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Caseworker Convicted for Lying

January 23, 2005 permalink

There was an important development today for child protection reform in Indiana.

In February 1999 Indiana caseworker Denise C Moore placed 15-month-old twins Anthony and Latoya with adoptive parents Latricia and L.B. Bars. Moore indicated the Barses were distant relatives of the twins, bumping them to the front of the adoption queue, and she reported that the Barses had passed a criminal background check. The Barses received a thousand dollars a month subsidy for the adoption.

In January 2002 Anthony died from abuse; Latoya was found to be battered and malnourished, and removed removed from the Bars' family. On reexamination, it turned out that the statements by Moore were false, the Bars family was unrelated to the twins and a criminal check would have shown Mr Bars convictions for theft and battering his daughter with an extension cord.

In December 2003 Latricia Bars was sentenced to 13 years in prison, and LB Bars to eight years.

Denise Moore was also charged with felony obstruction of justice for her false statements in the case. On January 22, 2005 Denise Moore was convicted by a jury.

In the pecking order of child protectors, the lowest rank is natural parents, abused by the caseworkers at every step. The next rung is the foster parents. The system needs them, and protects them more than natural parents, so spanking and accidents are often overlooked. But in scandals, child protectors sacrifice a foster parent to criminal justice. The next level up, caseworkers, have not before been charged with an offense, aside from the failing to take enough children kind. Denise Moore is a breakthrough in this regard. Still, her employer supports her by paying her legal bills and she is likely to escape without prison time.

Here is the article from the Indianapolis Star:



Denise Moore and lawyer Jack Crawford
Denise Moore, with her lawyer Jack Crawford, left the courtroom shortly after the verdict was read late Saturday night. -- Steve Healey / The Star

Ex-caseworker guilty on 1 count
Jury convicts her on lesser charge of obstruction

By Vic Ryckaert, January 23, 2005

Jurors found former Marion County child welfare caseworker Denise C. Moore guilty of obstruction of justice late Saturday, ending a weeklong trial that exposed gaping flaws in the system that cares for abused and neglected children.

The jury deliberated for 10 hours before returning its verdict, making Moore the first caseworker in Indiana to be convicted of a felony for on-the-job failures. The jury found Moore not guilty of two more serious charges of neglect.

"You cannot lie to courts, and you cannot put false information into documents and expect that to be just another day of business in the office of child welfare," Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Ellen Corcella said after the verdict. "You have got to be accurate and take care of these children."

Tears streamed from the eyes of two jurors as the judge announced the verdict shortly before 10 p.m. Moore bowed her head and wept.

The charge, which stemmed from Moore providing false information to an adoption judge, carries a maximum of three years in prison. As a first-time offender, Moore, 43, is likely to receive probation instead of prison when Superior Court Judge Robert Altice sentences her Feb. 23.

During the trial, child welfare officials described a system rife with poor supervision, inadequate training and overloaded caseworkers.

"These are children. They are owed far more by us than what they seem to have been getting," Corcella said. "The only people who can speak for them are their adult caretakers. We hope the people will take note and care for our children in the best way."

The system is a mess, Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi agreed, but he added that is no excuse for Moore's conduct.

"For individuals who assume the responsibility for taking care of the most defenseless people in our society, they cannot shuffle that responsibility onto the system," Brizzi said. "If there's a problem in the system, then the problem starts with people like Denise Moore."

Prosecutors said Moore is responsible for a "a litany of failures," including failing to conduct criminal background or child welfare history checks on adoptive parents Latricia and L.B. Bars.

Moore placed twins Anthony and Latoya with the adoptive parents.

The checks would have found three substantiated cases of abuse and that L.B. Bars had been convicted in 1987 of felony battery for beating his biological daughter with an extension cord.

The Barses were convicted of neglect in 4-year-old Anthony Bars' death in 2002. They also were found responsible for dehydrating and beating Latoya, who is now called by her birth name, Knoiya. The Barses have received prison sentences.

Moore's other failures, prosecutors say, included knowingly offering false documents to a judge; failing to stop the adoption process; failing to inform the twins' foster mother, Florence Hurst, of her right to contest the adoption; and falsely identifying the Barses as being related to the twins. Relatives receive preferential treatment in adopting children who are in state care.

Defense attorney Jack Crawford called Moore a scapegoat for a system that offers almost no protection for children in its care.

"She is very pleased that the jury found her not guilty of hurting those children, and that was the most important part of the case," Crawford said.

"I think this verdict does send a message that the responsibility for the death of little Anthony Bars doesn't rest with Denise Moore. It rests with the agency, and many people share responsibility for this tragedy."

Moore declined to comment after the trial, but family members and friends had mixed reactions to the verdict.

"The Lord's will has been done," said family friend Elise Brown. "We know, they know and she knows what really went on. Hopefully, this trial will give people a chance to look at the system and revamp it. I'm just sad Denise had to be the one to take the fall."

Moore's aunt, Shirley Williams, said her niece loves children.

"I think justice was not served to my niece. Someone else is at fault for what happened to those children. She should not be their scapegoat," said Williams. "This is a political trial. One person in an organization is not responsible for a whole organization."

Crawford's $150-an-hour legal fees are being paid by the Family and Social Services Administration, which has a policy of picking up the tab when its workers are charged with a job-related crime.

Crawford derided the agency's managers, referring to them as "bobble heads" and "trained monkeys."

"If she is convicted, things will go on as usual in the Marion County Office of Family and Children," Crawford told jurors during closing arguments. "All the bobble heads will skate, and there will be other instances, and it will happen again, and they will say the same things. The person at the bottom of the hill has it all roll down on them, and that's not fair."

Crawford said the entire system is to blame for the pain endured by the twins.

"The trash can of garbage in that agency is bigger than this room," Crawford said. "They want to take that trash can and dump it on this lady."

Star reporter Tim Evans contributed to this report.

Addendum: This conviction was overturned on appeal.