A House committee Tuesday moved closer to paying $3.75 million in legal damages owed to the surviving victim of one of the most horrific child abuse cases in state history.
Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, would receive the money as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Children and Families which admitted negligence after Victor was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body on Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were 10 years old.
“The adoptive parents systematically tortured these kids,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, sponsor of the House bill, HB 6523, describing the abuse as “mind-numbing.”
“At every step of the way there were errors, or flags, or issues. There were things that DCF should have seen — starting from the very beginning when family members actually reached out to the state and asked if they could adopt the children,” he said.
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This might bring some finality to that horrible case. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to make this child whole but this is an attempt to at least keep our promise.
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, D-Miami
The state has already paid $1.25 million but, because of state sovereign immunity laws, the state is shielded from having to pay more than $200,000 unless the Legislature agrees to lift the cap and authorize the payment in what is known as a claims bill. For the last two years, legislation has been proposed but lawmakers failed to include the compensation in the DCF budget and adjourned without approving it.
This year, a companion measure, SB 18, has passed two committees in the Senate and will be heard in the Appropriations Committee Thursday.
“This might bring some finality to that horrible case,” Diaz said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to make this child whole, but this is an attempt to at least keep our promise.”
He described to the House committee the findings that have come out as a result of the legal proceedings and interviews with Victor, detailed in the House’s special master’s report.
“He shared how they would be tied in bathtubs, how feces was smeared all over their bodies, and put into their ears, with Q-tips, how they were subjected to electrical shock, how they were tortured in front of other kids,” he said.
Despite numerous complaints to the child abuse hotline and warnings from teachers, the state allowed the Barahonas to adopt the children and failed to stop the routine beatings and torture inside their West Miami-Dade home.
Victor, now 16 and living with relatives in Texas, continues to be haunted by the horrific trauma he endured and is in need of counseling and treatment, according to Eli Newberger, a pediatrician hired to diagnose his condition as part of the lawsuit.
The chemical burns cover 10 percent of Victor’s body, the mental trauma is significant, and he “suffers from ongoing, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the physical and mental abuse he suffered at the hands of the Barahonas,” Newberger wrote.
Parker Aziz, the House lawyer who reviewed the case and wrote the special master’s report, concluded that DCF was negligent in its duty to protect the twins and “those negligent acts were the legal cause of death” for Nubia and “the permanent physical and emotional damage suffered by” Victor.
“Before the adoption, DCF had an ongoing duty to protect the children from threats that it knew of or should have discovered,” he concluded.
Diaz, who is serving his seventh year in the House, said this is “the single worst case that I’ve ever seen on a claims bill since I’ve been up here,” and has made it a priority to pass the bill before he leaves office next year.
He spoke about the “complete revamp” of DCF two years ago, after the Barahona case and other stories of neglect were documented by the Miami Herald’s Innocents Lost investigative series.
“Hopefully, stories like this will be a thing of the past,’’ Diaz said.
The committee voted unanimously to support the bill.
“God bless our children,’’ Diaz said. “May this never happen again.”