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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Knuckleheads of the Day award

Today's winner is Florida's Department of Children and Families one of its lawyers, Andrea Lang. They get today's award for their handling of Michelle Fontanez. The girl was raped and murdered by her stepfather Alberto Hernandez.

Go read the entire Ft. Myers News-Press article. Your blood will boil when you hear the bungling these people did. The girl was accusing Hernandez of abuse and DCF and its attorney said their hands were tied because he wasn't a guardian or biological parent. This is so outrageous knucklehead doesn't do justice. How can Ms. Lang live with herself now? That's if this scum of an attorney has a conscience. For her actions make it appear she cares more for her job than a child.

For standing by and allowing a thirteen-year-old to be raped and murdered, DCF and Andrea Lang are today's Knuckleheads of the day.

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Just days before 13-year-old Michelle Fontanez was raped and murdered last month, child protection lawyers decided not to ask a judge to remove her from her home, according to records obtained by The News-Press.

Florida Department of Children & Families lawyers said they couldn't ask the court to remove her because her sexual abuse claims were made against her stepfather, not a parent.

There wasn't "legal sufficiency," DCF attorney Andrea Lang decided. The department's rule is that unless an abuse claim is against a biological parent or legal custodian, a child can't be removed.

That was decided on Feb. 17.

But private child-abuse lawyers said DCF could have acted and did have plenty of evidence to prove the girl needed protection.

What happened to Michelle was "a mistake — a critical mistake that should never have happened," said Howard Talenfeld, a Fort Lauderdale attorney and president of Florida's Children First, a nonprofit child advocacy group.

He said DCF should have erred on the side of caution.

"The child was acting out, threatening suicide. They certainly had every reason to believe that this child was suffering emotionally ... let the judge decide if the child's at risk."

When DCF gets a call about potential abuse on its hot line, it assigns an investigator and begins checking the Florida criminal and abuse history of family members reported.

The investigation continues until enough information is obtained to decide on a safety plan for the child, dismiss the case or ask a judge to remove the child.

DCF lawyers also said they couldn't take action against Michelle's mother, Migdalia Hernandez, because there wasn't enough evidence to believe she wouldn't protect her daughter and keep Alberto Hernandez away.

Instead, the agency persuaded Alberto Hernandez, 38, to move out of the family's Lehigh Acres home.

He moved across the street but, according to police, returned on Feb. 20 to rape and choke his stepdaughter. She died on Feb. 23.

Michelle's aunt and Migdalia's sister, Carmen Fontanez of Madison, Wis., said she couldn't believe DCF didn't do anything with the information they had.

"Think how terrified that little girl must have been," Fontanez said. "So many years with no one to tell who would protect her, and then when she finally tells people who could help her, they didn't."

DCF initially scheduled agency lawyers to meet with reporters from The News-Press on Thursday, then rescheduled to Friday to answer questions about its procedures.

Ultimately, the agency canceled both meetings, and on Friday, DCF spokeswoman Coral Conner said there would be no interviews.

The department also asked The News-Press to e-mail a list of questions, then refused to answer them.


The News-Press had been investigating Michelle's death and has previously reported that DCF had clues that something was wrong:

• Michelle told DCF officials on Feb. 9 that she had been abused for years by her stepfather.

• The Child Protection Team, medical experts who did a medical exam and interviewed Michelle, said there was enough evidence to believe her, according to DCF records.

• Michelle's mother, Migdalia Hernandez, 44, had been involved in two child-abuse cases in Florida. DCF investigator Erica Cesare had noted "concerns about mother's willingness to be protective."

Paul DerOhannesian, a New York attorney and nationally recognized writer and lecturer on sexual assaults, child abuse and child homicides, agreed with Talenfeld.

"How much more information did they need?" he asked.

"The mother had demonstrated that she couldn't protect the child. The child welfare agency can always intervene to protect a child," he said.

DCF staff e-mails obtained by The News-Press indicate Cesare told her supervisors she had asked for criminal background checks on Alberto Hernandez on Feb. 10 — the day after she began her investigation into Michelle's abuse complaints — and Feb. 27.

However, an investigation by DCF in Tallahassee and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded those requests were never made. She didn't ask for the information until March 2, more than a week after Michelle's death.

Those dates indicate DCF made their decision on Michelle's safety without checking the criminal history of her stepfather.

Cross Posted to Bullwinkle Blog

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