Philadelphia's former top health official resigned yesterday amid allegations that she interfered with an investigation of the starvation death of 14-year-old Danieal Kelly.
Carmen Paris, 51, was acting health commissioner at the time of the teen's death. A 28-year city employee who most recently was paid $110,845 as an assistant health commissioner, Paris resigned one day after being suspended and escorted from her office.
Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz, a deputy mayor, said in an interview that he was able to confirm on his own what he read about Paris in a scorching grand jury report released Thursday.
"I'm a pediatrician, and I was incredibly sad and pretty determined that the information in that report makes a difference in the lives of children in Philadelphia going forward," Schwarz said.
The grand jury report accuses the Department of Human Services of gross negligence in the death of Danieal Kelly and charges nine people, including her parents. Paris was not charged, but was singled out for criticism for telling the medical examiner to keep quiet about the case.
Calls to Paris yesterday were not returned.
Yesterday's development came nearly two years after The Inquirer published investigative articles that detailed the deaths of children under DHS supervision. After the reports appeared, then-Mayor John F. Street appointed a blue-ribbon panel to overhaul the agency.
Yesterday, DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose said the department was finalizing plans on how to conduct an investigation into the roles of other employees named in the report but not charged.
"This is a top-to-bottom look at what needs to change," Ambrose said in an interview.
She said she was prepared to make those plans public on Monday and that they would involve an extensive investigation. As of yesterday, no one else had been suspended, she said.
Danieal Kelly, who had cerebral palsy, starved to death in full view of her family, DHS social workers and employees for an outside contractor, MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc.
Of the nine defendants - including two DHS social workers, Laura Sommerer, 33, and Dana Poindexter, 51; two employees for a contractor; and three friends of the mother - only one remained at large yesterday.
A warrant is out for the arrest of Diamond Brantley, 22, a family friend, who is accused of lying before the grand jury.
Six defendants were arraigned, with bail of $50,000 to $200,000 set for all except the victim's mother, Andrea Kelly, 39, who is charged with murder. The mother of nine other children, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Two employees for MultiEthnic - caseworker Julius Murray, 51, and director and co-owner Mickal Kamuvaka, 59 - face manslaughter charges, which carry a maximum sentence of five years.
The victim's father, Daniel Kelly, 37, was charged with endangering the welfare of a child. He was released yesterday on $50,000 bail.
On Aug. 4, 2006, paramedics found her emaciated body, covered with bedsores, maggots and flies, in a fetid, hot bedroom in a West Philadelphia rowhouse.
The criminal charges have left workers at DHS reeling, with some proposing that they walk off the job in protest - an idea that was squelched yesterday by union officials.
To do so would have brought the department back to the depths of despair it felt in October 2006, after Street fired the top two officials and hundreds of workers walked off the job in protest. The firings came days after The Inquirer exposed the deaths of more than 20 children whose families were known to the agency.
The series led to investigations by the District Attorney's Office as well as by federal authorities.
According to research by city prosecutors, Philadelphia taxpayers have spent $321,167.80 so far on outside law firms to represent DHS employees in grand jury proceedings.
Kahim Boles, an official for the union that represents DHS rank-and-file workers, said there is a disciplinary process at the agency.
"They should not be going to jail for the work they do," said Boles, president of District Council 47, Local 2187, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
He said he was also troubled that only lower-level social workers were charged in the case and not supervisors.
"My members should not be the only people on the chopping block," Boles said. "They don't do their jobs in a vacuum. This goes all the way up the chain. They were all supervised by a supervisor, who was supervised by an administrator, who was supervised by a director."
Rita Urwitz, a vice president of the AFSCME unit that represents DHS supervisors, District Council 47, Local 2186, took issue with the grand jury report, saying it was based on a case that, although tragic, is now two years old.
"This case traumatized the agency when it came out two years ago, and it has been very alive since then," she said. "Not to diminish the case, but the [district attorney's] report is using testimony about a time that isn't today."
Preliminary hearings for the defendants are scheduled on Aug. 11.
The highest bail - $200,000 - was set for Kamuvaka, a native of Namibia who was also ordered to surrender her passport.
A family friend, Andrea Miles, 18, was charged with perjury and was being processed as a juvenile because she was a minor at the time of the incidents. Another friend, Marie Moses, 34, was also charged with perjury