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North Carolina social worker back on job despite pending criminal charges in child’s death

July 11, 2012
Associated Press June 14, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina social worker accused of failing to take action on complaints that could have saved a 15-month-old girl's life has returned to her job even though she's still facing criminal charges in the case.

Candice Lassiter, 28, returned to her job Monday. She was charged in February with three counts each of obstruction of justice and forgery related to the investigation of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn's death.

Lassiter answered a call at the Swain County Department of Social Services office in Bryson City on Thursday, but declined to discuss the circumstances surrounding her return.

"I just can't talk about it," she said.

Repeated telephone messages left for the agency's interim director, Jerry Smith, were not immediately returned Thursday. DSS board members refused to comment, referring all calls to DSS attorney Justin Green.

Green confirmed that Lassiter returned after an agency investigation. But he said by law he couldn't disclose details about the investigation or why officials allowed her to return while her case is pending.

Littlejohn's great-aunt, Ruth McCoy, has repeatedly pushed for justice in the case along with the little girl's mother, Jasmine Littlejohn.

McCoy, a realty officer for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs who works in a building that also houses several DSS officials, said she discovered this week that Lassiter had returned to work when she picked up a copy of a DSS newsletter from a table in the hallway.

"Social Worker Candice Lassiter will return to work today in the Adult and Children Services Unit," the newsletter announcement says. "We all welcome her back to the Agency."

McCoy said Aubrey's family is outraged.

"That was like a slap in the face to the family," she said. "Aubrey is already gone. She will never return and then they bring this woman who was involved in her death back to work in front of us? It's wrong."

This is the latest development in a case that has stunned and polarized western North Carolina, and sparked anger in the Native American community. Aubrey was a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, some of whom claim that the Swain County DSS did not do enough to protect Aubrey and other Native American children. Part of the Cherokees' sprawling reservation lies in Swain County.

Another great-aunt of Aubrey, Ladybird Powell, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in January — a year after the toddler's death. Powell had begun taking care of Aubrey shortly before Jasmine Littlejohn reported to jail in April 2010 to await trial in a marijuana-trafficking case. Littlejohn was in jail when her daughter died.

An Associated Press investigation found that police and social workers had been aware of reports Aubrey was being mistreated while she was staying with Powell.

McCoy alleges Lassiter was one of the social workers whom police escorted to Powell's home on the night of Nov. 9, 2010 to investigate a complaint that an 11-year-old boy was living in a trailer with drugs and no heat.



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