But DCF records, obtained Monday by The Miami Herald under the state’s public records law, suggest nothing had changed when, four months later, DCF received another call: Bryan had been found Nov. 3 lying on the front seat unsecured as his mom was “passed out” drunk in a Chevy Impala a few minutes before midnight near Krome Avenue. DCF’s hotline was told that Bruno was “driving recklessly” and had “hit several walls” prior to falling asleep in her car with the transmission still in “drive.”
A police report said Bryan was found unsecured with his head between the front seats. The Florida Highway Patrol charged his 27-year-old mom with drunk driving and child neglect.
In the November case, a DCF investigator gauged the risk to Bryan and his siblings as “high.” Paradoxically, the agency concluded the children were safe. The report to DCF was closed with “no indicators” that Bruno’s drinking left her children in harm’s way.
Bruno, Osceola and other family members “explained Mom did not drink regularly and no one realized how drunk she really was when she left a family gathering,” a DCF report said. “Mom stated she did not realize how affected she was when she go [sic] in the car to go home.”
According to the DCF report, relatives and neighbors “all state that it was a one time thing, and not normal behavior for the mother.” The report added that Bruno would receive alcohol treatment or other services in criminal court.
That didn’t happen. The criminal case was still pending when Bryan died.
On Monday, DCF defended its decision not to intervene last November. The “determination was based on interviews with neighbors and family members and an evaluation conducted by an external substance abuse expert who did not recommend services,” said Alexis Lambert, a spokeswoman in Tallahassee.
However, a Miami-Dade judge with more than a decade of experience in child welfare cases called the substance abuse screening program used by DCF “a colossal failure.”Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, who spent 13 years in child welfare court before transferring to criminal trials, said the agency’s drug and alcohol evaluations largely consist of asking parents whether they have a substance abuse problem. If a parent denies a drinking problem, Cohen said, the evaluators mostly take their word for it.
Cohen called the process “a big joke.”
“I’ve been begging them for years to design a workable program that has teeth and is designed to help people get well,” said Cohen, who added she knew nothing about the Bruno case and could not discuss it. The substance abuse program, she said, “is not designed to help people get well. It’s designed to keep children out of the system — without keeping them safe.”
“It’s dangerous,” the judge added.
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.