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‘Single worst case:’ Bill compensating Barahona twins’ survivors gets committee approval

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In a case of two young children who endured torture, sexual abuse, violence, murder and attempted murder by an adoptive family while the Florida Department of Children and Families did nothing, a House committee Tuesday voted to support a $5 million settlement.

The money would go to Victor Docter Barahona, now 16, who survived the physical and mental abuse, torture, and attempted murder, and to other beneficiaries including blood relatives of his and his twin sister Nubia Docter Barahona, whose equally-horrific young life ended with her murder at age 10 in 2011.

“This is for me the single worst case that I’ve ever seen,” said state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican, who sponsored House Bill 6523 along with state Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat.

Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who fostered the twins and then adopted them, are awaiting trial on first-degree murder and numerous other charges in a Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

The 2011 case led to national outrage and alarm toward, and reforms of, the Department of Children and Families, including reforms pushed by Diaz.

“At every step of the way there were errors, there were flags that DCF should have seen,” he told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Government Operations and Technology while presenting the bill.

Revealed evidence alleges that the twins had undergone seven years of abuse that included being tied up in bathtubs, force-fed feces, electrical shocks, sexual battery, and numerous other torturous acts during their custody with the Barahonas. Eventually, in 2011, the two children were found in Jorge Barahona’s truck bed covered with caustic chemicals. Nubia was dead; Victor was alive but in critical condition.

In a report he filed with the Florida Legislature on Feb. 28, House Special Master Parker Aziz agreed with Diaz that DCF had numerous opportunities and responsibilities to intervene.

“In sum, the cumulative effect of the evidence shows that DCF should have known the twins were being abused and failed to prevent the situation from continuing. DCF employees performed their tasks in a mere perfunctory fashion, filling out forms and bubbling in boxes without adequate critical thinking and analysis of the data they were collecting,” Aziz wrote. “The Department and its employees had a duty and breached that duty.”

Victor and the other blood-family survivors had sued DCF in two cases, one in circuit court and one in federal court.

On March 6, 2013, DCF entered into a settlement with the plaintiffs in the federal case for $1,250,000, which has been paid. As a part of the settlement, DCF agreed to settle the state negligence claims and not oppose this $3,750,000 claim bill and submit a letter supporting the claimants. On June 18, 2013 the state case was settled under the same terms.

Yet the compensation attempts for Victor and some of his blood relatives have died in the Florida Legislature in each of the last three sessions.

This year the companion bill is Senate Bill 18, which is in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The twins had been placed with the Barahonas when they were preschoolers because their birth mother was a drug addict.

“God bless her children. May this never happen again,” Diaz concluded.

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Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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