Les Neuhaus - 5/8 - SaintPetersBlog

Les Neuhaus

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

Senate committee recommends Glenn Sutphin for Veteran Affairs director

The Senate Committee on Military and Veteran’s Affairs, Space and Domestic Security recommended Glenn W. Sutphin, Jr. as the executive director of Florida’s Department of Veteran’s Affairs Tuesday.

Sutphin, a retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. and an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott and a retired, was voted to his post unanimously by the committee.

He joined the military June 6, 1969, serving 30 years in the U.S. Army. His family has history of military service. Having served under Gov. Jeb Bush, he helped to foster an environment in Florida for veterans to be welcome, he said at the committee hearing.

“One of my jobs was to get units ready, get them out the door, the wounded back and unfortunately those who we had lost – try to get them back to their families, and get them taken care of,” he told the committee Tuesday. “All my life I’ve either lead troops, trained troops or cared for their families.”

His ethos in his military service, he said, consisted of these three things:  No mission was to be refused; no was not an answer; and failure was not an option.

Man pleads guilty in beating death of 2-year-old after ‘accident’ on bed

A Jacksonville toddler died after being struck with a plastic coat hanger until it broke because the 2-year-old girl had an “accident” on the bed of her mother’s boyfriend.

Jamarius Devonti Graham used a belt and hangers in the past to teach the girl potty training — she had already been spanked an estimated 20 times — says a newspaper report.

The Duval County state attorney’s office confirmed a medical examiner’s report, spokesman David Chapman told FloridaPolitics.com Tuesday.

On April 21, 2016, Graham was baby-sitting Aaliyah Lewis when the incident occurred. After the mother discovered injuries to her daughter, she and Graham waited 90 minutes before seeking medical attention for Aaliyah, even after her breathing became labored, according to the Florida Times-Union. The newspaper had cited a report by the Department of Children and Services (DCF) about the episode.

Graham, 21, pleaded guilty in a Jacksonville courtroom to aggravated child abuse in connection to Aaliyah’s beating death and faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if found guilty, Chapman said.

“The girl, whose body was tattered with fresh bruises and lacerations, was dead when she arrived at UF Health Jacksonville,” the Times-Union article said. “An autopsy found that she had multiple traumatic injuries to her head, torso and extremities, as well as fluid and swelling in her lungs and brain. But the Medical Examiner’s Office could not determine the cause of death.”

The couple had apparently communicated multiple times by phone throughout the day Aaliyah died, according to the report, the newspaper said. They spoke around midday, too, and Graham told the mother he had disciplined Aaliyah for the accident on the bed, assuring the mother he hadn’t been too harsh on the toddler.

But the mother had noticed during a video phone call that Aaliyah was crying.

When Graham picked her up from work, she noticed marks on the child’s chest, the newspaper said. She scared to seek medical attention for fear of the state taking her daughter away, she apparently told investigators.

No charges have been filed against the child’s mother, the Times-Union reported.

FloridaPolitics.com tried to contact a representative from DCF, but did not immediately receive a response before the publishing of this article.

Report: Delinquency down in Florida, despite a host of challenges

Despite a host of problems facing the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, it has managed to lower youth arrests for nonviolent offenses through the increased use of civil citations, according to a 2017 report on the government agency by the Florida Juvenile Justice Association.

According to the FJJA report, acquired by FloridaPolitics.com before its public release, 121,968 children were served by the DJJ in fiscal year 2015-2016, with the majority of children being served in their own communities. The annual review of the department is part of an ongoing overhaul of the system begun five years ago to reform what many experts called the worst system in the nation.

Juvenile arrests have dropped another seven percent during the same period, resulting in an overall six-year decline of 37 percent, the report said, citing the most recent delinquency report released by the DJJ itself.

Much of that decline was achieved through educating law enforcement agencies of the benefits in issuing civil citations in instances of first-time encounters with police for non-violent offenses. This isn’t a get out of jail freebee, said Catherine Craig-Myers, executive director of the FJJA.

“Florida’s communities are seeing a more troubled child needing intensive services and multiple interventions, as well as ‘crossover youth,’” Craig-Myers told FloridaPolitics.com on Monday, referring to minors who have had contact with both child welfare programs and the juvenile justice system. “Florida still leads the nation in prosecuting children charged with non-violent offenses as adults.”

She said children in the Sunshine State’s DJJ residential treatment program have the most complex set of clinical behavioral needs. Keeping these particularly vulnerable youth from becoming criminalized is a paramount issue.

And without a significant investment to increase the number of qualified, highly-trained staff on hand to shepherd these youth their problems, continued success could be problematic. The FJJA director said there’s a need to work more closely with Florida’s school districts in order to better ensure troubled children are identified early on.

Since 2009, two years prior to the state’s DJJ reform plan went into action, there’s been more than $100 million cut from the agency’s annual budget, negatively impacting the at-risk youth the agency is trying to serve, the report stated.

Clearly, though, the agency is doing more with fewer resources.

According to the report, among the Florida counties showing the most improvement are Miami-Dade with a 12 percent decrease, Broward with an 8 percent decrease, Orange with a 7 percent decrease, with a 6 percent decrease and Hillsborough with a 2 percent decrease.

But without sufficient annual support from the state’s leadership, those numbers could begin to slip. Keeping children out off the so-called “school to pipeline path would be a challenge, Craig-Myers said.

When asked whether the current improvements could be sustained, she was blunt.

“Our report assumes that without continued reinvestment to expand prevention, to maintain quality staff and their retention, and to institute training focused on rehabilitation and treatment, rather than punishment and incarceration, the answer would be no,” she said. “In my opinion the ongoing discourse about how we are doing – in terms of serving foster, or dependent, children – should serve as a ‘cautionary tale’ to inform our efforts to successfully serve pre-delinquent and delinquent children.”

She said fully expanding the system would take time and should be viewed as a long-term goal. Reform needs to go beyond one governor and one administration, with a focus on “saving youth” now and “cost avoidance” to taxpayers later.

Statewide use of civil citations by law enforcement has been good, overall, but can improve.

A second annual report by the Tampa-based Caruthers Institute, called Stepping Up: Florida’s Top Juvenile Civil Citation Efforts 2016, reveals research about counties that are simply arresting children rather than issuing civil citations. By its account, the institute has determined police actually create recidivism, or re-offenders, who generate more crime.

“There are some people who are committed to tough on crime than smart on crime,” Dewey Caruthers told FloridaPolitics.com on Monday when asked about county sheriffs around the state who arrest rather than issue citations. “When you arrest youth for these minor infractions – and we’re talking about misdemeanor stuff here, we’re not talking about grand theft auto and things like that – you’re actually creating more re-offenders, which runs counter to the mission of law enforcement reducing crime.”

Caruthers said there are two segments of youth who get into trouble:  the ones who have done something for the first time and get caught, who represent the overwhelming majority of overall teen or preteen offenders; and then there are the kids who have real issues – their home life may be bad, disorganized, they could be bullied at home or have substance abuse problems, Caruthers said.

Florida legislators passed a measure on March 8 in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Civil Justice eliminating police discretion in response calls involving first-time offending juveniles. SB 196, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores was passed unanimously, but was opposed by both the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Police Chief’s Association. The bill is another part of reforms happening at various levels to stop the criminalization of minors prior to adulthood.

Statewide during 2015, juvenile civil citations were issued 50 percent of the time by law enforcement for those youth who were eligible. The Caruthers study noted stark differences in how civil citations were applied by law enforcers in rural vs. urban settings, and in a range of socio-economic residential areas.

The FJJA report recommends increasing the use of civil citations by 75 percent statewide, estimating it would “improve life outcomes for nearly 7,000 arrested children as well as save $62 million that could be applied more appropriately. It may be necessary to provide appropriate funding to ensure increase utilization and to address geographic disparity.”

Thirteen counties across the state don’t issue citations at all, including Polk, Bradford, Dixie, Calhoun and Holmes. Among the best counties utilizing the civil citation programs are Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Monroe, Leon and Broward.

Separately, keeping personnel on staff with DJJ has been a major problem. The average employee stays on for less than six months, according to the report.

“Five years into reform both DJJ and its partnering community providers are struggling to retain the professionals needed to ensure quality service delivery,” the report said.

Personnel leave for obvious reasons – higher paying jobs with opportunities for career advancement. This low retention rate is a burden for partnering organizations of the DJJ and the agency itself, which has trouble in service continuity to the at-risk youth they are trying to help.

Former Florida DJJ Sec. Wansley Walters chimed in on the situation facing the state.

“The work to complete the reform is not yet finished and will require a second phase to reinvest resources, strengthen service delivery, and ensure service gaps identified by the department are filled,” she said in a statement. “These efforts will, in turn, slow down the pipeline that exists that feeds our children to the adult prison system.”

Craig-Myers was just as direct in her assessment of the report.

“This report, looking at the success of the DJJ’s reform effort five years later, will inform stakeholders, partners and decision makers on what may be necessary to ensure sustainability of reform,” she said.

“Five years into reform, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is experiencing success.  But there is more work left to be done. Our recommendations are made in the spirit of collaboration and optimism that reform of Florida’s juvenile justice system will continue.”

FJJA had these key recommendations to sustain continued success of the DJJ’s reform plan:

— Stabilize the juvenile justice workforce through reinvestment in staffing.

— Sustain the workforce through a training and certification system.

— Reduce prosecution of nonviolent children as adults. (SB192)

— Ensure availability of deep-end residential services. (now a very small percentage of DJJ youth)

— Ensure availability of community-based behavioral services.

— Identify service gaps and institute programming. (Girls, LGBTQ, Crossover, Trafficked)

— Expand utilization of civil citation. (currently at 50 percent of all eligible youth — SB196, HB205)

— Expand prevention and early intervention. (return $9.1M in Prevention taken last year)

— Ensure availability of services in collaboration with DJJ, DCF and local community agencies. (i.e. crossover youth, behavioral services)

— Ensure education and career education opportunities for DJJ youth. (expanded focus on career education)

Mother of Facebook Live suicide teen may have taunted her while watching

In a twist to a horrible tragedy in Miami in January, a foster child who committed suicide live on social media may have been watched by her mother, according to a Florida Department of Children (DCF) and Families report released to the media Monday.

Naika Venant, 14, hung herself Jan. 22 with a scarf in the bathroom of her foster home while broadcasting the heartbreaking event for three hours in the run-up to taking her life on the Facebook Live video feature “while hundreds of viewers were watching,” a CIRRT (Critical Incident Rapid Response Team) report stated, issued by DCF at the authorization of the agency’s chief, Secretary Mike Carroll.

On Feb. 9, an abuse complaint was made to DCF, according to the report, stating that Gina Caze, Naika’s mother, was following Naika while she was on Facebook Live for the final two of the three hours before Naika committed suicide.

At points during that time, the abuse report noted, Caze posted comments that would have been “considered mentally injurious to her suicidal child” and failed to seek help for her daughter. Using the screen name “Gina Alexis,” the following statement was allegedly written by Naika’s mother in the moments leading up to her daughter’s death:

“#ADHD games played u sad little DCF custody jit that’s why u where u at for this dumb sh*t n more u keep crying wolf u dead u will get buried life goes on after a jit that doesn’t listen to there parents trying to be grown seeking boys and girls attention instead of her books.”

Carroll told a Florida House of Representatives Committee recently that Naika and her mother had been involved in multiple services to try and rectify their relationship and living situation, but “all of that wasn’t effective.”

Naika was placed in 14 different foster homes in her last nine months of life, from April 2016 to her death in January, at one point sleeping in the offices of a child welfare agency — OurKids — contracted with DCF. In and out of her mother’s custody, she spent 28 months in foster care over an eight-year period, per the report.

Caze surrendered custody of her daughter April 20, 2016, saying “she no longer wanted the child in her home,” says the CIRRT report.

A review of the case management preceding Naika’s death found that experienced child welfare social workers were involved in her situation and were committed to the responsibilities of her outcome. Further, while the caseloads of the staff working with Naika were “elevated,” it didn’t negatively affect the circumstances surrounding the teen’s suicide.

Days before her death Naika “expressed sadness to both her case manager (and someone else, though the report redacts the identity of the second person) over the fact that her mother told her that she didn’t want her back and that Naika was going to ‘age out’ of the foster care system; however, she appeared ‘upbeat and happy’ and expressed plans for the future (e.g., graduating from high school and attending college),” the report said.

On the night she ended her life, Naika spoke at length about her depression as hundreds of people watched, many writing insensitive comments – some even urging her to do it, thinking possibly it was a joke, according to previous statements and reports.

In January 2009, according to the comprehensive CIRRT report, an abuse complaint was made to DCF that Naika, then 6, “had more than 30 marks on her arms, legs, and back after her mother repeatedly beat her with a belt. The incident occurred after the mother discovered Naika engaged in a sexual act, with Naika being the aggressor.

“The incident occurred at the baby sitter’s house, another adult male with whom the mother was leaving Naika on a regular basis. Due to the severity of the physical abuse, Naika was removed from her mother and placed in licensed foster care. This was the first of three entries into foster care that Naika would experience.”

Naika continued to display behavior that was sexual in nature and she began receiving specialized counseling, the focus of which was to find if she had ever been abused in that manner. She was found to be ADHD at one point during assessments of her behavior.

Law enforcement at another caught Caze lying about where the Naika may have become sexualized at such an early age. Naika had told child welfare and mental health professionals that her mother would date several men simultaneously who would spend the night — Naika often would be made “to sleep in the bed when they were present. Additionally, both acknowledged that Naika had been previously exposed to pornographic videos before her coming into care in 2009.

It was found that Naika was mostly left with male babysitters and that inappropriate activity had transpired, including watching what she described as “sex movies” with her mother.

By the time Naika was being shifted from home to home in 2016, she had become highly aggressive, the report stated.

“There is little we can say that adequately describes the sorrow we still feel today from the loss of Naika,” Carroll said in a statement Monday. “It is even more exacerbated by the information that was learned during the CIRRT investigation – that this is a child who endured great trauma in her life and despite many service interventions, we were not able to put the pieces back together to prevent her from taking her own life in such a public forum.”

Because of the findings of the CIRRT, Carroll recommended the immediate implementation of the actions below:

— Deploy a peer review team to review communication, information sharing, and transparency within the local system of care, including the local community-based care lead agency, OurKids and their providers.

— Develop and provide training on mental health literacy for DCF child protective investigators, case managers and foster parents.

— Develop training for foster parents on the use of social media by children in their care and the warning signs of inappropriate internet behavior.

— Improve integration and establish standards for information sharing among treatment providers.

— Coordinate with the network of managed care providers and OurKids to ensure an adequate number of specialized therapeutic foster homes in the area.

 

Committee confirms Jeffrey Bragg as Secretary of Elder Affairs

After a lengthy question and answer session the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs unanimously confirmed the appointment of Jeffrey Bragg as Florida’s Secretary of Elder Affairs Monday, an office that oversees a quarter of Florida’s 20 million residents.

Last year Bragg was rejected as the state’s insurance commissioner, was peppered with questions by the committee, but overall, the committee supported his appointment by Gov. Rick Scott.

From Palm Harbor in Pinellas County, Bragg, 67, ran the nation’s terrorism risk insurance program from 2003 until 2014, when he retired. He worked under the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, serving in the Federal Emergency Management Agency where he was the administrator for the national flood insurance program.

Between those appointments, Bragg worked in the private sector, including as a senior vice president for Zurich Risk Management from 2001 to 2003 and later for IMSG as its executive vice president in St. Petersburg from 1997 to 2000.

House committee OK’s bill to drug test temporary family aid seekers

A bill that would require drug testing for adults of families previously convicted of drug offenses who are applying for temporary family assistance from the state of Florida passed a House committee Monday.

Sponsored by Rep. Chris Latvala, the bill – HB 1117 — would mandate the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to give drug screenings to applicants of temporary assistance for needy families, or TANF, who have felony convictions or histories of drug-related offenses, and arrests, within 10 previous years of the application.

The applicant, if he or she fails such a test, would then have to wait a minimum of six months to reapply or attend a substance treatment program at their own expense. The cost of the drug test itself – $40 – must be paid by the applicant themselves.

If an applicant passes, Latvala said, an extra amount of money would be included in the assistance ultimately determined for his or her family. He did not specify how much money or if it would cover the total cost of the test.

“For those who do fail, the children would not be affected, but those who fail will have to wait six months to a year to reapply, or take a substance abuse course through DCF,” he said.

Federal law regarding the use of TANF funds allows states to test welfare recipients for use of controlled substances and sanction those recipients who test positive. Fifteen states, including Florida, have laws imposing drug testing or screening for TANF applicants or recipients.

Some laws apply to all applicants; other laws limit testing to those instances where there is a reason to believe the applicant or recipient is engaging in illegal drug activity or has a substance use disorder. Other laws require a specific screening process.

In 2011, Florida enacted a law requiring all TANF applicants to submit to a drug test as a condition of eligibility to receive TCA benefits. However, the United States District Court for the Middle Court of Florida declared that law unconstitutional and permanently prohibited the state from reinstating and enforcing the law.

Additionally, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that this statute violated the Fourth Amendment for its unreasonable search of applicants without evidence of “a more prevalent, unique, or different drug problem among TANF applicants than in the general population.” This law is not currently being implemented.

‘Foster Shock’ documentary takes Florida’s privatized child welfare system to task

A documentary film about Florida’s privatized child welfare and fostering programs — made by a Guardian ad Litem and filmmaker from Palm Beach — casts a draconian look at what happens to children when they are taken from abusive situations at home and become dependents of the state, at taxpayer expense, often to their peril.

Foster Shock,” which is currently being screened around the state at community viewings and nationally film festivals, was directed and produced by Mari Frankel, who has also served as a Guardian ad Litem (person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the best interests of a child) for the last several years.

Her film paints the picture of a bleak and broken system funded to the tune of roughly $3 billion per year of Florida taxpayer money. The film also argues that a sizable chunk of that money often goes to the six-figure salaries of the executives running the so-called “community-based care” agencies (CBCs), like Eckerd Kids, whose own executive director, David Dennis, earned $708,028 in the fiscal year 2015, according to publicly-available IRS 990 statements.

But the children sometimes wind up in group homes, or foster homes, where they are abused or even killed – maliciously or by neglect. There have been a string of widely-publicized incidents the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) has had to ultimately deal with in recent years, but the CBCs keep getting their contracts – typically worth tens of millions of dollars per county – renewed by the state.

“There is unacceptable, and then there’s disgraceful,” Frankel said at a screening of her movie at the Palm Beach International Film Festival last year. “We need to change the system to protect these children from being hurt over and over again. I hope Foster Shock will let people see the dysfunction under privatization and move them to demand action.”

The CBCs – routinely staffed by personnel who are not licensed social workers, certified master social workers or licensed clinical social workers and are packed into cubical-farm office spaces – subcontract out much of the case management work to other agencies. The case management workers who actually check on the children’s welfare are not licensed clinic social workers either and have demanding caseloads hovering around 20-30 families, depending on the county.

The film also explores the reasons children are removed from their homes. A recent review of Florida’s child welfare system by the federal government concluded DCF, and sheriff’s offices that handle child welfare investigations in six of Florida’s 67 counties, prematurely remove children from their homes.

Further, interviews with foster children who eventually age out of the system give their personal testimonies in the film, in which they were alienated from their biological parents and siblings against their will and placed into dangerous homes where they were raped, exposed to illegal drugs or are prescribed psychotropic medications, Baker Acted as minors, with the ultimate attempt to put them into adoption programs. Florida receives thousands of dollars from the federal government for every child that is successfully adopted under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act.

The film will be screened next in at Gulfport’s Stetson University’s School of Law in Pinellas County, on March 29, 2017, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Following the movie, a panel of youth moderated by the Honorable Judge Patrice Moore, will speak about their experiences in a community conversation setting regarding the resources needed to best serve children in foster care. Representatives from GAL, Heart Gallery, Eckerd, and Big Brothers Big Sisters will be at the event.

Attendees are invited to bring full-sized hygiene donations for GAL teens living in group homes. Email Taylor at tgreenbe@law.stetson.edu for questions. Dinner will be served. Spots are limited.

RSVP here.

Teacher fell asleep during school, leaving toddlers unsupervised

Five minutes could’ve been enough time for a deadly mistake to happen, a parent was reported saying after it was revealed one of the teachers at her toddler’s daycare class in Hobe Sound, Florida, had fallen asleep during class – in the class – as a second teacher was gone in a bathroom, leaving the children unsupervised.

It may be have only been a few minutes, but it was enough time for 2-year-olds to find trouble, according to Rachel Nee, whose 2-year-old son was one of five children in the class during the incident on Feb. 20.

Nee said she wasn’t notified about it by the center but got a call from DCF, informing her about the investigation, according to the NBC-affiliate in West Palm Beach, News 5.

The Department of Children and Families confirmed they are investigating the Dunbar Center, but couldn’t elaborate on an active investigation, per standard protocol.

“It was absolutely the worst phone call I’ve ever received,” Nee said on Wednesday. “I actually broke down and cried.”

DCF told Nee the teacher had fallen asleep in class.

“I think we should have been informed and other parents should have been informed when things like this happen and I shouldn’t receive a phone call from DCF,” Nee said, implying the school should have disclosed the information on their own, not through DCF.

The director of the Dunbar Center, Paul Kelly, confirmed the incident to FloridaPolitics.com on Friday.

He said two teachers were looking after the children when one of them left to go to the bathroom. The other teacher then fell asleep.

Kelly said the teacher had taken over-the-counter PM painkillers, which he said was a clear mistake on her part.

The Dunbar Center has about 90 children, many of them with special needs, according to Kelly.

Last year a DCF inspection found that the center had cleaning supplies accessible to children.

The report from March 8 said: “Bleach water was accessible in three classrooms.”

Special-interest groups rejoice Enterprise Florida House vote; call for Senate death knell

When the Florida House of Representatives voted Friday to do away with the much-embattled Florida Enterprise – the program Gov. Rick Scott loyally supported and, oppositely, Speaker Richard Corcoran virulently chided – special interest groups who had worked tirelessly for its eradication jumped for joy.

None celebrated more than the Florida branch of Americans for Prosperity (AFP-FL), which bills itself as the leading grassroots advocacy organization campaigning against corporate welfare, which is what Speaker Corcoran had called it in the media battle between he waged with Gov. Scott on the program.

It had become the chief example of government waste in citizen tax dollars.

AFP-FL is still celebrating, long after the vote because their effort to educate legislators – some of whom voted against their own party to pass HB 7005, as the measure is known – constituents and Floridians at large was a sizable effort, according to AFP-FL’s communications director, Andres Malave, who spoke passionately about what he called the common sense aspect of the bill evening the playing field for everyone in the Sunshine State.

“We’ve been hammering on the failures of Enterprise Florida for several years because the taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for financing some billionaire’s football stadium … or their competition’s business across the street,” Malave told FloridaPolitics.com by phone after the vote Friday. “Again, we ask that the Florida Senate push this bill forward to the governor’s desk and make him sign it because, ultimately, this is what’s best for Florida’s taxpayers.”

The spokesman for the group said it took “courage” for members of the Florida House of Representatives to vote in eliminating the quasi-state agency, along with a laundry list of other wasteful spending programs that give private businesses taxpayer dollars.

“It takes courage to do the right thing,” Chris Hudson, AFP-FL’s state director, said. “We applaud the leaders of the Florida House that stood up to enormous outside pressures to keep a rigged system in place. Enterprise Florida sends taxpayers the wrong message:  that government believes it can be a better investor of their dollars and that we should accept our money being plucked from our pockets to be redistributed to the wealthy and well-connected.”

In 2013, AFP-FL and Integrity Florida released a comprehensive study to demonstrate the failures of Enterprise Florida. EFI fell short of their job-creation goals. EFI fell short of securing the level of required private funding support. EFI’s lack of transparency resulted in outlandish executive bonuses or extravagant purchases. Finally, EFI is guilty of promoting a culture of state government favoritism that funneled benefits to companies while not offering those same benefits to competitors or all businesses that existed in the state or that wanted to come to Florida.

“In 2016, AFP-FL advocated against a $250 million allocation request by Governor Rick Scott to EFI,” Malave said. “The 2016 legislative session resulted in an allocation of $0 for EFI after AFP-FL mobilized their grassroots army to make over 350,000 phone calls and over 250,000 contacts by going door-to-door, they launched an aggressive social media effort and an intensive direct mail campaign to educate Floridians about the failures at EFI and what votes lawmakers were taking in Tallahassee.”

Scott’s response to the House vote was passed around by the media quickly.

“Today, politicians in the Florida House passed job-killing legislation,” the governor said in a statement. “We can all agree that VISIT FLORIDA and EFI need to be absolutely accountable and transparent, and both agencies have already taken major steps and implemented reforms to ensure their operations meet our high expectations.

“However, today’s actions by the House curb the mission of VISIT FLORIDA and bury it in more government bureaucracy — along with decimating Florida’s economic tool kit and the very programs which are directly tied to the creation of thousands of jobs for Florida families. … But, I want to be very clear — a vote for these bills was a vote to kill tourism and jobs in Florida.”

Florida couple face ‘shocking’ 700+ counts of abuse against fostered, adopted children

Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon

A couple living in southwest Florida have been charged in Alabama with 727 counts of sexual crimes and physical abuses against their 11 adopted and foster children, law enforcement officials in both states told FloridaPolitics.com Friday.

Police in both states are calling it the most shocking case they’ve ever seen.

“I’ve been working sex crimes involving kids for 12 years and this is by far the worst I’ve had so far,” Detective Keith Johnson, of the Florence Police Department in Lauderdale County, Alabama, said by telephone Friday.

Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon, 47 and 53, respectively, are being held without bond in the Lee County Jail in Fort Myers, Florida.

None of the children in the Spurgeon’s care came from Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), according to DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims.

“It’s important to note that there were no Florida foster children placed in the home with the family,” she emphasized. “Further information cannot be disclosed per section 39.202, Florida Statutes, which provides confidentiality to child victims of abuse or neglect. Any questions regarding the original placement of the children and services for the adopted/foster children should be directed to Alabama’s child services agency.”

Sims noted DCF opened a child protective investigation in July concerning the allegations regarding this family. All children in the home were immediately taken into protective custody, she said.

“The adopted and foster children in the home were placed with the family while they lived in Alabama,” she further clarified. “Since the foster children were in the process of being adopted, they were allowed to move with the family from Alabama to Florida under the federal Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.”

Police originally learned of the case when they responded to a tip of two minors at a Cape Coral bar who were inebriated last July, claiming their parents had forced them to drink alcohol, according to documents provided to FloridaPolitics.com.

During the interviews with the two intoxicated minors, Cape Coral Police investigators learned that four girls under the Spurgeon’s care were claiming they’d been sexually abused and were from Alabama.

“That’s when I got a call from the Cape Coral police,” Johnson said. “It’s taken this long to get everything done because the children had to be interviewed (on video) in Florida and I had to review each one, and before I charge someone with a sex crime I’ve got to make sure that there’s no doubt.”

Daniel Spurgeon has remained in the Lee County Jail since his original arrest.

The number of counts stemming from Alabama alone total 415 and include multiple counts of sodomy in the first degree (4), sexual torture (4), sexual abuse of a child under 12 (2), sexual abuse in the first degree (115), child abuse (122), sexual torture (4), rape in the first degree (6), domestic violence by strangulation and/or suffocation (3), incest (6), human trafficking in the first degree (11) and enticing a child for immoral purposes (115).

That does not include Florida’s charges.

His charges in the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida, as represented by state’s attorney Stephen B. Russell, are as follows: One count sexual battery of a victim under 12; four counts lewd and lascivious behavior against a minor; one count sexual assault of a victim under 12; 11 counts aggravated child abuse.

“They’ve got similar charges down there (in Florida), but we’ve got more because they were here longer,” Johnson said.

Daniel Spurgeon is a native Alabamian, while Jenise Spurgeon was from “somewhere up north,” the investigator said.

Originally arrested in July, too, then released, and then arrested again Wednesday per a warrant issued by Johnson in Alabama.

She is charged in Alabama with multiple counts of child abuse (100), domestic violence by strangulation (1), human trafficking in the first degree (11), endangering the welfare of a child (100) and enticing a child for immoral purposes (100).

Her charges in the 20th Judicial Circuit of Florida are as follows: one count out-of-state fugitive from justice; 10 counts aggravated child abuse.

It’s unknown if the state’s attorney office plans on filing more charges. A call placed to his office was not immediately returned.

Children’s Network of Southwest Florida claimed the children went almost six months without monthly checkups from a state agency because Alabama never notified them that the family moved to their state.

It is unclear if Children’s Network of Southwest Florida is trying to deflect blame, but calls to clarify their claim to the Alabama Dept. of Human Resources — the agency tasked with child welfare in that state — were not immediately returned before this article was published.

The Spurgeon’s will be extradited to Alabama, Johnson said, but it is not clear when. When they are brought to Alabama, the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office will be handling the case, not Cape Coral, officials in both states said.

The Alabama charges against the pair stem from sex late 2007 to 2015, when they moved to Florida. Johnson would not confirm if it is a crime in Alabama to leave the state with foster children, but considering the human trafficking charges against the couple it most likely is a crime.

However, he noted the adopted children would remain in Florida while the foster children would be brought back to Alabama, though part of his statement conflicted with that of Sims from DCF.

FloridaPolitics.com is still waiting on information on whether Florida prosecutors will hold on to the couple to try them in the Sunshine State before allowing their extradition to Alabama for judicial proceedings there.

 

g case they’ve ever seen.

“I’ve been working sex crimes involving kids for 12 years and this is by far the worst I’ve had so far,” Detective Keith Johnson, of the Florence Police Department in Lauderdale County, Alabama, said by telephone Friday.

Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon, 47 and 53, respectively, are being held without bond in the Lee County Jail in Fort Myers, Florida.

None of the children in the Spurgeon’s care came from Florida’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), according to DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims.

“It’s important to note that there were no Florida foster children placed in the home with the family,” she emphasized. “Further information cannot be disclosed per section 39.202, Florida Statutes, which provides confidentiality to child victims of abuse or neglect. Any questions regarding the original placement of the children and services for the adopted/foster children should be directed to Alabama’s child services agency.”

Sims noted DCF opened a child protective investigation in July concerning the allegations regarding this family. All children in the home were immediately taken into protective custody, she said.

“The adopted and foster children in the home were placed with the family while they lived in Alabama,” she further clarified. “Since the foster children were in the process of being adopted, they were allowed to move with the family from Alabama to Florida under the federal Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.”

Police originally learned of the case when they responded to a tip of two minors at a Cape Coral bar who were inebriated last July, claiming their parents had forced them to drink alcohol, according to documents provided to FloridaPolitics.com.

During the interviews with the two intoxicated minors, Cape Coral Police investigators learned that four girls under the Spurgeon’s care were claiming they’d been sexually abused and were from Alabama.

“That’s when I got a call from the Cape Coral police,” Johnson said. “It’s taken this long to get everything done because the children had to be interviewed (on video) in Florida and I had to review each one, and before I charge someone with a sex crime I’ve got to make sure that there’s no doubt.”

Daniel Spurgeon has remained in the Lee County Jail since his original arrest.

The number of counts stemming from Alabama alone total 415 and include multiple counts of sodomy in the first degree (4), sexual torture (4), sexual abuse of a child under 12 (2), sexual abuse in the first degree (115), child abuse (122), sexual torture (4), rape in the first degree (6), domestic violence by strangulation and/or suffocation (3), incest (6), human trafficking in the first degree (11) and enticing a child for immoral purposes (115).

That does not include Florida’s charges. FloridaPolitics.com is waiting on documents that will reveal the full extent of the Florida legal involvement and will update this story when it receives them later today.

“They’ve got similar charges down there (in Florida), but we’ve got more because they were here longer,” Johnson said.

Daniel Spurgeon is a native Alabamian, while Jenise Spurgeon was from “somewhere up north,” the investigator said.

Originally arrested in July, too, then released, and then arrested again Wednesday per a warrant issued by Johnson in Alabama.

She is charged in Alabama with multiple counts of child abuse (100), domestic violence by strangulation (1), human trafficking in the first degree (11), endangering the welfare of a child (100) and enticing a child for immoral purposes (100).

Her counts in Florida also still need to be verified by FloridaPolitics.com.

Children’s Network of Southwest Florida claimed the children went almost six months without monthly checkups from a state agency because Alabama never notified them that the family moved to their state.

It is unclear if Children’s Network of Southwest Florida is trying to deflect blame, but calls to clarify their claim to the Alabama Dept. of Human Resources — the agency tasked with child welfare in that state — were not immediately returned before this article was published.

The Spurgeon’s will be extradited to Alabama, Johnson said, but it is not clear when. When they are brought to Alabama, the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Office will be handling the case, not Cape Coral, officials in both states said.

The Alabama charges against the pair stem from sex late 2007 to 2015, when they moved to Florida. Johnson would not confirm if it is a crime in Alabama to leave the state with foster children, but considering the human trafficking charges against the couple it most likely is a crime.

However, he noted the adopted children would remain in Florida while the foster children would be brought back to Alabama, though part of his statement conflicted with that of Sims from DCF.

FloridaPolitics.com is still waiting on information on whether Florida prosecutors will hold on to the couple to try them in the Sunshine State before allowing their extradition to Alabama for judicial proceedings there.

 

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