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Attorney General Finds No Criminal Wrongdoing In Child Abuse Investigation But Calls For Improvements In State's Child Protection Efforts

CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, (802) 828-3173

June 11, 2014

The Vermont Attorney General’s Office has completed its review of the Vermont State Police (VSP) criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the State’s investigation into the abuse or neglect of Dezirae Sheldon, the one year old child who was found to have two broken legs of unexplained origin on February 14, 2013. Attorney General Sorrell announced his conclusion today that that there is no evidence of criminal misconduct on the part of any individual involved in the investigation and handling of Dezirae’s case and that no criminal charges would be filed. Criminal culpability, if any, would be for the offense of “Neglect of Duty” by a state officer. That offense requires proof that a state officer acted wantonly or lawlessly, or wilfully and by design to injure someone or for another wrongful purpose.

The VSP investigation examined: 1) the Department for Children and Families (DCF) investigative process done in conjunction with the Rutland Police Department; and 2) the DCF case planning and review process done in conjunction with the Rutland County State’s Attorney’s Office and attorneys for the child and her parents that was ultimately subject to review and approval by the Vermont Superior Court, Rutland Family Division. “There was no evidence that any of the state or local employees involved in the case were acting in a manner contrary to what they thought was in the best interests of D.S. at the time,” said Sorrell. “The review did make clear, however, that the State must take steps to improve its system for protection of our most vulnerable Vermonters. Most immediately, the police, prosecutors, social workers and other agencies must improve their communication and sharing of information critical to making the most informed decisions possible with respect to the ongoing safety of our most vulnerable Vermonters.”

Sorrell announced he will prepare specific proposals for the Senate Committee on Child Protection. Those proposals will include amendments to strengthen Vermont’s child cruelty laws. “Prosecutors need a statutory framework to deal with those all-too-common cases where a child is injured at home but proof is lacking as to which of multiple caregivers inflicted the injury,” said Sorrell. “Time and again we see cases that are not charged because the only adult witnesses to the event blame each other or are steadfast in their silence.” Sorrell will also suggest that it is time for the State to revisit the scope of confidentiality afforded these investigations and proceedings under current law. Although confidentiality serves the purpose of protecting the identity of those young victims from embarrassing publicity about often horrific events, the system as a whole will benefit from increased public awareness of the scope of child abuse and neglect in Vermont, the child protection process generally, and the decision-making in particular cases.

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