By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
A former Swain County social worker has pleaded guilty to forging documents in a cover-up following the 2011 death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn. Candace Lassiter pleaded guilty to three counts of forgery in District Court on Monday, April 15. Her sentencing is tentatively set for August.
Lassiter, a former supervised in the Swain DSS office, was indicted on the three forgery counts and three counts of obstruction of justice, which were dropped on Monday, in February 2012.
Her former subordinate, Craig Smith, still faces three counts of obstruction of justice. His trial has been postponed until the summer.
As a result of an investigation into a possible cover-up in the case, Swain County DSS offices were raided on the morning of 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 Littlejohn.
The court papers state that Swain County Sheriff’s Department Detective Carolyn Posey and Daniel Cheatham, a 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 she had never had a phone conversation with Smith and had never seen nor examined Littlejohn.
The investigators approached Smith with evidence of the “non-existent telephone” call, according to court papers, 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 Candidate Lassiter”.
LadyBird Powell, Littlejohn’s aunt, pleaded guilty to several charges, including involuntary manslaughter, in Littlejohn’s death, and was sentenced in February to at least nine years in prison.
At the same time, she pleaded guilty to extortion, possession of drug paraphernalia, and two counts of felony child abuse.
A civil suit was brought against the Swain County DSS and several of its former employees, including Lassiter and Smith, by Burton C. Smith, the duly appointed representative of Littlejohn’s estate last June.
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.”
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”.