1-year-old dies with fentanyl in his system; DCFS worker claims negligence

FILE: Fentanyl
FILE: Fentanyl(U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah/DEA/MGN)
Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 9:57 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A 1-year-old boy died with fentanyl in his system, according to the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office.

Jahrei Paul died on Monday, October 31, 2022, after being rushed to the emergency room. According to the coroner’s office, toxicology results reveal the baby had fentanyl in his system when he died. The coroner’s office said they’re still working to determine what caused the child’s death.

A spokesman with the Baton Rouge Police Department confirmed they are investigating the case. That same spokesman also tells the WAFB I-Team that child was initially taken to a clinic in Baton Rouge and abandoned. The child was later taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

A worker with the Department of Children and Family Services tells the WAFB I-Team the child has been the subject of an open investigation with the agency but that his case fell through the cracks. That employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, gave a detailed account of why the case was allegedly ignored. That worker said the employee who was working Paul’s case resigned recently and that the case was never reassigned to another worker. This alleged misstep comes months after the agency came under fire for overlooking a similar case.

In August 2022 another toddler, 2-year-old Mitchell Robinson, III died on the agency’s watch. That led to a DCFS supervisor’s resignation and another worker being suspended after the agency admits a worker was sick and her case was never reassigned, allowing the toddler to overdose multiple times without raising the alarm for staff.

Robinson’s death also led to sweeping changes, including stricter guidelines to ensure that cases are more closely monitored and reassigned if a worker can no longer handle the matter. At the time, head of DCFS, Secretary Marketa Walters said they were confident those new policy changes would help keep other cases from falling through the cracks.

“Policy is important. Policy is the guide for the workers,” said Walters.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter pressed Walters on the policy change, asking her if prior policies about reassigning cases were not followed, how would an updated policy alone prevent another tragedy and will be followed by staff.

“We will just continue to educate staff and to stress what’s in policy and to help them understand the critical nature of this policy and all the things that govern our work,” Walters said at the time.

This latest potential failure by the agency comes in the midst of an ongoing top down investigation by the Office of Inspector General’s Office.

When asked about the claims in this report, a spokeswoman for DCFS issued the following statement.

“Louisiana law prevents DCFS from commenting on, or even acknowledging the existence of, a case of child abuse or neglect. Normally, if there is an investigation, state laws make the entire process – from report to investigation to outcome – confidential. However, in cases of a fatality, should the cause be determined to be connected to abuse or neglect, the law may allow us to provide additional information at a later date.”

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