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Florida Agency failed to protect slain J’can woman and kids from abusive husband

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The state Department of Children and Families could have done more to protect a Riviera Beach family from an angry and violent man who killed his wife and four step-children and later killed himself Monday, according to the top agency official in Palm Beach County.


Perry Borman, DCF southeast regional director, told reporters Tuesday during a telephone conference that after investigating Patrick Alexander Dell, 41, in January for allegedly attacking his wife Natasha Whyte-Dell, 36, with a knife at a neighbor's house in December, the agency could have taken over a half dozen steps to guarantee the family's safety.


DCF officials could have followed up with the family's neighbors or relatives regarding Dell's aggressive behavior toward his wife, or could have inquired about another five domestic disturbance calls that were made from the Dell home to law enforcement before the December incident, Borman said.


Instead, the agency's investigation was closed after 30 days and concluded the children were not at "significant risk", Borman added.
"As a result of looking at this case and talking to folks involved and our management team, we have sort of uncovered some opportunities that we could have had in January that we think are missed opportunities," Borman said.


Borman also said the department's child protective investigator who looked into the abuse allegation at the Dell household in January has been placed on administrative leave, after he was arrested Sept. 14 in Plantation on charges of aggravated battery of a pregnant woman.


The investigator, George Allen Shahood, 43, who is the son of retired Fourth District Court of Appeal Chief Judge George A. Shahood, was first arrested in March on battery charges. DCF removed him from investigating cases, but reinstated him a week later after the charges were dropped, according to Borman.


But charges were re-filed this month, and Borman said Shahood was placed on administrative leave after his most recent arrest.
In his investigative report, Shahood said all seven children seemed to be well taken care of and happy to be living with their parents. Both parents said they would never harm the children, he said.
Borman said he did not want to speculate whether Shahood's domestic violence accusation interferred with his work as a child protective investigator.



"I think this case and what has transpired has given us a lot more to think about in terms of the actions that we take when in fact someone is arrested, irrespective of what the charge is," Borman said.


Dell shot and killed his wife and four step-children, and then shot himself, according to police. Whyte-Dell's 15-year-old son, Ryan Bartnett, was the only survivor of the attack, and is being treated for a gunshot wound to the neck. The couple's 1 and 3-year-old kids were unharmed.


According to Borman, Shahood's investigation in January, prompted by a call to the agency's abuse hotline, was the first time DCF had contact with the Dell family, even though Dell's violent behavior and conflicts with his wife had been chronicled in court records and police reports for the past three years.


Borman said he wonders why DCF was not notified of the restraining order issued by a judge to Whyte-Dell in May, and said the county's Domestic Violence Steering Committee was inquiring.


County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, who on Tuesday sat through Borman's presentation about DCF's yearly activities in the county, questioned whether extending the agency's investigating period from 30 to 60 days would have made a difference.


"If the kids maybe had been removed when this man came in May, the children might be alive today," she said.


Records show Whyte-Dell asked a county judge for a restraining order against Dell in April 2008, citing abusive behavior. She said Dell would yell and swear at her and that her son Ryan would try to intervene.


Whyte-Dell filed for divorce three times between 2007 and 2008, but voluntarily dismissed each case, according to court documents. In December, Dell was arrested after attacking his wife and another woman with a knife because he suspected Whyte-Dell was cheating on him.


Borman added that this tragedy has created an opportunity to establish a communcation procedure with the county's court system regarding domestic violence cases.

(Source: Palm Beach Post News)


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