Bryson City, NC – A trial is set to begin Monday as part of the 2011 death of 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, holding two social workers responsible on several charges of obstruction and forgery. The crimes were erroneously done in an attempt to cover up their role in the child’s death.
Both 30-year-old Candice Lassiter and 28-year-old Craig Smith are facing three counts of obstruction of justice, and Lassiter an additional count of forgery related to the police investigation in the death of the infant. Lassiter and Smith worked for the Department of Social Services (DSS) in Swain County.
Aubrey was rushed to the hospital by her guardian, 39-year-old Ladybird Powell in January 2011. The child had been in her care since 2010, when Aubrey’s mother Jasmine went to jail in connection to a marijuana-trafficking case. Powell told attending doctors that she’d put the child to bed and later found she wasn’t breathing.
The autopsy report on Aubrey noted multiple injuries and an underlying scalp hemorrhage, evidence of blunt trauma. Additional “purple contusions” were observed on the upper-mid back, and remodeling of the left radius and ulna were revealed on a postmortem x-ray. Otherwise, the child was of proper development and well-nourished at the time of the examination.
Ruth McCoy, the child’s great aunt, along with the little girl’s mother and other relatives, repeatedly pushed for justice in the case. McCoy stated reports were issued to DSS, citing Aubrey had bruises and endured other abuse while staying with Powell, but social workers ignored their concerns. Aubrey’s 11-year-old cousin was also living with Powell at the time.
In November 2010, authorities removed the cousin, but left Aubrey in Powell’s care after a complaint was filed about the lack of heat in the residence – the bill not being paid. McCoy begged the infant also be taken, but Aubrey was permitted to stay with Powell.
An investigation determined police and social workers had been aware that Aubrey was being mistreated while she was staying with Powell, but did little to protect the child. Lassiter and three other DSS workers were suspended with pay. Smith resigned from the department shortly after Aubrey’s death. Tammy Cagle, the agency’s director at the time, was fired for unrelated reasons.
In February, Powell pled guilty in lieu of a trial to involuntary manslaughter and child abuse in the death of her niece, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She will have to serve at least 9 years of her sentence.
Prosecutors allege that after Aubrey’s death, Lassiter ordered Smith, her subordinate, to falsify records and remove contradictory documents, making them appear that the department had done a thorough job investigating several allegations that the girl had been abused by Powell.
Social workers are rarely charged in connection with the death of a child under their supervision. In this case, they are not being charged specifically with culpability in the death of the child, but for forging documentation in the case.
According to USA Today, David Wijewickrama, a lawyer representing Aubrey’s estate, has filed two lawsuits in connection with her death, one naming Lassiter, Smith and five other current and former social workers. The lawsuit asks for more than $10,000 in damages, and accuses Swain County of not doing enough to protect Native American children.
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