Local News

Cumberland DA: DSS 'dropped the ball' in probe of girl's death

Posted September 30, 2010 3:54 p.m. EDT
Updated September 30, 2010 7:11 p.m. EDT

Shaniya Nicole Davis

— Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis said Thursday that the county's social services department went to great lengths to protect its image during the investigation of the death of Shaniya Davis last year.

The 5-year-old girl was reported missing from her Fayetteville home on Nov. 10. Her body was found in a patch of kudzu off a rural road near the Lee-Harnett County line six days later.

Grannis and Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine expressed concerns that Cumberland County Department of Social Services managers were withholding information during the investigation of Shaniya's death, and they asked for a state investigation.

DSS previously worked with Shaniya's family regarding her older brother, according to family members. The case was later closed without action, they said.

Grannis said DSS "dropped the ball" when it came to helping police during the murder investigation, turning over information only after a judge ordered the agency to do so.

"It's critically important that DSS cooperate with law enforcement in every way to possibly save the life of the child. It does not appear that occurred," he said.

Police didn't get any worthwhile information from DSS workers about the Davis family until three days after Shaniya disappeared, he said.

Social workers told investigators that DSS Director Brenda Jackson told them to print copies of all e-mails about the case and then delete the e-mails and to limit written communications about the case.

"Is this agency trying to protect those who badly need its help and assistance or trying to protect itself?" Grannis said.

Jackson has declined to discuss her office's involvement with Shaniya's family, citing confidentiality regulations.

Grannis said he wouldn't pursue criminal charges, saying it would be difficult to prove Jackson or others intended to destroy evidence.

Still, he said the DSS' actions have eroded the trust and goodwill between government agencies and the people that they serve.

Mario Andrette McNeill, 29, of 2613 Pine Springs Drive, has been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree rape of a child and first-degree kidnapping in the case. Police have characterized him as a family acquaintance.

An autopsy determined that Shaniya died of asphyxiation and that injuries she suffered were consistent with a sexual assault. A medical examiner noted in the autopsy that investigators believe the girl was used to pay off a drug debt.

Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, 25, has been charged with human trafficking, felony child abuse–prostitution, filing a false police report and obstructing a police investigation. Arrest warrants state that Davis "did knowingly provide Shaniya with the intent that she be held in sexual servitude" and "did permit an act of prostitution with Shaniya."