NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two former city child welfare workers were criminally charged in the death of a 4-year-old girl under their supervision, the first such prosecution in New York, officials said on Wednesday.
Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes also said an investigative grand jury would begin examining whether "alleged systemic failures" at the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) played a role in the deaths of the very children it was created to protect.
One of them, Marchella Brett-Pierce, died a horrific death in September 2010, after being starved, dehydrated, beaten with household items and poisoned with over-the-counter medications over a period of months while tied to a bed in her grandmother's room, according to an indictment.
Her grandmother, Loretta Brett, was also indicted on Wednesday on charges that included manslaughter and unlawful imprisonment, Hynes said.
"Baby Marchella might be alive today had these ACS workers attended to her case with the basic levels of care it deserved, or had her grandmother stepped in and put a stop to the shocking abuse she is charged with facilitating," Hynes said in a statement.
Marchella's mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, was indicted in November on a second-degree murder charge.
In the first prosecution of its kind in New York, Damon Adams, the caseworker assigned to the Brett-Pierce family, and his former supervisor, Chereece Bell were indicted for criminally negligent homicide, official misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child.
Adams is also accused of altering ACS computer records the day after Marchella died to suggest he had visited the household when he had not.
If convicted, Bell could be sentenced to up to four years and Adams up to seven years in prison.
Both Bell and Adams were suspended from ACS after Marchella's death, the administration said on Wednesday.
"Both ACS and the District Attorney are doing everything possible to protect children's lives," the ACS said in a statement. "The particular merits of this criminal case aside, we are very concerned that today's indictments of social work staff may have the opposite effect from what's intended because it may discourage excellent, idealistic individuals from taking jobs helping our society's neediest and most vulnerable children."
The district attorney said a grand jury would begin hearing evidence in May on whether the ACS followed its own recommendations for improvement in the wake of the death of Nixzmary Brown, a 7-year-old girl who died in 2006 in her Brooklyn home after being beaten and abused by her parents.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)