- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Vermont attorney general said Wednesday an investigation found no evidence of criminal misconduct by the state Department for Children and Families in its handling of an abuse case involving a Poultney child whose death this year led to charges against her stepfather.

But William Sorrell said the state must take steps to improve its system for protecting its most vulnerable residents. He said he will propose strengthening the state’s child cruelty laws.

His office reviewed the state police criminal investigation of the agency’s handling of an abuse and neglect case involving Dezirae Sheldon. The 2-year-old died in February of severe head injuries.

Dezirae’s stepfather, Dennis Duby, has pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge. Her mother, Sandra Eastman, was convicted last year of child cruelty.

“There was no evidence that any of the state or local employees involved in the case were acting in a manner contrary to what they thought was in the best interests of D.S. at the time,” Sorrell said.

But, he added: “Most immediately, the police, prosecutors, social workers and other agencies must improve their communication and sharing of information critical to making the most informed decisions possible with respect to the ongoing safety of our most vulnerable Vermonters.”

He said he would prepare proposals for the Legislature’s Committee of Child Protection, which was formed following the deaths of Dezirae and another toddler in separate incidents. Fifteen-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, died several hours after being seen by a social worker, police said. His mother has been charged in his death.

“Prosecutors need a statutory framework to deal with those all-too-common cases where a child is injured at home but proof is lacking as to which of multiple caregivers inflicted the injury,” Sorrell said.



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