Published On: Mon, Jun 11th, 2012

Negligence alleged in lawsuit against Swain County DSS

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

     A personal representative of the estate of Aubrey Littlejohn has filed suit against the Swain County DSS and several officials in the toddler’s tragic death on Jan. 10, 2011. 

A representative for the estate of Aubrey Littlejohn has filed a lawsuit against Swain County DSS and several officials alleging negligence in the toddler's 2011 death. (Family photo)

     Burton C. Smith, Jr. is the duly appointed representative of Littlejohn’s estate and filed a civil complaint in N.C. Superior Court in Bryson City on Wednesday, June 6. 

     In addition to Swain County DSS as a whole, the following individuals are named in the suit: Craig Smith, Misty Tabor, Alissa Lambert, Candace Lassiter, Angela Biggs, T.L. Jones, and Tammy Cagle. 

     According to the complaint, it was filed “for the wrongful death of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, based on the acts and omissions, negligence, gross negligence, and systematic conduct of the Swain County Department of Social Services, by and through its employees and agents, the independent negligence of SCDSS, and the individual acts and omissions of some of the individual defendants.” 

     Lassiter and Smith were indicted on Feb. 3 on charges relating to an alleged cover-up of the incidents leading up to Littlejohn’s death.  Lassiter was charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice and three counts of Forgery and Smith was charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice. 

     Cagle was the director of Swain County DSS at the time of Littlejohn’s death and the ensuing investigation and Jones was a program manager. 

     Swain County DSS offices were raided by SBI agents on the morning of Feb. 22, 2011 and computers and records were seized.  Although Littlejohn was an EBCI tribal member, the caregivers lived in Bryson City and were in the jurisdiction of Swain County DSS. 

     The complaint details alleged abuse of Littlejohn at the hands of her great aunt Ladybird Powell who was charged in February of Second Degree Murder and other charges in the case. 

     The complaint alleges, “During the time that LadyBird had custody of Aubrey in 2010 and 2011, Aubrey was assaulted and beaten, was deprived of food and milk or water, was abandoned and left alone for hours at a time, and was kept in a trailer with little or no heat, as needed according to the weather.  The abuse and neglect of Aubrey occurred and continued during the times in which SCDSS was investigating, or by law should have been investigating, complaints of abuse and neglect involving Aubrey and LadyBird.” 

     Later, the complaint alleges, “Protection of Aubrey by SCDSS and the individual defendants would have prevented her death.  The failure of SCDSS to take steps to protect Aubrey was a violation of its legal duties and obligations.” 

     Littlejohn was pronounced dead on Jan. 10, 2011 at the Cherokee Indian Hospital.  The autopsy findings, released in May 2011, states the cause of death as “Undetermined Sudden Death”. 

     A request for comment from Swain County DSS was not answered by press time. 

     It is important to remember that a person charged with a crime is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.