Abuse case files will be released

Date: 2004-08-21
Source: sptimes.com

The documents are part of the records in the case of a young girl who was found emaciated and dehydrated in May in the home of her caregivers.

By DUANE BOURNE

BROOKSVILLE - A circuit judge on Friday ordered the release next week of records pertaining to the care of a 10-year-old girl who weighed 29 pounds when she was removed from her caregivers' home in May.

The records contain the Department of Children and Families' files on the placement and supervision of the girl and her half-brother who were placed in "long-term, nonrelative" care with 47-year-old Lori Allain and her husband, Arthur Allain, 46.

The records also include a 14-page report from the guardian ad litem. As early as Monday, officials are expected to release the findings of an independent probe into cases handled by caseworkers who oversaw the children while the siblings were living with the Allains.

DCF Secretary Jerry Reiger ordered the review in June after he acknowledged the agency mishandled the cases.

Friday's decision came after Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink had spent weeks sifting through two boxes of records, from which he selected a handful of the documents he felt would not jeopardize the children's confidentiality.

Both the release of the task force report and the DCF case history are expected to shed light on the state's decision to place the children with the Allains and show how the agency failed to recognize the alleged pattern of abuse that spanned four years and left the 10-year-old girl emaciated and severely dehydrated.

However, before the documents are released, DCF lawyers, Michael Hopkins and Shane DeBoard, will edit specific mental health diagnoses, reference to sexual and physical abuse and the names of the children involved, including the Allains' four sons.

"I think the judge did a fair and thorough job in reviewing a substantial amount of files and balanced the rights of the children with the rights to help the public understand what happened," said Rachel Fugate, the attorney representing Media General, the parent company of the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-Ch. 8. Media General petitioned the court on June 22 to open DCF records, arguing that the public's right to scrutinize the state's failings outweighs confidentiality concerns.

The Allains were both charged with aggravated child abuse and child neglect on June 18 after the girl's 14-year-old brother ran away from the couple's Hurricane Drive residence a month earlier and told authorities a troubling tale of abuse. He claimed he had to sneak food under a double-locked bedroom door at night.

In denying the allegations, the Allains claim they were monitoring the girl's food intake because she suffered from an eating disorder.

Meanwhile, in another courtroom on Friday, the attorneys appointed to represent the Allains told Circuit Judge Jack Springstead at a pretrial hearing that they foresee a conflict of interest with the state's potential witness list.

That witness, Sonya Guntor, the children's biological mother, has been represented in the past by the Public Defender's Office.

Springstead said since Guntor's testimony will not form the "nexus" of the abuse case, assistant public defenders Devon Sharkey and Ricardo Cox could continue to represent the Allains.

The couple is scheduled for another pretrial hearing on Sept. 22.

Duane Bourne can be reached at 352 754-6114 or dbourne@sptimes.com

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