Union County policing itself after DSS worker fired

UNION COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Union County officials are moving forward with plans to disband the advisory board that oversees the Department of Social Services.

The board voted Monday night to unanimously to get rid of the board. A public hearing must still take place before the board can be dissolved. The hearing is scheduled for January.

This comes in the wake of the disturbing child abuse case against former DSS Supervisor Wanda Larson and her partner Dorian Harper. The two are accused of chaining a child to a porch with a dead chicken around his neck.

Dozens showed up to a packed meeting of the commissioners' meeting Monday.

Union County resident Kristy Brooks is fired up over the decision. She said the allegations against Larson aren't surprising.

"No," she said. "Not even in the slightest because they were aware of the situation and they've done nothing."

Brooks says dissolving the board isn't the problem.

"We've contacted the commissioners, the county manager, the assistant county managers and brought this to their attention way be Wanda Larson was arrested, way before all this stuff happened," she pointed out. "And now as a scapegoat, they're using the DSS board to try to blame this on them."

Melinda Plue, a member of the advisory board says getting rid of them won't solve anything thing.

"Somebody should be overseeing all this. It may not be us, but it certainly should not be the county commissioners and the county manager who have no experience with health or human services," she said.

The Union County Sheriff's Office and the district attorney have asked State Bureau of Investigation to look at the Union County Department of Social Services because the case involves multiple jurisdictions, and requires additional personnel resources.

The announcement was made at the advisory board's meeting last week.

Some are calling it a political move to show concern over the Department of Social Services after Wanda Sue Larson was fired as supervisor from child protective services.

Her pink slip was based on a criminal investigation started last month when a child was found handcuffed to a porch and living in deplorable conditions.

Union County District Attorney Trey Robison told WBTV that he is asking the State Bureau of Investigations to step in and look into the Union County DSS.

"The Sheriff and the District Attorney have formally asked the State Bureau of Investigation to join with them, as the case transcends multiple jurisdictions, and requires additional personnel resources," a statement from the Sheriff's Office said.

The District Attorney has pledged to continue to work closely with criminal investigators until the final dispositions are entered in all judicial proceedings related to this matter.

With concerns over the future of the consolidated health services board and with others questioning the commission's stance on funding millions to the schools the meeting is expected to be standing room only.

Wanda Sue Larson and her partner Dorian Harper were arrested November 15th after a sheriff's deputy found an 11-year-old boy handcuffed to their porch with a dead chicken around his neck.

Since that arrest the commissioners were mostly quiet about the case.

But Commissioner Jonathan Thomas did explain how the commissioners have the final say over the county manager if there are problems with staff within DSS. He also said the consolidated health services board with public health and social services experts was just advisory and he wanted to disband it.

The arrest of a high-ranking DSS worker brings into question if Union County can investigate itself.

Sheriff Eddie Cathey is not a part of what will happen at the commission meeting. But he did answer questions about the lead investigator on this case Tabitha Lockey, who typically handles DSS cases for the Sheriff's office.

"We have moved her out of the investigation as far as the criminal portion. She's still working with the children," said Cathey, "We're not letting her (Lockey) do the interviews and doing the criminal stuff because she worked closely with her (Larson). And we don't want any appearance of conflict."

Cathey also said state officials with the Department of Health and Human Services got to Union County on Friday, but he has not spoken to them about the status of their investigation.

All five children remain in foster care at an undisclosed location outside of Union County.

"They appear to be functioning well in their new environment, and have made an excellent adjustment to their new surroundings. Investigators report that forensic interviews of all five children have been completed, and the information obtained has been turned over to the Sheriff's lead detective in this case," Sheriff Eddie Cathey said.

He said this week his office will review the statements from Larson and Harper's children and determine if any additional charges will be filed against the couple.

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