Aubrey Littlejohn Courtesy: Asheville Citizen-Times
Bryson City, NC-- The director of the Swain County Department of Social Services is off the job pending the outcome of a police investigation into the death of a toddler who was under the agency's care.
The newly appointed DSS board placed Tammy Cagle on paid investigative leave after meeting for a little more than an hour Monday night.
It was the first time the new board had met since three members resigned after failing to reach an agreement on suspending workers named in the investigation.
County commissioners had called for the suspensions to allow for an unimpeded investigation into the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.
She died Jan. 10 after spending the previous day strapped into a car seat for 12 hours and receiving only bites of a hot dog and sips of soda, according to a search warrant filed by the State Bureau of Investigation.
Social worker Craig Smith, who visited Powell's home five months before Aubrey died, has already been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.
He was at the home acting on a tip that Aubrey fell down a set of stairs from an unbuckled car seat.
Smith told police he later falsified records after the child's death to show he had made sure she was seen by a doctor for injuries from the fall, according to investigator's statements in court papers. He told investigators his supervisor instructed him to fix the records.
A preliminary autopsy found Aubrey had a broken arm that had healed before her death. Her great-aunt, Ruth McCoy, said Monday the decision to put Cagle on leave was the right choice. "I think this is the first step toward justice," she said. "I don't think the people who work here could actually come out and give statements and tell what's happened with cases that have been handled here about kids from the reservation without the director being on suspension."
Cagle was not available for comment after the meeting. DSS attorney Justin Greene was appointed interim director. The board met in closed session to discuss personnel. County Attorney Kim Lay was allowed to remain in the private meeting though she is not on the board.
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