RACINE COUNTY - An employee of the Human Services Department has been fired and is under criminal investigation for allegedly filing false reports on child abuse cases he never investigated.
Todd O'Brien, a child protective services initial assessment worker with HSD who investigated complaints of child abuse and neglect, was terminated Tuesday, said Racine County Human Services Director Debra Jossart.
She says she is furious over the black eye the situation gives to her department and worried that O'Brien's alleged conduct could have resulted in continued child abuse.
Jossart and Racine County Executive William McReynolds contacted The Journal Times Wednesday.
"I have never been so angry," Jossart said. "It is not common practice. I've never had a case like this. We have hard-working, dedicated staff who care about children. They are angry about this."
McReynolds said the county will not tolerate such dereliction of duty from employees who are supposed to be protecting the children of the county.
"The sad thing about this is there are a lot of good, professional people working here," McReynolds said. "It makes everybody look bad."
It was actually other HSD employees who uncovered the alleged fraud.
McReynolds said that two weeks ago staff received information which caused a supervisor to look into O'Brien's reports.
Jossart said HSD workers were in the process of investigating a case and were speaking with family members to determine where the children involved in that case could be placed. One of the relatives on the list had once been investigated by O'Brien, according to the HSD report he filed.
However, when HSD workers contacted the family and asked them about the previous investigation, the family said there never was one. Yet, O'Brien had filed a detailed report that labeled those allegations of abuse as unsubstantiated.
"There was never an investigation," Jossart said. "That's when he was suspended."
Since that time, HSD has found three other families who have either made written or verbal statements that O'Brien never spoke to them about allegations of abuse or neglect. In each of those cases, O'Brien allegedly filed reports labeling the investigations "unsubstantiated" or "unable to contact."
"He was doing investigative reports without talking to anyone or going to the house," McReynolds said.
The county was unable, for privacy reasons, to release the names of the families who have made statements against O'Brien.
O'Brien has been employed with HSD since Aug. 31, 1998.
The department plans to continue making calls to families where O'Brien was the investigator to make sure other false reports weren't filed.
"We're looking at all his cases since 2007," Jossart said.
Specifically, they will be making contact with families in some 250 cases where allegations of child abuse or neglect were labeled "unfounded" or "unable to contact."
O'Brien was not the investigator in the Brian Hawes case from September of 2008, in which a 2-year-old boy died after being tied up with a blanket by his mother's boyfriend, Jessie Rodriguez.
Both Rodriguez and Brian's mother, Tisa Hawes, have been convicted of crimes related to causing his death.
In that case HSD took heat because it had received four reports of suspected abuse in the home prior to Brian's death. However, HSD investigators and police reported no evidence of abuse when they visited the family.
Since the Hawes case, HSD has made changes in how they handled allegations of abuse and specifically when and how investigations should be conducted. However, in this case, O'Brien was filing very detailed reports, Jossart said.
"We had no indication that this guy was a problem employee," McReynolds said.
But as soon as the first family verified that O'Brien had never spoken with them about abuse allegations, he was suspended.
"We immediately contacted the sheriff's department, who started a criminal investigation," McReynolds said.
The county executive said charges could be forthcoming for misconduct in public office and fraud.
Sheriff Bob Carlson said Wednesday that his department is investigating O'Brien; however he said they aren't getting much information.
"The investigation is still open," Carlson said. "At this point, (O'Brien) is refusing to talk to investigators. He lawyered up."
The Journal Times was unable to contact O'Brien and authorities said they didn't know who his attorney is.
A Garrity hearing, which is part of an internal employment investigation, was held Tuesday, Jossart said. Following the hearing, O'Brien was fired.
"We will be sending written notification that he can't come in the building," McReynolds said. They have also cut off O'Brien's access to their computer system.