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USF’s Hassan Childs dismissed from team after road rage incident

The news for former USF safety Hassan Childs keeps getting worse.

After he was shot (three times), after he was arrested and after the police found his marijuana, Childs has been dismissed from the Bulls team by head coach Charlie Strong.

“I had a chance to speak with him,” Strong told the Tampa Bay Times. “They all want to continue and go play, and he was a senior, but he totally understood.”

Childs has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault and one misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession.

“When you look at this university and how great an institution it is, and the football program, it is a privilege to represent this program,” Strong said. “And there are standards and there are values that we uphold, and our players understand it is an obligation and it is a responsibility to represent it the right way.”

State Rep. Cary Pigman, HD 55

Cary Pigman cleared in state ethics case

State Rep. Cary Pigman did not misuse his official position to retaliate against a school principal in his district, an administrative law judge ruled this week.

In a 22-page order, Judge June C. McKinney recommended that the Florida Commission on Ethics dismiss its case against the Avon Park Republican, first elected in 2012. He still faces a DUI charge from an unrelated incident last week.

Pigman, also a doctor of emergency medicine and Army Reserve physician, had been accused of “linking his efforts to obtain legislative funding for the Okeechobee School District … to retaliate or attempt to retaliate against an employee of the School District.”

That employee was elementary school principal Tracy Maxwell Downing, the ex- sister-in-law of Pigman’s former secretary, Libby Maxwell, with whom he had been having an affair and to whom he is now married.

In October 2015, Downing and Pigman attended a legislative delegation meeting in the county. He said she “used her middle finger in a manner that could be seen as ‘flicking a bird’ at him,” an investigative report said. Downing later said she was only “scratching her head.”

McKinney wasn’t buying it, noting that Downing had admitted “flipping (Pigman) off” to schools superintendent Ken Kenworthy, and “even apologized,” telling him “she did not realize one obscene gesture in the spur of the moment would lead to something like this.”

That December, Pigman and Libby Maxwell met with Kenworthy to “address their concerns” about Downing and the academic performance of her daughter, who attended Downing’s school.

Pigman played jailhouse recordings between Downing and her brother when he was locked up on an unrelated charge. In them, she could be heard telling the brother she was giving Pigman “hell,” because the state representative was spending nights with the secretary at her marital home while her husband, Downing’s brother, was in jail.

Pigman then asked Kenworthy, “Is this the best that the Okeechobee School District has to offer,” adding that “…this would be in the back of (my) mind when thinking about the School District,” according to the investigative report.

“The Okeechobee School District was seeking $63 million from the Florida Department of Education to construct a new high school,” the report noted.

Pigman’s remark, however, was just a “poor choice of words, (and) at most, the statement can only be perceived as nebulous because (it) lacks any specificity,” McKinney wrote.

In fact, the judge added, “the record is void of any evidence to show either Pigman or (his now wife) tried to leverage their status by threatening, asking for, or discussing discipline, suspension, termination or any other punishment for Mrs. Downing … The record only shows that Mrs. Downing’s unprofessional harassing behavior was reported.”

Being in the Legislature “does not strip a legislator’s right to report wrongdoings of a public employee,” the order says.

McKinney also found “no reliable evidence” that Pigman suggested blocking the district’s funding. “Furthermore, the funding issue never went before the Legislature since the request was denied at the agency level stage for not meeting the critical need test,” she wrote.

The order goes to the Ethics Commission for final action. Before that, the parties can submit written objections for consideration.

Gator quarterbacks go through growing pains in first scrimmage

And now, for your latest report on the progress of the Florida Gators‘ quarterbacks:

Eh.

Freshman Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask both sputtered a bit during the Gators’ first scrimmage, leaving fans to wonder if either will be able to beat out incumbent Luke Del Rio when fall practices begin. An interception in the end zone particularly bothered coach Jim McElwain.

The Gators have been searching for a solid quarterback after being 79th and 86th in the country the last two seasons.

“Both quarterbacks had some real explosive throws, and yet, I think our sense of urgency needs to pick up a little bit at that position,” McElwain said. “We got sloppy with the ball in the read area a couple of times. We’ve got to learn from those things and understand the importance of what we need to do down there.”

McElwain said Franks and Trask were efficient with their deep throws, but had problems hitting open receivers over the middle.

“They did a great job throwing the deep balls, and we missed some intermediate seam throws,” he said. “I thought that was good by the defense in their disguise and what they rolled to. Our pre-snap was good. We missed some seams, inside seams that we should have been able to hit.

“Then we came back and corrected on Saturday. It was good to see. I was disappointed we threw an interception in the red area. That can’t happen, absolutely not, so we’ve got to learn from that. Good play from the defense, but obviously we can’t do that — take away points. We have to do better at that.”

McElwain said he was happy with how well the offense moved the ball with both quarterbacks.

“Our production was actually pretty good in comparison to the past.” he said. “Had some drops. Uncharacteristic. I thought the receivers had drops in big situations, some third-down deals that we needed to execute down in the red area. We’ve got to pick that piece up a little bit.”

Overall, McElwain seemed satisfied with the Gators’ scrimmage.

“There were some really, really good performances and things that stood out, both good and bad,” he said. “Yet, it was the first time I’ve kind of seen them fight through. They played hard throughout the scrimmage.

The Florida spring game is April 7.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s moves show that real power is taken, every bit of it

On the old TV show Dallas, family patriarch Jock Ewing once memorably screamed at his son Bobby: “So I gave you power, huh? Well, let me tell you something, boy. If I did give you power, you got nothing! Nobody gives you power. Real power is something you take!”

The 2017 version of that story is playing out now in real life, with Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran in the starring role. He is taking every chance to show who has the power. It’s his way, or no way, and that’s not likely to change.

His latest joust is with the mayors and leaders of cities and counties throughout the state. He is pushing measures through the House that basically would let all those leaders know who is in charge. Hint: it ain’t them.

There was a telling quote from Corcoran in Steve Bousquet’s story on this subject in Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Times.

“Our founders got it right. When they set up a Constitution, they basically said that the federal government exists with these enumerated powers,” Corcoran told the newspaper. “What’s not enumerated, all of it, belongs to the states. Every bit of it.”

Repeat that last sentence: Every bit of it.

The contradiction, of course, is that Corcoran and fellow Republicans routinely rail against mandates coming from the federal government or court rulings. But they apparently have no problem turning Tallahassee into a Mini-Me of sorts that bosses cities and local municipalities around and doesn’t care how they feel about that.

That includes prohibiting them from raising taxes without satisfying Tallahassee’s demands. They want to restrict the right of cities to pass laws that could affect businesses. One bill would prevent cities from regulating the rentals of private homes.

That’s specifically aimed protecting companies like Airbnb in case cities decide to act on local complaints about quiet neighborhoods that can be disrupted by tourist churn. Tallahassee is in charge now. Local zoning ordinances? Ptooey!

This is the natural progression of the tone Corcoran has brought to the Speaker’s chair. His fights with Gov. Rick Scott have been in the headlines for months. He took a no-prisoners approach with lobbying and legislative reforms. He is even trying to reshape how the state Supreme Court is run.

Don’t act surprised. He has vowed to reshape Tallahassee, and that requires equal parts of determination and power. No one doubts that he has plenty of determination.

And power?

He seems to be taking it.

Every bit of it.

Committee rejects bill that would stop future express lanes

A bill seeking to end Florida’s practice of developing tolled express lanes was rejected Tuesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee.

Various members of the committee cited a number of reasons why they would not want to see Florida stop developing special lanes that could give higher-speed options through typically congested areas to high-occupancy cars or drivers willing to pay tolls for that privilege, and House Bill 777 went down.

Part of the debate centered on those who believe such tolled specialty lanes — dubbed HOT lanes, express lanes or Lexus lanes — are the only practical way to add capacity to crowded expressways, versus those who see them as unfair.

But sponsor Democratic state Rep. Matt Willhite of West Palm Beach argued that his bill was a safety measure, citing accident statistics and anecdotes suggesting that they’re a public safety hazard, more trouble than they’re worth.

In making his last pitch, Willhite asked for support, “as we try to move forward, to try to make some measures, make more safety, more concerns at work, and to save our visitors and our residents from the added costs of these roads.”

The bill went down 6-8.

The bill brought particular concerns from areas counting on express lanes to relieve congestion. Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park opposed it because he was not convinced by Willhite’s soft assurance that projects already under construction, such as the Ultimate I-4 Makeover through Orlando, would be exempted from the ban. That $2 billion project includes the addition of express lanes through much of the Orlando area to provide quicker transits for people willing to pay tolls on what otherwise is a freeway.

“I do think the Ultimate I-4 project is critical to Central Florida,” he said.

On the other hand, Democratic state Rep. Barbara Watson of Miami Gardens decried the lanes’ economic unfairness in arguing for the bill.

“I’ve heard some of my colleagues this morning refer to this as ‘HOT lanes.’ But on my side of the county refer to it as the ‘Lexus lanes.'” Watson said. “If you don’t have the resources you certainly are caught in traffic. It speeds along individuals who simply have the resources to move, but not necessarily allowing those who are in the traditional lanes to be able to advance.”

Police and firefighter organizations give nod to Darden Rice

Two key first responders’ groups are giving support to St. Petersburg City Council Chair Darden Rice in her bid for re-election to the city body, according to a press release Tuesday.

The Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association and the St. Petersburg Association of Firefighters issued a joint statement praising Rice’s commitment to the city.

“I’m deeply honored to have the support of our police officers and firefighters,” Rice, who represents St. Petersburg’s 4th District, said in the statement. “The work these public servants do every day to keep our city safe is extraordinary and deeply appreciated. I look forward to continuing the progress we’ve made.”

She was elected to office in November 2013, representing 10 precincts.

Rice announced her bid for re-election in February, raising more than $23,000 in the following two weeks, Tuesday’s statement said.

“Darden is a strong leader we can count on,” Richard Pauley, president of the St. Petersburg Association of Firefighters, also said in the press release. “We know she will continue to honorably serve the citizens of St. Petersburg and the interests of the men and women in the Fire and Emergency Medical Services.”

Rice defeated neurosurgeon and Tea Party activist David McKalip in 2013.

She is a strong favorite to be re-elected, no candidates opposing her yet for the August primary.

“We are proud to endorse Darden,” George Lofton, president of the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association, said in the statement. “She’s a trusted ally of our officers and a vocal supporter of safer streets and stronger neighborhoods on council. Darden understands the crucial role our police officers play in making our city safer and we look forward to continuing to work with her.”

In January, Rice, 46, announced she has begun treatment for breast cancer.

State Rep. Cary Pigman, HD 55

Charged with DUI, Cary Pigman resigns subcommittee chairmanship

State Rep. Cary Pigman, who last week was charged with drunk driving, has stepped down as chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced the move Tuesday. He appointed Jeanette Nunez, the House Speaker pro tempore, as acting chair of the the subcommittee.

Pigman, an Avon Park Republican first elected in 2012, is an emergency medicine physician and U.S. Army Reserve doctor who served in Iraq. 

“Having spent a career fighting for and defending this country, Dr. Pigman knows that it is honorable to take responsibility for one’s actions,” Corcoran said. “It is the honorable thing to do. Dr. Pigman has done both by informing me that he wishes to step down as chairman of the Health Quality Subcommittee.”

Pigman, who was traveling alone, was pulled over late last Thursday on Florida’s Turnpike after a trooper noticed his southbound Jeep “drifting” between his lane and the highway’s shoulder. (Story here.)

Pigman then failed field sobriety tests, including almost falling and not following instructions, the report said. His blood alcohol level later was measured at .14 and .15, it added. A DUI in Florida is .08 or above.

‘Policy wonk’ John Johnson plans listening tour for St. Pete City Council bid

John Johnson, a research administrator at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is the latest candidate to file in the crowded St. Petersburg City Council District 6 contest.

The 46-year-old native Ohio resident calls himself a policy wonk, not a politician. 

“My background is education, so I’m a strong believer in education, and what it can do at all levels,” he said in an interview on Monday. “If we can improve primary education, if we can partner with some of the colleges and universities that are here, which we do some now, if we can do more of that, more mentoring, more stuff like that, I think that’s really the way to change people’s lives.”

Johnson has worked his entire professional career in higher education, having served in the New York University system for more than 22 years. A regular visitor to St. Petersburg for over a decade, he and his husband decided five years ago to leave Brooklyn and come to the ‘Berg, even though he didn’t have a firm job offer in hand (they had been regularly visiting the area to take care of an ill parent). He found work relatively quickly at Eckerd College and then moved to USFSP when his current position became available.

Johnson’s Master’s Degree is in public policy, and says he’s always had an interest in politics but “as a gay man, I never really thought that I would be able to get into it, but times have changed.”

In fact, the current Council has three members from the LGBT community: Chair Darden Rice, Steve Kornell and Amy Foster.

In a statement, Johnson says he was angry after last year’s president election but was revitalized after attending the women’s march in St. Petersburg on January 21. “Up to that point I was feeling angry and powerless given what was going on in the country and in my life,” he says. “Seeing the diverse group of people coming together in a positive progressive manner really inspired me to think about what I can do to make a change.”

Johnson calls himself a “political novice,” never having run for office before. He says he’s just reaching out to people who work in politics to get a sense of what he’s in for.

On the issues, Johnson says he doesn’t believe there’s enough historical preservation happening in the city, joking that he doesn’t want to end up looking like Fort Lauderdale.

He’s heard some people question the need for a Pier given how much Beach Drive is thriving downtown. “I would like to see a new Pier there, and I am progressive in almost all of my policies, but there’s a bit of fiscal restraint in me where I want to understand how we’re doing this,” he says of the project’s escalating price tag.

Regarding the Tampa Bay Rays quest for a new ballpark, which could very well end up back in St. Petersburg, Johnson says he “has a problem with dumping a lot of city taxes to owners,” but is optimistic that any deal will be a positive one for city taxpayers.

Johnson is the fifth candidate to enter the race. Other announced candidates include Corey Givens Jr., Sharon Russ, Maria Scruggs and Akile Cainion.

Johnson lives in the Old Northeast, the most northern part of District 6. He says that his plan is to go to other areas of the district on a “listening tour” of sorts, to understand the needs of other communities in the district.

“If f I want to represent I need to represent the entire district, and that’s gong to take a lot of listening, and not coming in with some set ideas, about A, B, and C,” he says.

District 6 is considered one of the most diverse areas in St. Petersburg, running from the Old Northeast through downtown west to Midtown, then south to Bahama Shores. Karl Nurse has held the seat for the past nine years, after initially appointed by the City Council in 2008 and then winning an election on his own in 2009, becoming the first white man to win the district in 30 years. He easily won re-election in 2013.

Did DCF create media frenzy after foster child’s suicide to distract from agency errors?

Gina Alexis and daughter Naika Venant (Photo courtesy Gina Alexis)

Naika Venant’s mother vehemently refutes narratives by the state agency in a March 13 report, including suggestion she ‘allegedly’ commented on Facebook Live thread taunting daughter while watching and did nothing; lawyer says agencies ‘abysmally failed’ Naika.

***

Naika Venant was a girl whose personality had turned from that of a bright and gifted child – despite her naïveté toward adult subject matter – to one of rebelliousness and anger, according to records and her mother.

The dark transition leading her down the path to suicide in January at the tender age of 14 was fraught with complexity, her life taking an unrecoverable nose-dive, her biological mother argued, following the months in 2009 when Naika was repeatedly raped and molested during the first of three tumultuous tours through Florida’s foster-care system in Miami-Dade County.

During a nearly four-hour phone interview Sunday with Gina Alexis, the bereaved mother chronicled her daughter’s life, wanting to clear the air on many issues she claimed were misreported in the press or by the agencies tasked with the safety and well-being of her daughter through the Department of Children and Families (DCF) – Our Kids of Miami-Dade Monroe and the Center for Family and Child Enrichment (CFCE).

Since the early morning hours of Jan. 22, when Naika – medicated on 50 mg of Adderall and 50 mg of Zoloft daily, per a doctor’s directives just weeks before on Dec. 8 – put a scarf around her neck and ended her life, small but significant details have trickled out into the public domain.

There’s a contradiction between DCF’s assertion in the CIRRT (Critical Incident Rapid Response Team) report the teen was in capable hands at the time of her death and facts laid bare in more than 3,500 pages of documents released just two days after the CIRRT report, which include police records, psychological evaluations, foster home placement files and exchanges between a caseworker and Alexis.

On basic thematic levels, there are parallels between the trove of thousands of pages of documents released by DCF – following a judge’s order after The Miami Herald fought the agency in a court of law to do so – and the account described by Alexis during the interview with FloridaPolitics.com on Sunday.

She was frank in discussing her daughter’s gravitation toward age-inappropriate sexual behavior, her attempts at trying to rid her daughter of poor behavior picked up in foster homes when reunited with Naika and the frustration of being re-admitted to a system that controlled their every move and set unrealistic expectations at times.

And Alexis was beholden to Naika’s rebelliousness, she said, which included sometimes lying about abuse to authorities when she wouldn’t get her way or when she was punished because she knew her mother was deathly scared of DCF.

Punishments usually included having her tablet or cellphone taken, which would send Naika into uncontrollable fits – one so bad she ran out of the house and didn’t immediately come back. When Alexis called the police to help her, they found Naika and brought her home. But when Naika got out of the police car, she claimed her mother would beat her again, prompting yet another intrusive DCF investigation, the mother said.

In another instance, Naika burned herself, went to school the next day and told her teacher that her mother did it to her, Alexis said Sunday.

When an investigation followed, they wound up giving polygraphs, Alexis said, and the truth came out that Naika had lied to her teacher and child protection workers.

The mother was absolved of any wrongdoing in that instance.

She described the cycle of dealing with DCF as a “merciless merry-go-round.”

But she readily admits to what introduced them to the child welfare system in the first place.

In early 2009, Alexis came home and caught another 4-year-old girl giving Naika oral sex.

“I whooped her; there’s no denying it,” she said. Alexis lost her temper and pelted Naika with a belt, leaving around 30 lashes all over her body.

It was in Naika’s first foster home following this episode that she was molested and raped by an older foster teen.

Gina Alexis and daughter Naika Venant (Photo courtesy Gina Alexis)

The Facebook comment

Much of the child welfare summary part of the CIRRT report focused on Alexis, known then to DCF officials by her maiden surname – Caze.

Following the report’s first two pages – a cover page and a table of contents to the 20-page report – is the executive summary. On the first page of the report’s contents, DCF detailed a comment left under Alexis’s name.

Rather than beginning the report with other standard information in the executive summary, the department chose to feature prominently an “abuse report” made Feb. 9 by an unnamed source – more than two weeks after Naika died, claiming a comment “allegedly” written by Alexis “could be considered mentally injurious to her suicidal child and failed to seek help” for Naika.

The fact DCF stated in two separate paragraphs that “she wrote” the comment, then in the next paragraph of the CIRRT cited it was “allegedly written” by Alexis, both of which contradict each other.

FloridaPolitics.com chose not to republish the comment, having written a story on the topic previously when the CIRRT was released.

And according to Alexis, no one from DCF has contacted her since her daughter’s death to verify the comment, not even to extend an apology. (And she was never notified about the change in dosages of her daughter’s medication on Dec. 8.)

However, based on the comment, DCF elevated their reaction as a department.

“Upon receipt of the abuse report, the special review assignment was reclassified as a Critical Incident Rapid Response Team (CIRRT) response as there was a verified prior report involving the child and her mother within 12 months of Naika’s death,” the report stated

It’s unclear why the suicide of a teen girl on psychotropic prescriptions, who had broadcast it live via social media to a viewership of more than 1,000 people five weeks after another teen girl – in the same area, also with a using a scarf in a shower stall, and both under the care of Our Kids – wasn’t enough in itself to warrant a CIRRT response.

However, DCF did reply to an email by FloridaPolitics.com.

“CIRRT reports include a summary of the call made to the abuse hotline reporting the death of a child due to suspected abuse, neglect or abandonment,” Jessica Sims, DCF spokeswoman, said Monday.

Up to that point, DCF only knew the comment existed, but apparently failed or chose not, to verify its origin.

“They are making me out to be a monster,” Alexis said by phone from Miami, sobbing. “It’s not true.”

She stated the video of her daughter began at approximately 10:59 p.m. and she posted her comment at approximately 1:15 a.m., without knowing Naika was already gone, as she had just begun to receive a barrage of texts from friends telling her to check on Naika through her Facebook page.

“I didn’t taunt her – I didn’t know what she was even doing yet – I thought it was a hoax because when I saw it other people were saying it was fake, so I did, too,” she said. “I still haven’t seen the (video) stream to this day. In the comment, I don’t see a mother saying, ‘Do it,’ I see a mother saying, ‘Don’t – stop,’ because here’s the reality of what can happen if she did do it, and what she needed to be doing instead of playing with Facebook males and females – stick to your books. I would trade places with Naika if God said I could.”

DCF said the death was still under examination.

“The department’s death investigation is ongoing, and coordination with law enforcement continues,” Sims said. “While details are confidential at this time, a report will be posted on the department’s child fatality prevention website upon completion of the death investigation.”

Naika Venant (Photo courtesy Gina Alexis)

The texts

In a previous paragraph of the executive summary in the CIRRT, it states Naika’s sadness that “her mother didn’t want her back.” According to Alexis, she never gave up custody, and this line is from an exchange between herself and a caseworker named Tramile Barriffe, employed by CFCE.

(It’s unknown if Barriffe is still employed at CFCE. Both CFCE and Jackie Gonzalez of Our Kids did not respond to requests for comment on this or another story.)

Further, the CIRRT report claimed that in the final nine months of Naika’s life custodial parental rights still belonged to Alexis, while guardianship was in the hands of the state. But then the report states, in part, “… for the 22 months that preceded her re-entry into care, Ms. Caze relinquished custody of Naika on April 20, 2016, citing that she no longer wanted the child in her home.”

Alexis said this is a false statement and part of the intent to use her as a scapegoat.

“I would never have given her up – I never did,” Alexis said. “I was expressing my frustration at them for not doing enough. They are making me out to be a horrible mother. I never gave up my rights to her. These are red flags.”

The exchanges referred to in both the CIRRT report and by Alexis are recounted in a series of text messages between Barriffe and the mother on pages 174 through 199 on a section of police report documents – from those the judge ordered DCF to release.

On Jan. 10, Alexis sent Barriffe several texts with screen shots of Naika on Facebook engaging in sexually explicit behavior with other people.

“Please share with co-workers the judge and everyone else involved in this case… Keep the headache y’all created…,” Alexis tells Barriffe in text messages at 9:13 a.m., 1:53 p.m. and 1:56 p.m. “I will let y’all be the judge if who is good or not who been learning and who chooses not to … When in my care there wasn’t none of that she gets worse by second in y’all care …”

Barriffe responds at 3:46 p.m., saying: “Hi … I try not to make every phone call that I make to you about an incident because usually they are not good reports. I wanted to see you that’s why I have been calling to meet up with you. At this point, I let my supervisor know everything because the case isn’t moving forward. I spoke to Niaka (sic) about all the things she has posted up and that will be up to her to make better decisions. (…) I can’t tell you if all the things she posted is something she is engaging in. (…) She has to be the one to practice better decision even with all that is being provided to her.”

Alexis responds, in part: “Naika y’all problem for her to play innie minnie miny mo with through homes I’m done with the games may God be with you all… Bless”

Barriffe goes on to say there would be a new case worker handling Naika, something Alexis cited as a problem throughout the 28 total months her daughter spent in foster care, as every three to four months they would have to acclimate to a new caseworker, making continuity “impossible,” she said.

“The department contracts with community-based care lead agencies and the lead agencies contract for case management,” Sims said. Accordingly, the department cannot speak directly to actions taken by case managers.

Placing blame by negative portrayal?

Howard Talenfeld, a child advocacy attorney and president of Florida Children First, said the caseworker was making an unrealistic presumption.

“This girl was 14 with therapeutic needs, bouncing from placement to placement on psychotropic medication, and this caseworker expects her to be making mature decisions on her own?” Talenfeld said by phone from Ft. Lauderdale Saturday. “The caseworker basically threw her hands up in the air and said, ‘I’m done.'”

Barriffe was transitioning from the office, according to DCF.

“The records indicate that the child’s case manager was changed due to the need to work towards transitioning to independent living/extended foster care,” said Sims, the department’s spokeswoman. “Also, as documented in the case notes, it is our understanding that the case manager communicated directly with the child regarding her social media use.”

That shouldn’t have mattered, in Talenfeld’s view. The placement was wrong, he said.

“Naika shouldn’t have been anywhere near a cellphone or the internet,” he said. “It looks like the private agencies involved are trying to deflect the responsibility of providing safe and therapeutic care for Naika and are now trying to blame Ms. Alexis. They’re responsible for the placement of foster care – they have abysmally failed in doing it in this case, and she had severe therapeutic needs.”

With reference to the rapes and sexual abuse in the foster home from 2009 by a then-15-year-old boy named Tevin (an adult now): DCF claimed in the CIRRT report, which was released two days before the 3,500-plus pages of confidential case history, DCF stated, “Naika was placed there and had no prior incidents of inappropriate behavior, nor any subsequent incidents following this allegation.”

Then DCF claimed in the CIRRT report a medical evaluation at that time from a child protection team didn’t find evidence consistent with rape or molestation. The very next sentence switches subjects, commenting how the mother and daughter became “hostile,” about the reasons bringing them into contact with DCF in the first place.

It wasn’t clear if DCF went back and thoroughly examined the case files on the 2009 situation as a part of its research in issuing the CIRRT report, as Alexis said she took Naika to Charlee, in Miami, a now-defunct facility providing services to abused children.

“It’s a lie,” Alexis said. “She had a UTI (urinary tract infection) and I was like, ‘Wait a minute,’ so I took her to Charlee  because I said, ‘DCF’s got to tell me something.’”

She described how a doctor with Charlee corroborated the sexual assault. A previous caseworker named Tatiana Ashley, whose name appeared in several documents examined by FloridaPolitics.com, helped facilitate the appointment at Charlee.

Alexis claimed officials were prepared to offer compensation for the abuse that had taken place, but she said she wanted to consult with a lawyer first.

“And even before until I left the elevator in the building that they erased the whole thing once I said I wanted to talk to a lawyer,” Alexis said, making a reference to her belief agency officials were getting rid of any findings from Naika’s medical exam. “They’ve covered it up ever since. The rape happened, and they just keep covering it up, trying to place blame on me.”

Talenfeld, the lawyer, wants to know why Naika was placed in a home with two other foster children, all three sleeping in one bedroom. He also pointed out that the foster mother was brand-new and was not supposed to have children with behavioral or mental health issues.

“Was the foster mother specially trained to handle special needs children on medications?” he asked. “Did she know what signs to look for in mood, like depression? Was there internet in the home?

“There are a shortage of therapeutic placements for this kind of children who are seriously emotionally disturbed,” the attorney continued. “There are a lot of questions, no easy ones.”

FloridaPolitics.com attempted to get a comment from key state legislators on the Florida Senate’s DCF oversight committee without success.

Seminole Tribe: Judge’s slots ruling could cost state ‘multi-billions of dollars’

If it looks like a slot machine, and plays like a slot machine, it’s a slot machine, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is telling state leaders. 

An order by a Tallahassee judge, first reported by FloridaPolitics.com, declared that certain slot machine-style entertainment devices aren’t slot machines under state law.

The Tribe disagreed. It now says those games violate a deal between the Tribe and the state, known as the Seminole Compact. That could have “massive consequences costing the Tribe and the State to lose multi-billions of dollars,” according to the Tribe’s recent court filing.  

In a letter sent last Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Tribal Chairman Marcellus Osceola said the games were “an expansion of gaming” and a “serious violation” of the compact, which guarantees the Tribe exclusive rights to slots outside of South Florida.

If so, that would entitle the Tribe to stop paying the state a cut of its gambling revenue. So far this year, the Seminoles have paid $40 million for January and February – despite a federal judge’s ruling that the state broke another part of the deal governing blackjack exclusivity. That decision is under appeal.

Negron last week said he wanted to use the Seminoles’ money – expected to total $306 million this year – for the 2017-18 state budget. Moreover, his chamber’s gambling legislation, which includes a renewed blackjack deal, will be on the floor starting this Wednesday.

“The letter is the subject of pending litigation, (and) for that reason, President Negron does not have a comment at this time,” spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an email. A Scott spokeswoman said she would “look into it” and did not immediately comment.

Osceola wrote that the “Tribe is advised that a significant number of these games are being operated in Florida based on this decision, and that thousands of additional games are likely to be added in the near future.” Gary Bitner, Tribe spokesman, said there would be no further comment.

Earlier this month, Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled that a specific kind of game, usually called a “pre-reveal” game, was “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.” Other states, such as North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling, however.

The court action began when agents from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) found one of the games in a Jacksonville sports bar and at least one other location, records show. The games have since been found across the northeast corner of the state.

Players must “press a ‘preview’ button before a play button can be activated,” the judge’s order explained. The outcome of the next game is always known, thus it’s not a game of skill or chance, he said. 

Two days after Osceola’s letter, the Tribe’s lawyer asked the judge to reconsider his decision, court records show. That request piggybacked on one filed by the DBPR, which regulates gambling.

Its filing says “what the player does or does not know about any given outcome is irrelevant … machines which are set to play themselves and record a certain win/loss ratio are inherently infused with chance.”

Attorney Barry Richard, who represents the Tribe, wrote in his filing: “The degree of slot machine exclusivity was an essential element of the Compact in order to obtain federal approval. In the event of an infringement on the Tribe’s exclusivity, the Tribe has the right under the compact to discontinue payments to the State.

“The offering of (pre-reveal games) and any similar gaming system to the public is an infringement on the Tribe’s right to exclusivity under the Compact and threatens to disrupt a contractual relationship between the Tribe and the State that has been highly beneficial to both parties,” he added.

Osceola, in his letter, also said: “The Tribe trusts that the State will take prompt action to remedy this violation.”

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