Cindy Rodriguez is the Urban Policy reporter for New York Public Radio.
Two former child welfare workers were charged in the death of a 4-year-old girl who was starved, beaten and drugged in a case the prosecutor said could reveal "systematic failure" at the agency.
Marchella Brett-Pierce, 4, weighed 18-lbs when she died in September, and prosecutors accuse Administration for Children's Services workers Damon Adams and supervisor Chereece Bell of not doing enough to save her. The pair was charged with criminally negligent homicide and the grandmother was charged with manslaughter.
Adams failed to properly monitor the child and changed records to make it appear as though he had visited the child's family when he hadn’t, prosecutors alleged.
"Trying to suggest that there was a direct causation between him and child’s death is just scapegoating," Adams' attorney, Wayne Bodden, said. The lawyer also maintains both Adams and Bell were told to change case records by a superior but he could not provide the employees name.
After the incident, ACS said it suspended both employees without pay and they later resigned during the disciplinary process.
Bell's attorney, Joshua Horowitz, said his client has two children, was in the process of getting her Master's degree and was an exemplary employee consistently rising up the ranks over a 12 year career. He called the indictment against her an outrage.
Bail was set for Damon at $35,000 cash and at $25,000 for Bell. Both have pleaded not guilty. The Brooklyn D.A. says the investigation is ongoing and more details will come out once the case moves closer to trial.
Marchella had spent most of her life in a hospital and continued to need a feeding tube. According to investigators, she was starved, bound to a bed and force-fed over-the-counter medications by her mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, who is already facing murder charges.
In addition to the caseworker indictments, the child's grandmother was also charged with second degree manslaughter. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes alleged that Loretta Brett did nothing to stop the abuse.
"Ms. Brett lived in the house with Marchella and Carlotta and even slept in the same room with Marchella night after night as she lay tied to her bed with no food, no water," said Hynes.
Brett's attorney, Julie Clark, would not comment on the case.
Prosecutors have also empanelled a special investigative grand jury that will hear evidence on whether systemic problems at ACS may have contributed to the child's death.
In a written statement, ACS said it was concerned the indictments may end up discouraging qualified candidates from taking jobs as caseworkers. The agency said as far as it knows, this is the first time a caseworker has faced a criminal indictment.