Former child abuse investigator fined for filing false reports

2011-04-18T13:57:00Z 2011-04-19T15:41:35Z Former child abuse investigator fined for filing false reportsMARCI LAEHR TENUTA mtenuta@journaltimes.com Journal Times

RACINE - A former child abuse investigator for the Racine County Human Services Department who was accused of filing false reports instead of investigating abuse complaints was sentenced Monday to pay $2,000 in fines plus court costs.

Todd P. O'Brien, 38, of Franklin had faced 21 years in prison for six felony counts of misconduct in office. In a plea agreement, O'Brien pleaded no contest to amended charges of one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and one count of misdemeanor obstructing.

According to court records, the four remaining felony counts were dismissed.

The sentence took into consideration O'Brien's lack of a criminal record and his contributions to the community, said defense attorney Patrick Cafferty. He said it reflects that his client is a good guy that made a mistake and owned up to it.

"He and his family are happy with the result and are looking forward to a fresh start," Cafferty said.

Racine County District Attorney Mike Nieskes had recommended time in jail and probation for O'Brien.

Nieskes said the plea agreement, which allowed O'Brien to plead to the two misdemeanor charges, was appropriate given that no child had been harmed due to the false reports O'Brien filed. He said HSD looked into some 700 cases in which O'Brien was assigned to investigate and found that no children were ever injured or put in a position of future injury.

"I don't know if it was just good fortune or what," Nieskes said. "If I had come across a single case where a child had been injured, this would have been a prison case."

During the sentencing hearing Monday, Racine County Circuit Court Judge Allan Torhorst gave O'Brien 60 days to pay the fines or he would have to serve 60 days in the Racine County Jail for each count he pled to.

O'Brien had been employed with HSD from Aug. 31, 1998 until April of 2010. He was fired after administrators found evidence that he had filed a false report on an abuse case he had never investigated.

In February of 2010, a woman being considered to care for a child who needed a place to live had a flag on her file from a previous abuse investigation.

HSD workers asked the woman about the previous investigation. She told them no one had ever spoken with her about anything like that.

But O'Brien had filed a report in 2008 that said he spoke to he woman and the children in her home. He found the allegations unsubstantiated.

At that point, HSD officials began looking into other cases where O'Brien had determined there was no abuse. They found five other cases where he allegedly fabricated information on investigations he had never conducted.

Nieskes said another consideration in the plea agreement was that O'Brien will no longer work for HSD here and the department has the right to release to any future human services employer why O'Brien was fired.

"It's important that he stayed out (of the field)," Nieskes said.

County Executive Bill McReynolds said Monday that the county is satisfied with the outcome. "I think we accomplished what we were looking for," he said.

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