RACINE COUNTY — The fired child abuse investigator accused of falsifying reports has asked people withhold judgment until all the facts are available.
Todd O’Brien was fired Tuesday from his job as a child abuse investigator for the Racine County Human Services Department after officials there found four families he investigated that said he never spoke with them. O’Brien had filed detailed reports of his contact with the families and declared allegations of abuse "unsubstantiated."
The Racine County Sheriff’s Department is investigating; O’Brien has not been arrested or charged with any crimes at this point. He has hired an attorney, who released a statement to The Journal Times on Thursday.
In his capacity as a social worker for the last 12 years, Todd O’Brien has advocated for children and families of Racine County,” reads the statement by attorney Patrick Cafferty. “At this point, neither Todd nor I have been provided a criminal complaint or police reports that would detail the allegations made against him. Todd is presumed innocent, and we request that judgment about this matter be withheld until all the facts are brought to light.”
District Attorney Mike Nieskes said his office has not yet received reports about the allegations against O’Brien — which include falsifying reports and misconduct in public office. He said he expects the investigation to be completed in the early part of next week.
Once his office has the information, Nieskes said, staff will determine whether or not to issue criminal charges. Even without charges, Nieskes said, the allegations have caused additional work in the District Attorney’s Office. Child abuse investigators like O’Brien are often the first ones to look into reports of mistreatment of children. If the investigator substantiates abuse, the cases often end up in front of attorneys in Nieskes’s office.
We’re reviewing files where (O’Brien) was an investigator to see if anything needs to be resubmitted to the court for review,” Nieskes said.
Racine County reacted quickly when allegations about O’Brien came to light. He was suspended without pay for two weeks while HSD conducted an internal investigation into whether he filed false reports.
HSD Director Debra Jossart said from the time they spoke with the first of four families who said they never had contact with O’Brien, he was suspended “due to the seriousness of the allegation.”
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I was hoping it wasn’t true,” Jossart said.
She and County Executive Bill McReynolds said as soon as one family told HSD staff that they had never spoken with O’Brien, even though he claimed to have done an investigation into allegations of abuse, they called other families from the same time period.
We immediately found three more,” she said.
In every one of these cases (allegations of abuse) were unsubstantiated,” Jossart said. “Why would a family complain?”
They had no reason not to be truthful about whether they had been contacted by O’Brien, Jossart said.
In addition, Jossart said there was no record that O’Brien had turned in mileage for reimbursement on the days and at the times he was supposedly visiting homes as part of his investigations.
What HSD learned led to Tuesday’s Garrity hearing, which is part of an internal employment investigation. O’Brien was fired after the hearing.
Jossart and McReynolds told The Journal Times Wednesday that they were furious over the situation, because it hurts public trust of the county department and potentially could have led to continued child abuse.
HSD plans to continue making calls to families where O’Brien was the investigator to make sure other false reports weren’t filed. Jossart said they will look at all his cases since 2007, specifically some 250 cases where allegations of child abuse or neglect were labeled “unfounded” or “unable to contact.”