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"Our workers recognize the dangers they face during their daily work, but they continue to place the safety of Louisiana's children above their own," Nichols said. "It is unacceptable for a foster care or child welfare worker to be threatened or harmed while carrying out orders of the state or the courts that are in the best interest of children; such actions should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
At approximately 3 p.m. on March 22, a foster care worker from the Ouachita Office of Community Services arrived at the home of a West Monroe family with whom she had been working since July 2009. Regular visits with the families of children in foster care are a requirement of DSS policy.
According to police reports, a dog chained in the yard was barking as the worker approached the home. A preliminary investigation revealed that the parent approached the dog and allegedly unleashed the animal allowing it to attack the worker. The investigation also revealed that the accused allegedly stood by and failed to come to the aid of the foster care worker under attack.
The foster care worker sustained four bites, three of which required stitches. After she was able to free herself from the dog's attack, a second resident of the home restrained the dog. The foster care worker was treated for her injuries at a local hospital and released. There were no children present at the time of the attack. The incident is under investigation by the West Monroe Police Department.
"Our thoughts are with the foster care worker involved in this horrible attack as she recovers from her injuries," Nichols said. "She is to be commended for her bravery and her dedication to the children she works to protect."
According to the West Monroe Police Department, the accused parent was charged with aggravated battery and currently is being held on a $10,000 bond in the Ouachita Correctional Center. The dog involved in the attack will be tested for rabies and kept under quarantine for ten days by Ouachita Parish Animal Control.
Nichols urges law enforcement authorities and prosecutors to utilize a 2005 law that was passed by the Louisiana Legislature regarding battery and assault on child welfare or adult protection service workers, under which the accused could face increased penalties. The revised law brought the penalties in line with those for assault and battery of a police officer.
House Bill 422 by Representative Hunter Greene added penalties for assault of child welfare workers to include a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment not less than 15 days or more than 90 days, or both. Penalties were increased for battery of child welfare workers to a fine up to $500 and imprisonment not less than 15 days or more than six months, or both. At least 72 hours of the sentence imposed must be served without the benefit of suspension of sentence. Battery resulting in an injury requiring medical attention carries more severe penalties with fines up to $1000 and prison sentences from one to five years.
The dog attack follows an incident last year in which a gun was pulled on two child protection investigators from the Morehouse Office of Community Services who were responding to a case of abuse and neglect at a home in Bastrop. The individual in that case was charged using the more stringent law. It is believed that she was the first case in the state to be prosecuted under the new statute.