She first came to DCF’s attention in June 2012, when the agency “screened out” — deemed unworthy of any action — two calls to an abuse and neglect hotline suggesting the girl and her mother were living in a hot storage shed. Yet another report suggested the family was homeless. The calls did not warrant an investigation, the agency wrote, because being homeless or living in a shed is not connected to “child safety issues.”
Another report arrived on Aug. 10, 2012: Aliyah, it was said, appeared to be too skinny, and the family was still homeless. She was suffering from “horrible” diaper rash because her mom’s boyfriend, with whom the child was left sometimes, refused to change her diapers. The boyfriend cut himself with a box cutter and was threatening to kill Aliyah and her mom.
The report also noted: “When Aliyah was crying, the mother put a blanket over her mouth and she smacked her really hard on her legs. As a result, she sustained finger-shape welt marks.”
A review, still in progress, of Aliyah’s death says the state’s abuse hotline was told Huggett “had attempted to smother the child” while at a Veteran’s Administration office in Central Florida. There is no evidence that particular allegation was investigated at all, as no effort was made to interview any witnesses other than Huggett, who denied the claim.
The investigation, such as it was, did, however, turn up other disturbing tidbits: Huggett had told an investigator “she had been experiencing anger issues due to her daughter not listening.” She acknowledged repeatedly that she needed counseling.
DCF finished its investigation by finding no evidence Huggett had harmed her child. The agency offered the mom help, but did not insist she take it. Huggett did sign a “safety plan” promising to “refrain from excessive corporal punishment.”
Aliyah returned to DCF’s abuse hotline on Jan. 10. Aliyah, a caller said, was not receiving physical therapy for a genetic condition that affected her feet. She was also “dirty” and had a diaper rash that covered her pelvic region.
And then there was this allegation: “On. Jan. 8, 2013, Aliyah had a bruise on her lower back that resembled three fingers of a hand print” — an allegation that apparently was made by Aliyah’s grandmother. The report added: “Aliyah’s mom yells at her, telling her to shut up and be quiet.”
Investigators did not find any evidence of a beating. But a doctor with the Department of Health’s Child Protection Team, which specializes in detecting abuse, documented “linear” and “circular” bruises on Aliyah’s thigh, and concluded they were evidence of physical abuse.
In an interview with an investigator, Huggett said she suffered from a “chemical imbalance” and “gets severely angry.” She admitted she hit Aliyah as a form of discipline — which she had promised months earlier not to do. And if there was any doubt regarding the length of Huggett’s fuse, it ended when she “lashed out” at doctors who asked her how Aliyah had ended up with bruises.
Oddly, when an investigator closed her case on Feb. 12, she ruled the abuse allegation was “not substantiated.”