Mayor Backs ACS Despite Charges Against Caseworkers

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg delivers the fiscal year 2012 budget, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 at City Hall in New York. Bloomberg says a $2.1 billion projected boost in tax revenue means the city isn't announcing new cuts to city jobs or services in his preliminary budget. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    Mayor Bloomberg declared Thursday he has "100 percent confidence" in the city's child welfare commissioner a day after two workers were charged with criminally negligent homicide in connection with a 4-year-old girl's death.

    Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes also announced, along with the indictments in the Marchella Brett-Pierce case, that he has empaneled a special investigative grand jury to hear evidence of "alleged systemic failures at ACS."

    Bloomberg said his administration believes that most workers at the Administration for Children's Services have adhered to changes in the child welfare system that were announced after a 2006 death of another young girl.

    "We believe that generally they were followed," he said.

    But the mayor refused to discuss the latest case, at times growing testy with reporters who repeatedly asked about it.

    "What they did or did not do is up to the district attorney to find out, and that's what he's doing, and I just cannot get involved," the mayor said.

    He did say that "this city is so lucky" to have John Mattingly as head of the agency.

    Mattingly testified before the City Council last year that the Brett-Pierce case revealed persistent systemic problems in the agency.

    Brett-Pierce weighed just 18 pounds when she died Sept. 2. Authorities said she was tied to her bed and starved, beaten and drugged.

    The indictments were the first charges ever against ACS workers in connection with an abuse situation.

    Prosecutors said caseworker Damon Adams falsified computer records to make it appear he had visited the child's home, when he had not. Chereece Bell, his supervisor, was charged because she neglected to properly oversee his work, the DA said.

    Adams' attorney said his client was being used as an example for an agency's problems.

    "It's an extreme instance of scapegoating and preying on people's emotions because the tragedy that occurred here hits everyone with a conscience," said the attorney, Wayne Bodden.

    Bell's attorney, Joshua Horowitz, said "there is no criminal fault here. The criminal fault is with the people who did this horrible thing to this child."

    The agency said in a statement that it was "doing everything possible to protect children's lives" and said it was concerned that indicting ACS staff might discourage skilled people from taking jobs that help protect children.

    The girl's mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, was indicted last year on murder and other charges. She has maintained her innocence.

    The child was born with underdeveloped lungs, had serious trouble breathing and had a breathing tube in her throat, authorities said. She had been hospitalized in the months before her death.

    ACS last year admitted failures in the case, and described Marchella's home care as "grossly inadequate" in a report following her death last year. The caseworker and worker are no longer employed there.

    If convicted, Adams faces up to seven years in prison and Bell faces up to four years.