If you are arrested," Sampedro-Iglesia added, "you may be held in jail up to 48 hours before a hearing is held." The warning was written entirely in uppercase lettering.

"The department is in receipt of and reviewing the court's order, and fully intends to comply," Jessica K. Sims, communications director for DCF, told the Miami Herald late Wednesday.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hundreds watched a Miami teen kill herself in a live-stream

The order is the climax of an unusual courtroom drama that has swirled around the Jan. 22 death of 14-year-old Naika Venant, an emotionally troubled foster child who tied a scarf around her neck and hanged herself from a shower door while streaming on Facebook Live. The order also is the second time in as many months that Sampedro-Iglesia has threatened to hold child welfare administrators in contempt in connection with the tragedy.

Naika had been removed from her mother's home in 2009 for physical abuse, and had bounced in and out of foster care thereafter. Since April alone, her mother's attorney says, the girl had hopscotched among 10 different homes and shelters, including a hotel and a child welfare office building. In January, she was living in a Miami Gardens foster home with at least one, and possibly two other children. She hanged herself in a bathroom after live-streaming for about two hours.

Sampedro-Iglesia first asked on Jan. 31 that lawyers for the state give her court case numbers and the initials of any other children who were living at the foster home when Naika killed herself, records say.

"The request was made so that the [judges] covering these cases could determine what services, if any, were being given to the children" residing at the home when Naika died, Sampedro-Iglesia wrote. The goal was to ensure that the children were given counseling or treatment.

That same day, Cabreja gave the judge the initials of two children, along with ostensibly matching case numbers. Sampedro-Iglesia later realized, though, that one of the two children Cabreja identified by case number was not living in the Miami Gardens home at all. Sampedro-Iglesia then issued an order requiring Children's Legal Services "to provide accurate information" to her by Feb. 24.

Agency lawyers "seemingly complied" within a day, explaining that the department mixed up one child with the initials "J.W." with another with the same initials, Sampedro-Iglesia wrote. Lawyers told her that the judge overseeing the court case of the correct J.W. was made aware of what J.W. may have witnessed, and that "a detailed status report was filed" with that judge.

The judge, who is not named in the order, also was briefed on the incident at a hearing on Feb. 22, the lawyers said.

That isn't true, Sampedro-Iglesia wrote.

"The court file does not indicate a status report was filed," Sampedro-Iglesia wrote in her order, signed Tuesday. "The docket does not reflect a status report was filed, much less a detailed status report, as alleged by CLS. The audio on the J.W. case of Feb. 22, 2017, indicates that no mention of the events of N.V.'s death, or how this child is doing, was offered to the court."

"The court is very concerned about the welfare and safety of the children living with N.V. at the time of her untimely death," she wrote in her order.

Last month, Sampedro-Iglesia threatened to hold workers from a privately run case-management group in contempt for failing to show up in court after she ordered that they do so to help explain "what went wrong" with the state's efforts on Naika's behalf.

"I requested that representatives of the agency appear, and that [request] was violated," a clearly perturbed Sampedro-Iglesia said in court Jan. 31, referring to leaders of the Center for Family and Child Enrichment.

Since then, Sampedro-Iglesia has ordered that the state provide thousands of pages of records detailing Naika's life and odyssey in foster care to the Miami Herald, which had argued the judge had good cause to allow the public to oversee the state's performance.

Contact Carol Marbin Miller at [email protected]


Bicyclist dead after being hit by car in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — A bicyclist is dead after he was hit by a car just before 10 a.m. Saturday morning, police said.Police were still investigating the crash in the 8700 block of 49th Street N late Saturday morning.Police shut down northbound 49th Street...
Updated: 8 minutes ago

Motorcyclist crashes into Subaru while trying to flee Pinellas deputies

CLEARWATER — A 21-year-old fleeing from deputies on a motorcycle crashed into car while speeding away from a cruiser Friday, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Michael Brown, of Clearwater, was recklessly driving his 2016...
Updated: 18 minutes ago

Clearwater man in critical condition after medical episode while driving

DUNEDIN — A 60-year-old Clearwater man who likely had a medical episode while driving is now in the hospital with life-threatening injuries after rolling over his car, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. A Largo police off...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
More than 1,000 cold-stunned sea turtles rescued in Florida Panhandle

More than 1,000 cold-stunned sea turtles rescued in Florida Panhandle

Florida’s dip into frigid temperatures did more than just stun humans unused to such cold air. This month scientists and volunteers have rescued more than 1,000 cold-stunned sea turtles from a single bay in the Florida Panhandle.The U.S. Geological S...
Published: 01/20/18
U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunctio...
Updated: 11 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Jan. 19

Friday’s scoreboardBoys soccerIndian Rocks Christian 2, Lakewood 1Lennard 3, Spoto 0Girls soccerPCAC Championship: Largo 3, Osceola 1Lennard 8, Spoto 0
Published: 01/19/18

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Published: 01/19/18
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Published: 01/19/18

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Published: 01/19/18
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Published: 01/19/18