Local News

Board backs Cumberland DSS chief in wake of girl's death

Posted October 8, 2010 8:06 a.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2010 6:51 p.m. EDT

— The board of Cumberland County's social services department on Friday expressed its support for the agency's director, who has come under fire for actions during the 2009 investigation into the disappearance and death of Shaniya Davis.

The 5-year-old girl was reported missing from her Fayetteville home on Nov. 10, and her body was found six days later in a kudzu-covered field near the Lee-Harnett county line.

Cumberland County District Attorney Ed Grannis last week criticized DSS' actions during the police investigation of the case. He said the agency "dropped the ball" and appeared to be more interested in protecting its image than in protecting children.

Referring to a State Bureau of Investigation report on DSS' actions, Grannis said the agency waited three days for a judge's order before turning over records regarding Shaniya's mother, Antoinette Davis, to police.

Relatives have said that DSS had worked previously with Shaniya's family regarding her older brother, and the case was closed without action.

Grannis said the move delayed police in finding Mario Andrette McNeill, an acquaintance of Davis' who has been charged in Shaniya's death.

Following a three-hour, closed-door meeting Friday, DSS Board Chairman Chet Oehme said the agency provided records to investigators in a timely manner.

"We have concluded that the agency worked diligently with the Fayetteville Police Department to provide all information relevant to this child fatality in a timely manner," Oehme said.

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

Oehme said in a statement that police asked DSS to delete e-mails about Shaniya's case from personal computers. All e-mails were maintained on the agency's server, and they were handed over to the SBI for its investigation, he said.

Fayetteville police reviewed all DSS information about the Davis family in the agency's office on the day after Shaniya disappeared, but investigators chose not to take copies of files with them, Oehme said.

The five-member board "asked pointed questions of the director" during the meeting, he said. "We support her decisions," he said, adding that he though the SBI report included false information.

Still, the board is considering hiring an outside consultant to evaluate the agency.

Jackson has declined to comment about the case, citing confidentiality regulations.

"I appreciate the support of the board, and I'm proud of the staff and the work that we do," she said after leaving the board meeting Friday.

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

McNeill, 29, has been charged with kidnapping, raping and killing the girl. Arrest warrants state that Davis, 25, prostituted Shaniya, and an autopsy report noted that investigators believe she was used to pay off a drug debt.