Local News

Board to review Cumberland DSS' actions in probe of girl's death

Posted October 1, 2010 5:42 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2010 6:55 p.m. EDT

Shaniya Nicole Davis

— The board of the Cumberland County Department of Social Services will meet next week to discuss the agency's handling of 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.

Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis criticized DSS Thursday, saying it was more interested in protecting its image than in trying to help police solve Shaniya's disappearance.

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 turned over information to police investigating Shaniya's disappearance only after a judge ordered the agency to do so, resulting in a three-day delay in gaining valuable details.

Social workers also 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.

Jackson has declined to comment about the case.

Deputy Cumberland County Manager Juanita Pilgrim, who oversees DSS, said Friday that the criticism is unfair.

"It's not as bad as it sounds," Pilgrim said. "I think the decisions that were made by DSS were made not to hide anything but in following the guidelines and for the protection of the case itself."

The county board will review the information collected by the State Bureau of Investigation in its review of DSS' conduct and will "work on those things to make the public feel that we are doing everything that we can to provide an environment for all the clients, children and families we serve," she said.

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

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 Shaniya's death. 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."