Dcf Looks Into Hollywood Group

Date: 2003-04-12

By John Holland

HOLLYWOOD — A day after a Gainesville woman was charged with brutally abusing children she adopted from a private Hollywood organization, the Department of Children & Families is trying to figure out whether the organization's background checks were thorough enough.

Nellie Johnson, 60, and one of her stepdaughters, Colony Latrisa Johnson, 29, are accused of punishing children by using pipes, a broom and a shoe to hit them, according to records filed in Alachua County court. In one case, a child's thigh was burnt and another child's head was slammed into a wall, records said. Children also were forced to fight with each other and fed until they vomited.

All of the abused children were placed with Johnson by Shepherd Care Ministries, a non-profit company in Hollywood, DCF spokesman Tom Barrens said. DCF is still trying to determine the exact number of children Shepherd Care approved for Johnson, spokesman Bob Brooks said.

In total, more than two dozen adopted and foster children have been placed in the Johnson home by various agencies over the last several years. No children have lived with the Johnsons since Nellie Johnson's parental rights were terminated in 2001, Brooks said.

Joseph Sica, the director of Shepherd Care, said he could not comment on specific cases.

"We haven't been contacted by DCF or anyone, so I'm really not aware of what's going on," Sica said. "I can't talk at all about this case or any of our clients."

DCF investigators are working to determine how much money the agency has given to Shepherd Care for adoptions and should have that figure by early next week. The department is looking at all of the adoptions and placements awarded to Johnson.

"Our internal investigations are raising some serious questions about how the process has worked in this case," DCF said in a press release. "However, we don't yet have all the facts and until we do, further comment would only be speculation."

This report was supplemented with information from Sun-Sentinel wire services.

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