By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In the wake of Ladybird Powell being arrested and charged with second degree murder in the January 2011 death of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, more arrests have been made. A Swain DSS supervisor and her former subordinate were indicted on Tuesday, Feb. 7 on charges relating to an alleged cover-up of the incidents leading up to Littlejohn’s tragic death.
Candice Lassiter was indicted by a grand jury and charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice and three counts of Forgery and Smith was charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice.
Lassiter was Smith’s supervisor at the time of incidents leading up to Littlejohn’s death. Smith is no longer with the agency and Lassiter is on administrative leave.
Lady Bird Powell, Littlejohn’s aunt, was arrested on Friday, Feb. 3 by officers of the Swain County Sheriff’s Office and the Cherokee Indian Police Department and charged with Second Degree Murder, First Degree Kidnapping, Extortion, Possession of Methamphetamine, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and two counts of Felony Child Abuse.
As a result of an investigation into a possible cover-up in the case, Swain County DSS offices were raided on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011 and computers and records were seized.
According to court papers filed at the time, Smith documented that he placed a phone call on Sept. 24, 2010 to Cherokee Indian Hospital and spoke with a doctor regarding a visit following a fall by Aubrey.
According to the court papers, Swain County Sheriff’s Department Detective Carolyn Posey and Daniel Cheatham, the private investigator hired by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to aid in the investigation, formally interviewed the doctor in Smith’s report who told them that she had never had a phone conversation with Smith and had never seen nor examined Aubrey Littlejohn.
The court papers state that the investigators approached Smith with evidence of the “non-existent telephone” call and he admitted to making it up.
Smith also related that “he had documented that false conversation because he was instructed to do so by his supervisor Social Worker Supervisor Candice Lassiter” who allegedly gave Smith a handwritten note on what to include in the narrative.
An autopsy report was released on Littlejohn in May 2010. The report states, “Overall, the findings of the autopsy were nonspecific. There was no evidence of significant acute physical trauma or infection. There were no benzodiazephines, cocaine, ethanol, opiates/opioids, or organic bases detected in the decedent’s blood.”
According to the toxicology report, the only drugs present in her system were caffeine and Atropine which, according to the autopsy report, is used in resuscitation efforts and is also found in many cold medications.
While the autopsy was nonspecific about her death, there were questions about hypothermia as Littlejohn’s core temperature was documented the night of her death by Cherokee Indian Hospital officials as 84 degrees Fahrenheit. “The nonspecific findings of hypothermia are not present in this case; however, it is not possible to exclude death from hypothermia,” the report states.
“This has been one of the hardest cases that we have had to investigate, primarily because of the age of the child,” Swain County Sheriff Curtis A. Cochran said in a statement following the arrest of Powell. “As a parent, it is hard to imagine any child being taken away at such an early age. The law enforcement community is committed to the pursuit of justice and assisting those who cannot help themselves.”