Two DSS workers indicted in probe of NC child’s death

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Candice Lassiter (WLOS) (Other suspect not pictured)

BRYSON CITY, N.C. (AP) — Two social service workers in North Carolina have been accused of falsifying records and indicted on obstruction of justice charges in the investigation of the death of a 1-year-old girl.

Candice Lassiter and Craig Smith were indicted Tuesday. Lassiter also faces forgery charges.

Smith was a social worker for the Swain County Department of Social Services and Lassiter was his supervisor.

Police said after Aubrey Littlejohn’s death about a year ago, Lassiter ordered Smith to falsify records to make it appear as though the department had done a thorough investigation into allegations that Aubrey was being abused by her great-aunt, LadyBird Powell, who was the girl’s caretaker.

A state medical examiner said Aubrey died of undetermined causes, but noted bruises and broken bones.

An Associated Press investigation found that police and social workers had been aware of reports the little girl was being mistreated while she was staying with Powell. Two months before Aubrey died, authorities removed a different child from Powell’s home but left Aubrey behind.

Powell was charged last week with second-degree murder in the Aubrey’s death. She’s being held on a $1 million bond. Attempts to reach an attorney representing her have been unsuccessful.

An attorney representing Aubrey said the indictments show an expanding probe, but more needs to be done.

“There were other social workers who did nothing to protect this child,” attorney David Wijewickrama said Wednesday. “And when Aubrey died, they were more concerned about protecting themselves than digging for the truth. It’s vry painful to the family that this has gone on so long. That so many people lied to the family. We just want justice for Aubrey.”

Aubrey was left in Powell’s care by her mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, who was facing jail time on drug charges.

Smith’s attorney said he was still reviewing the grand jury’s indictment. Lassiter couldn’t be immediately reached.

Smith left the agency shortly after Aubrey’s death. The head of the Swain County social services agency, Tammy Cagle, was fired within weeks of Aubrey’s death for what county commissioners said were unrelated reasons.

According to the indictment, Lassiter “forged information which showed that the child would be `conditionally safe’ in the home of LadyBird Powell.”

The indictment claims Lassiter forged Powell’s signature on several documents required of caregivers in cases where abuse is alleged, including one saying an investigation into reports that Aubrey was abuse was completed Oct. 11, 2010.

Authorities said that was wrong, and the investigation was still ongoing at the time.
After Aubrey’s death, Lassiter instructed Smith to create a fabricated report that included an interview with an emergency room doctor who had supposedly examined Aubrey after she was spotted with bruises and said she was fine, the indictment said.

The purpose was “to obstruct, delay and/or prevent an investigation into the death of Aubrey Littlejohn,” the indictment said.

Lassiter and Smith are scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 27.
NOTE: Associated Press writer Mitch Weiss wrote this article. AP writer Tom Breen contributed to this report from Raleigh.