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Bereft Dad Attacks Child Snatcher

February 28, 2008 permalink

Let's get this straight: In Garner North Carolina Jerrica Culbreth broke his daughter's arm. That is not a crime. Then he assaulted social worker Susan Lee. That is a serious crime.

With the large number of children stolen without legal process, it is surprising there have not been more incidents of this kind.



The News & Observer, Published: Feb 28, 2008 12:30 AM, Modified: Feb 28, 2008 05:48 AM

Man gets 10 to 12 months for attack on social worker

Sarah Ovaska and Sam LaGrone, Staff Writers

RALEIGH - A Garner man had been on the radar of Wake County officials before he walked into a social worker's office and beat her three weeks ago, according to Wake County officials.

Jerrica Culbreth, 28, pleaded guilty to assault charges Wednesday and was sent to state prison for 10 to 12-months.

He had told the mother of his child that he was going to kill social worker Susan Lee and had called Wake County Human Services to say he was coming by, Lee said. She said she knew none of that when she looked up from her cubicle Feb. 5 and Culbreth began punching her in the face.

"You are angry at me because I am the face of Wake County," she said in court. Culbreth had lost custody of his daughter a week before the attack because of a July incident in which his daughter's arm was broken, according to Lee, Wake Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Wilson and Culbreth's lawyer Deborrah Newton.

The staff knew that Culbreth was a danger, said Bob R. Sorrels, the deputy director for administration for Wake County Human Services.

"Some of our staff said his behaviors and his actions warranted us to be on our toes," Sorrels said.

Lee had hunks of hair torn out of her scalp, numerous punches to her face and body and was stomped to the point that Culbreth's boot left a print on her neck, Wilson said. She spent several days in the hospital and wore a neck brace to the hearing Wednesday.

Culbreth pleaded guilty to assaulting Lee and Dale McKee, a co-worker who jumped to her aid and pulled Culbreth off Lee, according to court testimony.

Both Lee and McKee said she could have been killed.

"If there wasn't any intervention, I don't think Susan would be here," McKee told Wake District Court Judge Jane Gray in court Wednesday.

Culbreth took responsibility for the assault when he pleaded guilty to habitual misdemeanor assault and simple assault, earning him a 10-month-to-one-year sentence in prison. He had two previous convictions for assaulting women. He was never charged in connection with his daughter's broken arm, Wilson said.

Culbreth urged his attorney to explain his motivation for the attack. Newton said Culbreth's daughter, of whom he previously had custody, broke her arm in July. Newton said her client broke it; Culbreth interrupted and said it was an accident.

After he officially lost custody of his daughter Jan. 31, a week before the attack, he became convinced that his young daughter was being assaulted while in the care of social services and thought social worker Susan Lee was responsible, Newton said Wednesday. But Wilson said Culbreth had shown up at his daughter's school and accused an assistant principal of the same thing.

He attacked Lee because he felt his concerns about abuse were being ignored, Newton said.

"In his mind, he was justified," she said. She added, "Sometimes you don't know what someone is capable of doing when they have no resort."

At the county building on Swinburne Street where the attack took place, social workers and other caregivers work with families dealing with foster care, child custody, abuse and neglect accusations as well other sensitive issues. The attack reignited security concerns among employees at the building, according to e-mail sent by county employees and reviewed as part of a public records request by News & Observer reporters.

"We have the ability to secure doors leading to main employee-work areas, but have not done so because of the cost involved," Gail Holden with Wake's Adult Services wrote in e-mail distributed to a number of Wake Human Services employees. "What if the gentleman who assaulted Susan had brought a weapon with him? The end result might have been much worse than it was."

Raleigh police responded to another assault at the Swinburne building in May, a report of child abuse, several larceny calls and one incident of indecent exposure. Hours before the attack, another child welfare social worker said a man in a parking lot of the Swinburne Street building grabbed her buttocks, according to e-mail by Warren Ludwig, the director of child welfare and mental health.

Ludwig also had correspondence Feb. 4 about a client of a Cary human services office who had repeatedly sent threatening e-mail to a social worker and who once showed up at county offices after hours and after a judge had ordered him to stay away. Ludwig asked that a security expert be sent out to the Cary office.

Since the assault, Wake County has assigned two sheriff's deputies to the Swinburne building. One is stationed on the first floor and the other on the fourth, where child services is located and where the assault occurred. Beforehand, a security station at the front was overseen by unarmed security guards and patrons easily walked by without being stopped or asked to sign in.

The county is also reviewing security procedures in the building and is installing electronic key locks to employee-only areas. or (919) 829-4622

Source: The News & Observer (North Carolina)