The other shoe may have dropped in the case of a child protection supervisor in a Charlotte suburb accused of abusing five children under her care and forcing them to live in filthy and nasty conditions. It turns out that last year, one of the boys for whom Wanda Larson was legal guardian was the focus of a complaint to Larson's employers at the Union County, North Carolina Department of Social Services after being found begging for foot. But the investigation never really got off the ground.
On Dec. 21, 2012, the boy was the subject of a 911 call after he turned up at a neighbor’s house begging for food and saying he didn’t know where he lived.Last Friday--roughly 11 months later after the begging incident--that same boy was found chained to the porch on a chilly night, which touched off the current chain of events.
A deputy, who had visited the Larson/Harper home on a 911 call a year earlier, returned the boy to their custody. But that night, the deputy filed a complaint with DSS, Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said Wednesday.
The response from the DSS investigator came back Dec. 27. The deputy’s complaint “does not meet statutory definition of abuse, neglect or dependency,” the investigator concluded, and a fuller review was not warranted.
At the time of her arrest, Larson was an investigative supervisor for DSS with a staff of five. Her professional relationship with the DSS worker who handled the 2012 complaint at her home was not clear Wednesday.
Even allowing for hindsight, Union DSS' decision not to pursue this case is questionable at best. Larson made over $54,000 a year, and her longtime boyfriend, Dorian Harper, took home a pretty hefty check as an ER nurse at Carolinas Medical Center-Union. You mean to tell me someone didn't wonder why a child from a household with that kind of money was begging for food? Even without that to consider, at least one legal expert thinks Union should have looked into it further, if only to let another pair of eyes from another county look into it.
“If they screened it or investigated it themselves, that would be a big conflict,” said Robert McCarter, managing attorney for the Council of Children’s Rights in Charlotte.Put next to other things that have come out about Larson, and this 2012 case absolutely reeks. For instance, the chained-up boy's biological family has said they made numerous complaints to DSS, but they all fell on deaf ears. Among them--he looked too skinny, smelled of animal urine and didn't want to talk about how he was doing. Not only that, but it turns out that before going into child protection, Larson was a licensed nurse in Alaska and Iowa--but was forced to surrender her Alaska license in 1990 due to "unprofessional conduct." Says a lot about Union DSS' hiring standards, doesn't it?
McCarter, the onetime attorney for Mecklenburg’s DSS, said if his former agency “were to learn of a situation involving one of their supervisors, then Gaston or Iredell or some other county would come here to do the screening and the investigation. Then you’d have some protection against an open conflict.”
This case hits a really raw nerve with me since it took place only half an hour south of me down U. S. 74. It looks like nearly every layer meant to prevent abuse either failed or was circumvented. For those who don't know, Union County, like the other counties near Charlotte, has just ballooned in the last 30-35 years. It's to the point that everything from Monroe westward is one giant suburb. Hopefully the twin investigations by the state and the county sheriff will get to the bottom of how this happened, and prevent it from ever happening again.