In January 2013, a neighbor found 5-year-old Elizabeth Shyan Holder wandering alone at the Gulf to Bay Mobile Home Park in Clearwater.
Pinellas County sheriffs removed Holder, along with her sister Kala, from their home and parents.
Eight days later, Elizabeth was dead.
Her parents, Corey Holder and Stephanie Judah, claimed that Elizabeth died from oxygen deprivation due to undiagnosed tonsillitis. They filed a federal lawsuit against the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office over their daughter’s death.
At issue was the sheriff’s failure to present the little girl for a medical exam within 72 hours of her removal, as mandated by state law.
They argued that had the PCSO done so, she would not have died.
“I accept responsibility. We own it. This falls squarely on me,” Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times in 2013.
Judah was arrested and charged with felony child neglect on the day the girls were removed. Judah died in December 2014 of unknown causes. She had been staying at Woodside Hospice.
According to court records, prosecutors dropped the child neglect case months later.
In April, the Times reported the federal judge learned the state health screening rule was broken more than 50 times in 2012, but “a higher court had drawn a distinction between people failing to follow procedures and an institution’s deliberate indifference.”
The case was dismissed.
Corey Holder, however, filed a new unlawful death lawsuit, this time against the state, claiming once again Elizabeth died from oxygen deprivation due to undiagnosed tonsillitis.
Nevertheless, the medical examiner attributed the death to a heart problem exacerbated by tonsillitis; a second pathologist pointed to a swollen throat and lack of oxygen.
Less than a month before sheriffs removed the girls, Stephanie Judah had sought a restraining order against Corey Holder on behalf of herself and her children. That petition was dismissed for insufficient evidence.
According to Judah’s obituary, she is survived by three children, including Kala. She was 36.
The case continues.