LARGO — A Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office child protection investigator was arrested Friday, accused of falsifying records.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced the arrest and firing of Taylor Ashleigh Martin, 26, at a Friday afternoon news conference.
According to the sheriff, Martin’s supervisor was reviewing Martin’s case files last month and grew concerned about a report the investigator had written during the “collateral neighbor investigation." That’s when child protection workers talk with neighbors while looking into allegations of abuse or neglect.
The supervisor found the report “questionable because the notes were not comprehensive and they seemed generic and different than what Martin had offered in the past," the sheriff said. Basically, the report said a neighbor expressed no concerns about a particular situation.
Pinellas supervisors reviewed Martin’s most recent cases and found two others with questionable reports. They visited the neighbors with whom Martin claimed to speak and found Martin hadn’t talked to them at all.
Martin, a Sheriff’s Office employee since 2016, was on her honeymoon for three weeks while her work was under review. When supervisors confronted her this week upon her return, she first denied falsifying the reports before ultimately admitting to it.
“She justified it that she was overwhelmed” as she was under tight deadlines, Gualtieri said.
Martin told investigators that in one case, she knew a neighbor was friends with a mother, so she wrote in the report what she believed the neighbor would say: that there were no concerns. It turns out that neighbor had serious concerns about drugs being dealt from the home and all the “shady people” coming and going, the sheriff said.
In another case, Martin wrote that a neighbor had no concerns about a mother’s alcohol consumption. In reality, the neighbor told supervisors that she had worried about the mother’s alcohol abuse and said her unsupervised children ran through the streets.
Most details of child protection situations are confidential under Florida law. Pinellas County is one of only seven in the state in which the sheriff’s offices do the child protection investigations instead of the Department of Children and Families, Gualtieri said.
Despite the false reports, the sheriff said Martin didn’t endanger any children. He said in no instance did a decision hinge on a falsified neighbor report. But, he said, supervisors were reviewing all Martin’s cases to determine if there were other falsifications.
“I think we’re just very lucky, frankly, that there wasn’t something bad that happened," he said. “She very easily could have put kids in harm’s way.”
Martin faces three counts of falsifying records. She was held Friday in the Pinellas County jail in lieu of $15,000 bail.
Martin is the second Pinellas child protection investigator to be charged with falsifying reports in two years. Investigator Steven Urban was arrested in March 2018 on similar charges. He pleaded guilty last spring to five counts of falsifying records.
Urban’s arrest prompted a more stringent review process of child protection investigators, which is how Gualtieri thinks Martin’s supervisor caught her.
“What’s good in a very bad situation is we caught it ourselves and it was detected during the review process and the oversight process," he said.
Gualtieri dismissed any notion that there was a culture or work overload problem within his child protection department. His investigators handle about 15 cases at a time, which is standard, he said. If Martin felt overwhelmed, she should have alerted her supervisor rather than cut corners, the sheriff said.
“They say you can’t fix stupid,” he said.