Les Neuhaus - 6/7 - 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.

Review of 250 reports by DCF investigators accused of lying shows 40 percent falsified

Caseworkers at the Florida Department of Children and Families are being forced to shoulder nearly unbelievable workloads, leading some to falsify records, according to a new report by an Orlando TV news station.

A single child protection investigator in the (DCF) had at one point 32 cases with 77 accompanying children, show DCF documents provided to ABC affiliate WFTV.

The state agency tasked with overseeing child welfare in the Sunshine State gave the ABC News Channel 9 Investigates team – which carried out an examination of DCF employee record falsifications, running the segment Wednesday night – records indicating 59 employees had been terminated since sometime in 2014, reporter Daralene Jones said.

There are 267 DCF investigators currently deployed throughout DCF’s Central Florida classification region.

But, as Jones noted, the number didn’t factor in the hundreds of employees contracted by the state through what it calls community-based care agencies (what it commonly refers to as CBCs) and, statewide, through sheriff’s offices.

Of Florida’s 67 counties, six county sheriff’s offices have child protective divisions who take lead on child welfare reports over DCF investigators – of those six, four are in the Tampa Bay area (Manatee, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco), one is in the Orlando (Seminole County) area. The other is Broward County.

The report cited the average caseload for DCF investigators is currently between 18 to 21. One former DCF investigator Jones spoke with, who remained anonymous for the report, said he’d had 34 cases at one time during a particularly busy point before he was arrested for falsifying reports in portions of some of his investigations. At the time of the arrest, he told Jones, there were 24 open cases involving 36 children.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told state legislators in a committee meeting last week he’d like to get that number down to 15.

But is that possible?

A memo dated Feb. 28, 2017, cites March 1 as the day the agency – under Carroll’s directive – is set to streamline management of cases by reducing “excessive documentation,” so child protection investigators can move more swiftly in opening and closing their cases.

As of Wednesday, “less than 4 percent of our CPI workforce is carrying a caseload of more than 30 open investigations and 18 percent of the workforce has a caseload of 25 open investigations,” Carroll said in the memo.

Carroll refused multiple interviews with Channel 9.

 

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Toddler dies after hours in hot car parked outside Tampa day care

A 2-year-old boy died after his half-sister left him in a hot car parked outside a Tampa-area day care for several hours while the girl was working, a law enforcement spokesman said Wednesday.

Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies were called to the Oak Park Shopping Center Tuesday at 2:40 p.m. at the corner of W. Lumsden Road and Kings Avenue in Brandon.

They were responding to a child found locked in an unattended vehicle, said Det. Larry McKinnon, a representative for the HCSO.

McKinnon told FloridaPolitics.com paramedics rushed Jacob Manchego to Brandon Regional Hospital, where the boy later died.

“We’ve told the public for years about the dangers of leaving small children and animals in hot cars, but we continue to see it happen,” he said. “We have a responsibility to protect our children, so we have to charge people in these cases even though they didn’t intentionally mean to do it.”

Fiorella Vanessa Silva-Tello, Manchengo’s 21-year-old half-sister, arrived for work at the BFF Kidz Child Care Center at 733 West Lumsden Road with Jacob in the back of the SUV she was driving, a police report noted.

Detectives are actively investigating Silva-Tello and any other potential witnesses, along with gathering physical evidence. No charges have been filed against the young woman so far, as the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office continues their portion of the inquiry.

Investigators will be reviewing the prior history of the child, including any calls for service at the residence, McKinnon said.

“In this case, a mother lost her 2-year-old son to her 21-year-old daughter and it’s a terribly sad situation,” the detective said.

He further noted investigators were trying to determine whether Manchego was enrolled at the day care or why he was in the car in the first place.

“That’s all being examined right now and we’re not going to leave any stone unturned,” he said.

In 2015 the Florida state legislature passed a bill — known as the Good Samaritan Law — protecting citizens from lawsuits when they break windows open to cars to free children or pets trapped in overheated cars to save their lives.

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Florida foster parent charged in death of toddler weeks away from adoption

A woman has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of a 17-month-old toddler in Riverview, according to court records and media reports Tuesday.

In addition to the murder charge, Latamara Stackhouse Flythe was also charged with aggravated child abuse against Aedyn Agminalis, who died Dec. 11 after he was rushed to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, the Tampa Bay Times reports, which also said the toddler was likely due for adoption in a matter of weeks by a North Carolina couple.

Court records show Flythe was employed by Children’s Home Network as a marketing and communications manager. A Door of Hope, which is a subcontractor of Eckerd Kids — the agency that runs child welfare services in Hillsborough County, was the approving authority that ultimately led to Aedyn coming into her home. Both agencies are ultimately subcontracted by the Florida Dept. of Children and Families (DCF), which oversees most child welfare investigations.

Child death investigations are handled by the state’s Health and Human Services department.

Florida began a controversial transition into privatizing its child welfare system in the early to mid-2000s.

A spokesperson with Eckerd Kids — which is also known by other names like Eckerd Community Alternatives — said employees were heartbroken over the news of Aedyn’s death.

“We recently learned that the death of Aedyn has prompted an arrest of the foster parent responsible for his care,” Adrienne Drew, spokeswoman for Eckerd, told FloridaPolitics.com by email Tuesday. “We are fully committed to working with all authorities as the case progresses.”

Aedyn, who had been taken from his parents’ custody by a child welfare detective assigned to the Child Protection Investigations Division of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office after the responding investigator noticed feces on the floor and a hookah pipe — often used for decoration in the West but commonly used to smoke Egyptian shisha tobacco throughout the Middle East, not hashish, as is mistakenly thought among Westerners — in the home, the Times report noted.

(Hillsborough County is one of six counties out of 67 in the state where the sheriff’s offices lead investigations into child welfare cases, rather than DCF — five of them are in the Greater Tampa Bay area.)

 It wasn’t clear whether the pipe had been used at all or only for tobacco, or for drugs.

“Eckerd Kids’ Subcontracted Child Placing Agency (A Door of Hope) and the foster parent (Flythe) were required by the State of Florida to pass a rigorous background screening, training, and evaluation prior to taking on the critical role of caring for our most vulnerable children,” Drew said.

***

A report issued by doctors at the hospital stated “suspicion” surrounding injuries to the head not consistent with an accident.

An active investigation had already been opened Dec. 4 regarding Flythe’s residence in Riverview, a Tampa suburb, due to food stuck in the young boy’s throat, causing him to choke.

He was discharged Dec. 7, but later readmitted the same day after and became “unresponsive,” the Times reported.

The boy died after being taken off life support Dec. 11.

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Child Abuse Death Review Committee to examine fatality emergency calls

A total of 931 combined child deaths were reported in Florida in both 2015 and 2016, according to the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee (CADR), which met in Tampa Friday to discuss the issue.

Broken down, 474 of those reviewable fatalities were in 2015, with another 457 reviewable notifications made in 2016. More than 200 of those are still open cases — 29 from 2015 and 175 from 2016, per graphs compiled in documents by the committee and released to FloridaPolitics.com.

The committee also released their 2016 annual report recently.

Among the 20 circuit districts the judicial courts and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) offices fall under across the Sunshine State, only three had completed, and closed, all of their investigations in 2015:  Circuits 3, 7 and 18.

One, Miami’s 16th Circuit Court, had not completed or closed a single investigation into the deaths of minors, as said in a CADR review.

A call was placed to the child protection office for the 16th Circuit early Friday afternoon, but was not immediately returned.

Moving from 2015 into 2016, no districts had both completed and closed all their investigations.

(Again, the 16th Circuit had not completed or closed a single case, though without speaking to officials in the district, it was not immediately clear if other factors play.)

CADR is led by the Florida Department of Health, which is tasked with reviewing closed investigations into child deaths, Jessica Sims, DCF communications director in Tallahassee, told FloridaPolitics.com.

“DCF is a member of the committee and is one of many entities with a representative on each local review team, which are led by the local health departments,” Sims said by email. “DCF has no oversight of the committee or local review teams. … DCF’s quality assurance reviews or Critical Incident Rapid Response Team deployment to review child death cases are not related to the CADR — it is important not to confuse these different types of reviews.”

Death investigations conducted by DCF or by sheriff’s offices are generally closed within 30-60 days, say both DCF and CADR officials.

“Cases that remain open longer are usually due to a law enforcement hold, medical examiner determination, state attorney involvement or other factor,” Sims explained.

Various factors are considered in each investigation — primarily whether the deaths were preventable or not.

If they were, or are, found to be deemed preventable then they are classified as neglect, which the committee reported more dangers to children than most other settings.

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Randy Fine: Bill bolsters local businesses, not victimize LGBT community; detractors not buying it

Rep. Randy Fine introduced HB 17 simply as a measure to keep commerce moving on an upward trajectory under the leadership of local governments, flourishing enough to bring prosperity to their respective communities.

“Its intent is to help businesses thrive and grow – that’s its purpose,” Fine told FloridaPolitics.com by telephone on Thursday from Tallahassee. “There are folks that think business should be left up to local government and then there are folks like me who think the nexus of business runs through the state.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Gina Duncan, transgender inclusion director for the Equality Florida Institute, a partnership between advocacy and charity nonprofits that form the largest civil rights group dedicated to the civil rights of Florida’s LGBT community.

“HB 17 basically reverses the work that has been done in the last two decades to provide protection to LGBT people in employment, housing and accommodations,” Duncan said by phone. “HB 17 is basically a watered-down version of the North Carolina House Bill 2. … We find it especially alarming and dangerous because we’ve been unable to get Tallahassee to move off this conservative track they’ve been on.”

Fine refuted the claim by LGBT advocacy groups that his bill was backdoor legislation to legal discrimination of minority groups.

“That’s not what the bill is going to do,” Fine said, at first not understanding a reporter’s question about criticism of what he strictly views as a pro-commerce measure. “There are all kinds of groups that feel their local governments have gone outside state lines.”

And he doesn’t get how it would affect the LGBT community, for example, either.

Barely a full day has passed since President Donald Trump’s administration put directives to public school’s reversing the previous policy outlined in 2015 and 2016, granting transgender students certain rights when it came to the equal use of bathrooms and locker rooms based on what gender they identify.

With the sweeping Trump action, the greater LGBT community as a whole across Florida – and the nation – is worried that it’s a slippery slope to further repeals gained in recent years, like gay marriage and the right for gay couples to adopt children.

Transgender students at the University of South Florida in Tampa were anxious to speak about what was happening in Florida and across the U.S., beginning with President Trump.

“Seeing him promise ‘protection’ for the LGBT community during his inauguration speech didn’t really convince me, so I’m not really surprised he would do this kind of thing,” said Max Morinelli, who serves as the president of the campus organization USF Trans+ Student Union and as historian of USF P.R.I.D.E. Alliance. “I still can’t believe an issue like bathroom is so controversial – still beyond me really. I know, in the end – but who knows how long that will be – some equal rights bill will be passed protecting our rights.”

Though it might seem like everyone was ganging up on Fine, the wave of voices coming from the LGBT community was overwhelming, something Duncan also noted.

When asked why she thought Fine didn’t understand their point of view on the bill, she answered curtly.

“This façade of ignorance is wrapped around a smokescreen of religion,” she said. “And it’s usually veiled in the dialogue of running their businesses as they see fit when they actually don’t but into what they view as the LGBT agenda.”

 

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Dismayed, DCF head Mike Carroll explains fragments of Facebook Live suicide case

Standing before the members of the Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee Thursday, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll admitted Naika Venant had been in out of foster care since 2009.

Since April alone, she had been in 10 foster homes alone that included a hotel and a child welfare office building, according to one report by the Miami Herald, citing the girl’s attorney.

But Naika, 14, closed her chapter on this planet through suicide, hanging herself, shockingly, on Facebook Live’s video feature.

“Can you imagine? And to have hundreds of friends watching, but only one friend would call to do anything,” Carroll asked committee members. “We became involved with Naika at a young age.”

Committee members wanted to know more, but aspects of child deaths while in state custody are often kept confidential, Carroll said, until a judge authorized the release of any information. The investigation is still open and, typically, DCF has 30 days to close out a child death investigation.

But Carroll conceded this case was not like others, and it was likely to take longer than normal, which drew specific questions from committee member Rep. Kionne McGhee and Chairwoman Gayle Harrell about what date, exactly, they could expect a copy of the investigative report on Naika’s death.

“I think it’s important we get that as soon as possible,” Harrell said. “It is essential to what we do to try and make improvements. … We would like to get as much information as possible – what went wrong?”

McGhee asked a second time, as if to reiterate the seriousness of the report following a wave of negative public relations continuing since the holiday season, involving the deaths of several children in the custody of the state and DCF child protection workers fired and arrested for crimes involving drugs and lying in investigations.

“My question to you is, sir, can we expect the report?” McGhee pressed the agency chief.

Carroll was forced to give vague snippets of peripheral facts surrounding the Naika case:  she and her mother had been through lots of assessments, several rounds of therapists, batterers’ courses, but nothing seemed to work.

He also noted that, historically, fully one-third of cases involving child deaths have involved DCF with that child and family in the previous five years. Another interesting statistic he cited in the agency’s defense was the fact more children were reported through Florida’s hotline than in any other state.

Naika fit into all the red-flag categories, he said, saying the agency was reviewing everything related to her case, but he was as distraught as anyone else with the teen’s death.

“This is a case where there were lots of services … but all of that wasn’t effective,” Carroll capitulated.

 

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As Donald Trump revokes transgender student protection, Florida LGBTQ community wonders what’s next?

Late Wednesday night and into early Thursday morning, the most popular night spots in St. Petersburg were slow, but one topic was making the rounds: Donald Trump’s policy reversal decision on transgender students and what it means in a broader context.

Michael Jones, a well-known entertainer and drag whose stage name is “Meagan Towers,” was in street clothes, sipping on a drink at Pepperz Cabaret in Gulfport, the heart of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the greater St. Petersburg area.

“I think what they’re doing is wrong,” Jones, who works mostly in Naples, told FloridaPolitics.com. “I know too, too many trans people that this could affect if (Trump) takes this further.”

Hours earlier – in a letter to issued in Washington, D.C., on letterhead by the departments of Justice and Education, and signed by officials with the civil rights divisions of each – Trump’s legal experts asserted that the rights of transgender students to use separate “sex-segregated” were given without proper vetting.

Sandra Battle, of the U.S. Department of Education, and T.E. Wheeler II, of the U.S. Department of Justice, justified the government’s position because no formal public debate had ever been carried out and, in addition, no compatibility review with Title IX had been done either.

“The interpretation has given rise to significant litigation regarding school restrooms and locker rooms,” said the joint statement issued Wednesday.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded that the term ‘sex’ in the regulations is ambiguous and deferred to what the court characterized as the ‘novel’ interpretation advanced in the guidance.”

The letter cites a Texas injunction against the 2015 and 2016 Obama-era administration letters, released by the departments of Education and Justice, respectively, authorizing broader rights for the nation’s growing transgender students.

“In addition, the departments believe that, in this context, there must be due regard for the primary role of the states and local school districts in establishing educational policy,” Wednesday’s joint revision read.

That mattered little to Jones back in St. Petersburg. He and a couple of friends worried whether Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress were poised to do much more, like rescind the right for those in the LGBTQ communities to legally marry.

Jones said Trump used to support “the LGBTQ team,” but since becoming president, the shifting winds of politics had taken hold.

“Apparently, he’s making it known to all minorities and us that he doesn’t give a damn,” he said, irked.

Jones and several other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in St. Petersburg that FloridaPolitics.com spoke with well into early Thursday morning – most of whom did not wish to go on the record for this story in what they described as a growing climate of fear in the culture wars – said they were definitely scared.

They spoke sympathetically of teens across the country who may be struggling with their identity, trying to fit in socially while growing up transgender. The men said Trump’s new policy might lead to an uptick in teen suicides among transgender youth.

Statistics are it are fuzzy, but according to one study by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, published in Science Daily August 2016, 30 percent of transgender youth reported having attempted suicide at least once, and nearly 42 percent report a history of self-injury, like cutting.

Separately, they asked, what about Florida legislators? With a Republican governor close to Trump and a GOP-controlled Statehouse with a new legislative session approaching, could the days of Florida being a haven for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community be at risk?

Maybe, several lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people admitted. They were aware of a current piece of legislation meant to do just that – roll back the gains made through years of protests and condemnation.

But HB 17 is a pre-filed measure for the 2017 session that the Washington-based nonprofit Freedom for all Americans – which works to secure non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans –  describes as a “bill (targeting) local non-discrimination protections for all Floridians, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, by not only banning municipal governments from passing non-discrimination ordinances, but by overturning any protections currently in place on Jan. 1, 2020.”

HB 17 was introduced by Rep. Randy Fine. Detractors of the proposal say it is being fast tracked.

“I feel like they’re trying to take all the rights we have now away,” Jones, the entertainer, said. “Like they may abolish gay marriage and everything – just gone.”

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DCF files: Tony Dungy, adoption, false reports and a new trend – falling asleep in cars, high and with kids

It’s another interesting day in the Florida child welfare business and not a bit has anything to do with a Department of Children and Families (DCF) child protection investigator being arrested. That’s good news.

Starting with the positive, the Tallahassee Democrat reported Tony Dungy was in the state capital to speak at a DCF Black History Month Celebration, giving a 15-minute talk to those in attendance. He serves as a spokesman for the Tampa-based nonprofit, All-Pro Dad.

“I think that’s what this month is all about,” he said, the Democrat wrote. “Black history month, celebrating children and families. One child at a time. One family at a time. One step at a time. You never know what that step is going to be, where it can go, what it’s going to lead to.”

Moving on, we have another positive story out of Tallahassee by ABC affiliate WTXL, which reported Tuesday that two foster children are going through the adoption process out of 32 foster children they reported in a special series.

Three-year-old Tenley and her sister 5-year-old Taylyn are set to be adopted by Greg and Nancy Brannen, says WTXL. Though the process is taking time, the children are in their care right now.

“Every day I come home, I open the door and they’re like, ‘Daddy, daddy,’” the prospective father told the station. “They’re such a joy.”

Next, things get weird.

A woman – Jessica Elizabeth Combee, from Westville, near the border with Alabama – appeared in court last week on a violation of probation charge in connection to a 2014 arrest in which she filed a whopping 28 false reports to the state’s abuse registry website, according to the Chipley Paper.

At the time, the newspaper reported Tuesday, Combee told investigators she did it to “create havoc.”

Filing of a false report of abuse is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison with DCF reserving the right to impose a fine not exceeding $10,000 for each violation.

Getting worse …

In Sarasota County, a woman pulled up to a Venice gas station with a one-year-old child in the backseat and fell asleep, reported the Bradenton Herald Wednesday. Kathryn Miller, 30, then woke up, went into the store – leaving the child in the car, which was parked at pump No. 16, and it was around that time someone had called law enforcement.

When the cops showed up on the scene, she was asked to show them where the child was and they looked in the car, finding a Mason jar in the back with a marijuana bud in it. When later searched, Miller was found to have another three small baggies of pot in her purse, too.

The child was taken into custody by DCF authorities.

She was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on charges of child neglect, possession of marijuana under 20 grams and possession of drug paraphernalia, writes the Herald. She was released Sunday on a $6,000 bond.

And last, but not least, we bring you the case of Matthew McRee, 36, and Christina Mattessino, 30, were sleeping in a silver Cadillac with a child in a soaked diaper in the backseat of the car, according to the Spanish version of the Bradenton Herald (hit translate at the top right of your computer screen when the option box appears).

Typically, as is the case in these situations, McRee seemed disoriented and didn’t have a driver’s license, the newspaper reported Tuesday. But that wasn’t the end of it for McRee, who has a lengthy arrest history, per public records.

According to the Herald, “McRee was taken to Sarasota County jail on several counts, including child negligence, drunken driving, possession of heroin and marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia and driving under suspended license. Mattessino, meanwhile, was taken to jail on $ 17,000 bond, facing child malpractice charges and possessing drug paraphernalia.”

The toddler was handed over to close relatives and the incident was reported to DCF, the Herald said.

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House committee passes controversial changes to ‘Stand Your Ground’

Members of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice passed a highly-contested bill Tuesday, potentially changing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense laws.

If passed, it would place the burden of proof on the prosecution (or state) in cases of those who claim self-defense immunity in acts of violence when brought before judiciary proceedings.

HB 245 was co-sponsored by 41 legislators, led by Rep. Bobby Payne, who was present at the subcommittee.

The bill gives procedural clarification in those cases of self-defense by shifting the language in the original 2005 law from an affirmative defense to an automatic defense, Payne said.

“The state’s attorney office would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they can prosecute this case in a pretrial hearing,” Payne added. “Then, if they do have enough proof, they would move to a jury trial.”

Several members of the committee expressed concern about aspects of the bill, notably over scenarios in which only two people were present in the situation, where no one else was a witness and in cases of domestic violence.

Reps. Sharon Pritchett and Ramon Alexander both expressed trepidation as to whether or not the bill – in addition to the original 2005 law – would be used to disguise or deflect guilt, or would be used frivolously by those charged with domestic violence.

Advocates of the bill said it was about improving the due process in legal actions, something that had been lost through the years as the courts primarily viewed defendants as guilty until proven innocent, rather than the other way around.

“I think this bill places that burden of proof back on the government where it’s supposed to be,” Rep. Gayle Harrell said at the meeting. “I think we need to remind the courts of that.”

Greg Newburn, state policy director for the Florida chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, asked committee members to put aside their personal feelings about ‘Stand Your Ground’ and to think of today’s discussion as getting language into the law that should have been there in the first place.

“Even if you think ‘Stand Your Ground’ is not a good law, this is still a good bill here,” Newburn told the committee. “This is not the vehicle here today to oppose ‘Stand Your Ground.’ This is about fixing and protecting peoples’ fundamental constitutional rights. That’s what this bill is about. If you support those things, you should support this bill.”

For those who can’t afford tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees in what can often be a lengthy legal process, the current Stand Your Ground law – without the amendment – gives an advantage to defendants who are wealthy, represented by lawyers pro bono, or in contingency cases.

Detractors of the bill said the amendment would backlog the court dockets, prosecutor caseloads and keep law enforcement in court, rather than out doing their jobs on the street.

Phil Archer, the elected state attorney for the 18th Judicial District, spoke to committee members on behalf of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Archer said precedent had always dictated a defendant prove beyond the preponderance of doubt their innocence, but it has never been up to the prosecution to bear the sole responsibility of proof.

“That’s never been done before in this state,” Archer said. “It’s never been done anywhere in this country. … And it’s not a high standard. It’s going to be used every single time by defendants.”

He also said the fiscal impact of the bill could instantly raise expenditures by as much as $8 million across the state, citing an average of $1,000 prosecuting each case, with 104,000 currently active cases.

Nevertheless, after a spirited debate on the pros and cons of the bill, the bill passed.

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Child welfare investigator, mother arrested for cocaine, heroin in home

A recently-fired employee of the Florida Department of Children and Families, who had worked as a child protection investigator since 2015, was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies on drug trafficking charges after a warrant was issued for her arrest, a spokesperson with the agency said Tuesday.

According to the Lakeland Ledger, Laymeshia Hicks, 25, turned herself into the Polk County Sheriff’s Office late Monday afternoon. She and her boyfriend, Xzaiveous Scott, 31, are each facing charges of trafficking in heroin, trafficking in cocaine, possession of a structure to traffic drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Deputies found the drugs in the master bedroom when they responded to an armed home-invasion call last Friday at the couple’s home, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Scott’s nephews, ages 16 and 18, were there when two intruders forced their way inside and ransacked the house Feb. 17, she said.

Investigators found 68 grams of heroin and 288 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of about $35,000, authorities said.

“The alleged actions of this individual are completely reprehensible and do not in any way reflect the values of the department” DCF spokeswoman Jessica Sims told FloridaPolitics.com late Tuesday. “We are charged with protecting the state’s most vulnerable individuals and we have extremely high standards for those tasked with carrying out this mission.

“Ms. Hicks was employed by the department in late 2015 as a child protective investigator after passing a level two background screening, and immediately upon learning of these charges, we began taking steps to terminate her employment. We will continue to assist law enforcement in any way possible,” Sims concluded.

According to the Bradenton Herald, Sheriff Grady Judd said Hicks’ 3-year-old child was living in the house.

“Are you kidding me?” Judd said. “Come on, girl, what is wrong with you?”

Judd said he thought the couple was victims of a home invasion, but he said Scott ran because he knew law enforcement would find drugs.

Scott came to the house during the investigation but later left. Detectives contacted both Scott and Hicks by phone, but they refused to meet or talk, the release said.

The Lakeland Ledger went on to give descriptions of the armed robbery suspects:

— A 5-foot, 11-inch to 6-foot, 1-inch-tall black man with a light complexion and skinny build. He was last seen wearing a camouflage-style sweatshirt and pants, black mask with a skull face, black shoes and gloves.

— A 5-foot, 10-inch-tall black man with a light complexion and husky build. He was last seen wearing a red/orange hooded sweatshirt, gray pants, black shoes, black bandanna, gray skull cap and black gloves.

Law enforcement asked that anyone with information about Scott’s whereabouts or with information regarding the robbery call the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 863-298-6200, the Ledger reported.

Anyone who wishes to remain anonymous may call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-8477 or visit www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com, where they may be eligible for a cash reward.

Marilyn Meyer can be reached at marilyn.meyer@theledger.com. Follow her on Twitter @marilyn_ledger.

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