5-month-old's death scrutinized by sheriff, coroner as DSS criti - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

5-month-old's death scrutinized by sheriff, coroner as DSS criticisms grow louder

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At least three agencies are carrying out investigations into the death of a baby whose mother had been under scrutiny by the Social Services Department. 

DSS has already been under fire for months for failing to adequately supervise other cases involving child abuse and neglect.

Earlier this month, Director Lillian Koller testified before a Senate panel to defend her department against charges by legislative critics who say DSS is more focused on putting out positive numbers than addressing actual needs. Those claims have been strongly disputed by Koller and Gov. Nikki Haley.

Now we know last Tuesday, the Richland County Sheriff's Department and Coroner Gary Watts began looking into the death of a 5-month-old boy. This child had been diagnosed with cardiac problems and was supposed to be on a monitor at all times.

On Tuesday night, the mother and two other adults went shopping at a Family Dollar on Broad River Road. There, the boy developed a serious medical problem and someone called 911. But it too late. The child died.

It turned out the boy was not on the mandated monitor, something DSS had been aware of for more than seven weeks. DSS confirms it began investigating the monitor issue on March 3.

"Our preliminary findings show that a DSS caseworker from Richland County DSS immediately began an investigation (DSS does not contract investigations out to third-parties) and attempted to locate the child and the family," said a statement from DSS.

A spokeswoman says the Richland County office was not able to find the family until April 25. One source tells us the family was living in a hotel.

"Based on what we are seeing in records at this point, it appears that investigators attempted at least 5 times to locate the family. Due to the transient nature of the family's housing situation, DSS was unable to locate them," said the statement.

The situation has again angered one of DSS' critics. Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Richland) says when he heard about the baby's death, he wanted to "pick up a chair and throw it through a window."

Sheriff Leon Lott says his department has launched a criminal investigation with a possible charge of homicide by child abuse or neglect.

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