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Fla. agency releases records in case involving child's death

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Facing legal pressure from the media, a child-welfare agency in southern Florida on Monday released multiple documents related to a…

Facing legal pressure from the media, a child-welfare agency in southern Florida on Monday released multiple documents related to a case involving the death of a 10-year-old adopted girl.

The documents reveal that concerned individuals called the state’s abuse hotline on Feb. 10 and Feb. 12, according to a story in The Miami Herald. In one of the calls, a children's therapist said that the girl, Nubia Barahona, and her twin brother Victor were “tied by their hands and feet with tape and made to stay in a bathtub all day and night as a form of punishment.”

Nubia’s body was found in the back of a pickup truck on Feb. 14. Her brother Victor was alive, but was covered in chemicals and convulsing in the front of the truck. The children’s adoptive father, Jorge Barahona, was passed out nearby.

Shortly after the girl’s death, the Florida Department of Children & Families posted hundreds of pages of documents about the case on the department’s website. David Wilkins, the department’s recently appointed secretary, defended the agency and said that “no other agency has been so completely public in so short a period of time.”

According to news reports, the initially released records included prior abuse investigations involving the twins, documents detailing the children’s time in foster care and one transcript of a hotline call in which an individual attempted to notify the department of abuse.

But groups, including the Herald, called for the release of more documents, including the Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 hotline transcripts, and details of the investigations the Department of Children & Families conducted after the calls. The Herald filed a lawsuit in February to gain access to the records. They argued that the withheld documents would help determine whether or not the department adequately followed up on the information about the Barahonas.

The Department of Children & Families released the requested documents Monday morning, prior to a hearing scheduled for that afternoon.

Attorney Sandy Bohrer of Holland & Knight represented the paper in the case. Bohrer said he believes the agency released the documents without a court order because the agency did not have the right to keep the documents private.

“I don’t think they had a legal leg to stand on,” Bohrer said. “Sometimes you need to give people an incentive to comply with the law, and that is what the lawsuit did.”

In a separate case related to the child’s death, a Miami-Dade circuit judge ordered the release of court transcripts that the judge previously sealed. Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia ordered last Friday to keep two transcripts from child-welfare hearings confidential, but said in a hearing on Monday that she did so to protect the identities of the other children the Barahonas adopted. The redacted transcripts reveal that a principal and teacher from Nubia’s school testified that the girl was “petrified’’ of her then-foster mother in 2007 and 2008, the Herald reported.

Arrest warrants indicate that Jorge and Carmen Barahona will face charges of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and child neglect.