A rare prosecution of two psychologists who were indicted for failing to report the neglect of a severely disabled Broward child ended Wednesday quickly after it began with State Attorney Michael Satz abandoning the charges.
Charges against two other individuals remain in effect.
Last month, the Broward grand jury indicted psychologists Juliana Gerena and Helen Richardson on charges that they failed to inform the Department of Children & Families’ abuse hotline when they saw evidence that a 12-year-old in state care, Tamiyah Audain, was suffering from neglect and poor hygiene.
Tamiyah, malnourished and with gaping bedsores, died last September. Her story was detailed in a Miami Herald series, Innocents Lost.
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But prosecutors formally dismissed the case before Broward County Judge John Fry on Wednesday morning. In a prepared statement, the state attorney’s office said a series of prosecution-related mishaps rendered the case unsustainable.
“During the investigation of Tamiyah’s death, investigators subpoenaed the treatment records of the two psychologists who were not the target of the state’s investigation at that point,” the statement said. “The fact that the records were obtained under subpoena, and that counsel for the two psychologists invoked the psychologists’ Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, gave them use-immunity from prosecution.”
“That effectively barred the state from using those records against them in further proceedings.”
Failing to report child abuse has been a crime in Florida since at least 1999, when the well-publicized death of 6-year-old Kayla McKean of Central Florida prompted lawmakers to crack down on professionals who fail to act when confronted with obvious signs of abuse. But it is exceedingly rare for professionals or lay people to be charged with the offense, both in Florida and elsewhere.
A lawyer for the two clinicians, Todd Weicholz of Boca Raton, said he was pleased that Satz’s office ended the prosecution. “I conducted a thorough review and analysis of the evidence in this case and found that Drs. Gerena and Richardson did not commit any crime,” he said.
In a statement, Gerena said she was grief-stricken at the loss of Tamiyah’s life. “First and foremost, I am deeply saddened by the events that took place regarding this child’s life and my heartfelt thoughts are with her family,” Gerena said.
“Over the past 12 years, Gerena & Associates has become an established and comprehensive practice in which thousands of children have been treated and assessed. In the last two weeks, I have seen this initiative and extensive efforts of children advocates crumble in an instant.”
She added: “My otherwise unblemished career has suffered immensely due to the course of the current events, albeit none of us can forget that a child’s life was lost.”
Speaking for Richardson, Weicholz said: “Her heart goes out to the family of the child.” He added: “As a mental health professional and mother of a special-needs child, she said she will continue to act in the best interests of children.”
Though prosecutors dropped the charges against Gerena and Richardson, they let stand charges against two others. The 12-year-old’s cousin, Latoya Patterson, was charged in the indictment with felony murder, as grand jurors believed the child died as a result of another felony, aggravated child abuse. The charge is punishable by a maximum of life in prison.
A caseworker who was responsible for ensuring Tamiyah’s welfare, Jabeth Moye, also was indicted on charges of child neglect causing great bodily harm, a second-degree felony. Moye worked for a foster care agency under the umbrella of Broward’s privately run child welfare agency, ChildNet, which has a contract with the Department of Children & Families. Her charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment.