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Child advocate hopes for "teaching moment" in wake of Sheriff's negative internal affairs investigation

Janiya Thomas
Posted at 5:17 AM, Mar 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-31 06:19:29-04

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla   The Manatee County Sheriff's Office has released a 4-month internal investigation that resulted in sanctions for seven employees.

The investigation is in connection with the handling of the Janiya Thomas case, an 11-year old girl whose body was found in a freezer. Her mother, Keishanna, is facing a murder charge.

The Sheriff's Office had visited their home several times prior to the little girl's death.

Sanctions against the seven child protection workers range from a letter of reprimand to the maximum of a two-day suspension without pay.

Graci McGuillicuddy has been a child advocate for 30 years and is Chairperson of the Board of the Child Protection Center on South Orange Avenue in Sarasota. She first off blames the mother if she is indeed guilty of charges--but she also wonders about the case workers.

As far as the sanctions, she says that's not the point.

"We need to educate them (the Sheriff's child protection workers) and make them look for signs there were signs that were missed, and that's what we need to teach. Punishment is not going to work, it's not going to make it better, we need to make this a seminal teaching moment so we can make sure this never happens again to a child," she said.

Thomas remains behind bars. If convicted, she could face life in prison.

We asked the Florida Department of Children and Families Suncoast Media Relations Coordinator for a reaction, but Natalie Harrell refused and referred all inquiries to the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Spokesman Dave Bristow refused an on-camera interview about the internal investigation into his colleagues.