DCF probe in deadly South Miami case called inadequate




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Posted on Wed, Jan. 06, 2010

DCF probe in deadly South Miami case called inadequate

cmarbin@miamiherald .com

Former South Miami Commissioner Jay Beckman was shot to death by his teenage son.

A child-abuse investigator assigned last March to determine whether South Miami Commissioner Jay Beckman was properly supervising his 17-year-old son thought the case was ``stupid'' and should have been dismissed by hot line workers before it ever reached him. And, a recent report says, Department of Children & Families caseworker Marcus S. Cooke never really investigated allegations that Beckman, 52, was allowing his teenaged son to view pornography before he closed the case on March 31.

Less than two weeks later, Jason Beckman shot his dad with a shotgun while the elder Beckman was showering. Jason told police the killing was accidental, that he was showing his father he had mastered assembling the shotgun and it went off. A grand jury charged Jason with first-degree murder.

DCF's inspector general's office looked into Cooke's handling of the case beginning in May after Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine ``expressed concern'' to DCF's top lawyer in Miami, Esther Jacobo.


DCF's circuit administrator, Gilda P. Ferradaz, had earlier asked for a review of an unrelated case in which Cooke allegedly falsified records to suggest he met with a teenaged mother who had been the victim of domestic violence, potentially leaving her 2-year-old child at risk.

The DCF report was closed with findings that Cooke had fallen far short of state law and DCF policy in both cases.

Cooke, who resigned from DCF effective May 14, could not be reached for comment. Ferradaz said it's impossible to know whether the Beckman family could have been spared the events of April 12 had Cooke done a thorough investigation.

``The quality of an investigation is critical, regardless of whether the allegation looks like it's nothing really important,'' Ferradaz said. ``You never really know. You never know what will turn up.''

``That's why it's critical that a quality investigation be done every time,'' Ferradez added.


DCF's contact with the Beckman family began at 3:19 p.m. on March 26, when Jason's high school social worker, acting on a request from an assistant principal and one of the teen's teachers, called the state's abuse hotline.

The call lasted 18 minutes, and when it ended hotline worker Visheka L. Williams referred the case to an investigator in Miami.

The school social worker said she believed it was appropriate to call DCF ``mainly because of the risk involved in young people with pornography, '' the social worker later said in a sworn statement to police. ``They can become victims themselves.' '

The IG report says both Cooke and his supervisor, Richard Maguire, thought the allegation -- that Jay Beckman was permitting his son to view pornography -- was ``stupid'' and ``ridiculous. ''

Nevertheless, Cooke called the Beckman home the next morning to tell them he was heading over to speak with them. Maguire could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


When Cooke got to the house, the report says, Jay Beckman, a widower, was livid and refused to allow Cooke inside.

``Father stated he is currently being victimized,' ' the report says. ``He was blaming his position as commissioner and feels he is being targeted.''

In his notes on the case, Cooke wrote that he had interviewed an unnamed neighbor before leaving the area, and the neighbor said the Beckmans were ``well-liked and have no issues or concerns.''

Later that afternoon, Maguire called the South Miami High School social worker, the report says. Maguire warned the social worker that she could be referred to the State Attorney's office for prosecution if she had made a bogus call to the hotline. Maguire later told DCF's inspector general that he thought Jay Beckman was being set up for political reasons, according to the report.


In a sworn statement to police, obtained by The Miami Herald, the social worker said she was ``intimidated' ' by Maguire's remarks, which she called ``a scary statement.''

``Did you view that as basically a threat or intimidation in regards to your employment and well-being?' ' a police detective asked the social worker.

``Definitely. I was intimidated, '' she replied.

The report quotes a DCF child welfare administrator as suggesting Maguire phoned the hotline caller ``not for verification but for chastisement. ''

Police who investigated the family after Jay Beckman was killed discovered Jason was keeping a list of people he wanted to kill -- including teachers, and topped by his father -- and was removed from one class because he allegedly had stalked another student.


Police said the family had no working kitchen or air conditioner and that Jason had only one pair of shoes and virtually no clothes.

The IG report concluded Cooke had ``failed to conduct a thorough child protective investigation, '' and cast doubt on whether he had interviewed anyone other than the Beckmans.

The report also faulted Maguire for failing to ensure that Cooke's investigation was adequate.
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