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CPS Case Workers Fired After Beating Death Of 4-Year-Old

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - First a 4-year-old North Texas girl is beaten to death, then her mother and her boyfriend are arrested and charged - now three workers with Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) are no longer on the job.

It was in mid-March when Grand Prairie paramedics tried to help little Leiliana Wright. First-responders said when they got to the child she wasn't breathing and had severe bruising from head-to-toe. Initially, Leiliana's mother, Jeri Quezada, said the little girl had fallen in the shower. Quezada later admitted that she and her boyfriend, Charles Phifer, hit Leiliana with a belt and a bamboo stick after they shot up heroin.

Jeri Quezada
Jeri Quezada

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner later determined Leiliana died from blunt force trauma.

Today, both a CPS caseworker and supervisor were fired and a special investigator with the agency resigned. The actions come after allegations that CPS workers knew of Leiliana's abuse and did little to help her or prevent her eventual death.

"The review of all of the contacts that have happened with the family will be detailed and released when it's complete," according to CPS spokeswoman Marissa Gonzales.

Leiliana died on March 13 and two weeks later her grandparents talked with CBS 11 News about how they thought CPS had failed their granddaughter.

"I hate to see anyone lose their job. But in this case I think its appropriate. In this case I am glad it was done," said Alisa and Craig Clakley, who were often overcome with emotion as they recalled seeing signs of physical abuse on Leiliana a year ago. "If I had one word to describe how I'm feeling, I feel like my heart is broken."

"She had two black eyes and a bad bruise across her face, some bruises on her back... poor thing," Alisa Clakley said. "Their particular job is to protect children and help them [but] this didn't happen in this case. I don't care what anyone says. It didn't happen."

The couple said they and other relatives saw the bruises, took photos of them, and called CPS on several occasions, but that Leiliana remained in Quezada's custody.

"I'm angry, I'm sad, how could anyone put their hands on this beautiful angel?" asked Craig Clakley.

Charles Phifer
Charles Phifer

CPS records show the average caseload for child abuse caseworkers in North Texas has risen from 18 in 2014 to 23 this year. Additional numbers prove more and more employees are leaving their posts, too. The turnover rate in Dallas County has more than doubled: from 28 percent in 2014 to 57 percent in 2016.

CPS emailed CBS11 the following statement about staffing issues in Dallas County:

In recent months, CPS in Dallas County has faced a number of formidable challenges including high workloads and higher-than-usual employee turnover. To ensure that reports of abuse and neglect are being investigated promptly, that necessary protections are put in place, and services to families are provided as effectively as possible, a number of measures to improve Dallas County CPS are in place.

Hiring and training of new caseworkers is being stepped up and 70 new workers will begin training in the next few weeks. Different methods of assigning cases are being used to balance workloads. In a true team effort, dozens of CPS staff from across Texas are volunteering to come to Dallas to help with investigations. CPS is also reaching out to its partners in the community for help and ideas.

Regardless of the current challenges facing CPS in Dallas County, our focus remains the protection of children and dedicated CPS staff from Dallas and around the state are continuing to work tirelessly toward that goal.

The number of children who have died of abuse in Dallas rose from 32 in 2014 to 43 in 2015. Sobering numbers for Leiliana's grandparents who advocate changes to the system.

"If you've got a child who's in an abusive situation, get them out of it," said Craig Clakley. "We've got to fix the problem. The problem is I don't want to hear 'our caseload is too heavy.' "

Both Quezada, 30, and Phifer, 34, have been charged with Injury to a Child. Phifer is being held on a $1 million bond, Quezada's bond is $500,000.

No word if Leiliana's former CPS workers will face any charges.

CBS11 reporter Jack Fink contributed to this report. 

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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