EDITORIAL: Arapahoe County social services credibility depends on outside investigation now

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Attorney Elliot Singer speaks during an Aug. 25, 2022 press conference announcing a class-action lawsuit involving Arapahoe County and employees of the county Dept. of Human Services.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

The alarming scheme involving a former Arapahoe County social worker using her position to persecute an Aurora city council member in an apparent act of wanton vengeance has now mushroomed into a debacle demanding outside intervention.

In July, Arapahoe County Sheriff officials said an investigation revealed that former Arapahoe County Department of Social Services agent Robin Niceta targeted Aurora City Councilmember Danielle Jurinsky earlier this year in a scheme to falsely accuse the lawmaker of child abuse, according to sheriff and court documents.

Arrest affidavits revealed that Niceta made a false “anonymous” claim about unproven abuse by Jurinsky with the intent of persecuting her in a sordid act of revenge.

Niceta was at the time involved in a romantic relationship with former Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson. Jurinsky was a vociferous critic of Wilson, who was a staunch advocate for reforming the city’s beleaguered police department. After months of haranguing Wilson in public, Jurinsky, speaking on a local right-wing talk radio show, demanded Wilson’s firing and called her “trash.”

Wilson was later sacked by Aurora City Manager Jim Twombly, who cited Wilson’s management deficiencies.

Attorneys for Wilson have since said Wilson is no longer involved with Niceta.

Arapahoe County prosecutors say Niceta was incensed by Jurinsky and first faked a complaint and then used her position in the social services department to persecute Jurinsky in an attempt to have her toddler son removed from Jurinsky’s care.

Arapahoe County officials have essentially stipulated the Niceta allegations made by sheriff officials and prosecutors from the 18th Judicial District.

But two weeks ago, Jurinsky returned to the media spotlight, announcing a class-action lawsuit brought forward by up to 40 other parents, all claiming similar, lurid cases of abuse by Niceta — and other, unnamed Arapahoe County social workers.

“What happened to me was not an isolated incident,” Jurinsky said at an Aug. 24 news conference.

Jurinsky said her going public with her instance of Niceta’s scheme prompted other parents to come forward.

Lawyers said most but not all of the allegations by numerous parents of harassment and vindictiveness were at the hands of Niceta.

Social service officials and the county are accused of selectively considering and not sufficiently vetting evidence related to child abuse complaints, illegally seeking protection orders against parents and caretakers and otherwise acting unethically to remove children from their care.

The lawsuit alleges the abuse “occurred over the course of many years,” affecting “dozens, if not hundreds (or more), of Arapahoe County families,” according to previous Sentinel reports.

Jurinsky told the media that only about 75% of the complaints by parents involved Niceta, although neither Jurinsky nor her lawyers offered further details.

County officials said Jurinsky’s allegations about Niceta were deeply troubling and under investigation by the department. 

County spokesperson Luc Hatlestad told The Sentinel there are “many checks and balances” that the county uses to weed out false allegations of abuse, including evaluation by “multiple layers of human services, educational, medical, mental health and legal professionals.”

Clearly, those multiple checks and balances failed in the Jurinsky case.

The well-publicized allegations of dozens of parents at this point, even undetailed and unproven, have created a catastrophic credibility problem for Arapahoe County social services, which could only be made worse by an internal investigation of any kind.

The county, reportedly working with the state, should immediately step back from any kind of analysis or investigation and the Colorado Department of Human Services and the Colorado State Attorney General should coordinate a transparent investigation into the department.

While county officials say parents have always had the courts to depend on for being a referee for fairness and accountability, it’s beyond the pale to insist that is an acceptable substitute for ensuring parents and children aren’t abused at the whim of disgruntled or disturbed social workers.

Only an accountable investigation from an outside and independent agency can reliably ensure that additional or systemic problems are identified and corrected.

With such an immense amount of power, made potentially dangerous by the need for privacy and discretion, departments of social services must have credibility and accountability to protect children.

Because of the extremely public nature of these allegations, Arapahoe County, at this point, has neither.

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Dcduffy@gmail.com
25 days ago

Obviously Dave Perry did not write this…

Rod Bockenfeld, State Representative
Rod Bockenfeld, State Representative
21 days ago

Heck, even Dave can have a bad day every once in awhile. LOL

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
25 days ago

The Social-Services Department should never have been a politically-divisive tool, but it became such whenever one council-person defamed the Police Chief and it took off from there. In order to remove personal politics from the discussion, there should be an independent, outside investigation, and the public should let that run its course. If wrongdoing is found, then appropriate action should be taken to correct it and if laws were violated, the perpetrator(s) should receive appropriate penalties following due process through the justice system.

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
25 days ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Impressive how leftists ALWAYS attempt to redirect the egregious actions of their fellow leftists. “… defamed the Police Chief?” So it’s all Jurnsky’s fault? Never mind that this is the very chief that allowed her charge to be trapped inside their own station house.

In the leftist mind, it’s never their side’s fault: They think criminals only commit crimes because they are forced to, by poverty, or racism, or some other excuse. Drug addicts are victims of society, never bad personal decisions. All homeless would do anything to have a roof over their heads. (Of course, their unwillingness to play by civil society rules tends to dash that argument.)

The vile Niceta is just the latest for the apologists and comrades to circle their wagons around.

GeneD
25 days ago

So, continuing to defend the Previous Occupant, and minimizing the January 6 insurrection are not the acts of apologists and wagon-circling comrades?

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
24 days ago
Reply to  GeneD

Try to stay on task, Gene. I realize it’s hard, but focus.

Bob
Bob
25 days ago

It’s a shame that to pull back the curtain into what these Gov department agencies and their  employees are so capable of the damage created by them, it takes a lawsuit to expose the broken pieces.  The stress this created for council Jurinsky has to be considerable. The digging into this who knows what will be discovered. And if fired chief  Wilson  knew of anything about this absurd scheme to discredit the council, she needs her just reward as well. Wilson played the victim to the max, was this all a fraud performance as well?      

Rod Bockenfeld, State Representative
Rod Bockenfeld, State Representative
25 days ago

Having an outside independent agency investigate this matter should be a no brainer for Arapahoe County. An internal investigation by the County is self serving and a joke.

Thank you Sentinel Editorial Board for pointing this issue out and taking it on. This is exactly what the press should be doing, holding government accountable.

Rod Bockenfeld
State Representative
Former Arapahoe County Commissioner

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
16 days ago

100 percent agree.

The near total absence of any prosecution of corruption of our local government agencies of all types is VERY CONCERNING.

Exactly how corrupt is Colorado?