Ex-ACS Workers Plead Guilty to Lower Charges in Tot's Death

, New York Law Journal

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After facing a rare felony indictment following a toddler's highly-publicized death, two former Administration for Children's Services workers have pleaded guilty to significantly-reduced charges that will likely be dismissed and the record will be sealed.

In March 2011, the Brooklyn District Attorney's office filed criminally negligent homicide charges against onetime ACS caseworker Damon Adams and supervisor Chereece Bell after the 4-year-old girl they were assigned to monitor, Marchella Pierce, was found dead, weighing a mere 18 pounds and with adult-level sleep medication in her system. The indictments were thought to be the first to charge ACS workers with homicide for job-related actions.

Though the charges carried a four-year maximum sentence, the pair pleaded guilty on Tuesday to misdemeanors and a disorderly conduct violation. Adams pleaded to endangering the welfare of a child, official misconduct, falsifying business records and agreed to 500 hours of community service. Bell pleaded to endangering the welfare of a child and agreed to 350 hours of community service.

Upon successful completion of the community service with an at risk population, the misdemeanors will be dismissed and vacated and the pair will receive one-year conditional discharges. After that year, the violation will be dismissed and their records will be sealed.

Marchella's mother and grandmother have been convicted and sentenced in connection with the girl's death. Marchella's mother, Carlotta Brett-Pierce, is serving 32 years to life for murder. The girl's grandmother is serving five-to-15 years for manslaughter.

For Adams and Bell, the community service could range from work at a hospital, a youth home, a homeless shelter or other possibilities, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango (See Profile) said in court, noting the case's resolution followed "lengthy negotiations, discussions and meetings."

When Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes announced the charges against Adams and Bell, he said he was empaneling a special grand jury to probe whether systemic failures at ACS contributed to the girl's death (NYLJ, March 24, 2011). The grand jury released a report in October criticizing the agency for failing to implement reforms and conducting "well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual" investigations—assertions the agency disputed (NYLJ, Oct. 7).

In any event, the prosecution on Tuesday pointed to the grand jury findings, the defendants' backgrounds and their "willingness to accept responsibility" when explaining the plea bargain.

Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Kagan said in court "While the D.A. maintains one's workplace makes it easier to commit a crime, it is still an individual's responsibility when they commit that crime."

Bell and Adams only spoke in court to confirm their understanding of the proceedings and their pleas.

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