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Florida judge threatens to jail lawyer in Facebook Live hanging case

MIAMI -- A judge threatened to jail a Florida Department of Children & Families lawyer, suggesting in an order that the agency’s attorneys lied about the welfare of foster children who may have witnessed a teen hang herself while broadcasting on Facebook.

Miami-Dade Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia said Clarissa Cabreja, the state’s regional child welfare legal director, could be arrested if she doesn’t appear at a March 8 hearing “to show cause why they should not be held in indirect civil contempt of court.”

Spokeswoman Jessica K. Sims says the agency “fully intends to comply.”

Sampedro-Iglesia, who heads the court’s child welfare division, wrote in all uppercase lettering that Cabreja’s failure to appear “may result in the court issuing a writ of bodily attachment for your arrest.” If arrested, the judge wrote, Cabreja could be held in jail up to 48 hours before a hearing.

The Miami Herald reports the Tuesday order follows a back-and-forth between the agency and the judge, who requested information about foster children living in the home Jan. 22 when 14-year-old Naika Venant died.

The judge said she wants to make sure the children who were in the Miami Gardens foster home when the suicide was livestreamed on Facebook receive proper counseling or treatment.

Venant was removed from her mother’s home in 2009 for physical abuse and had bounced through the foster home system.

In January, Naika’s biological mom, Gina Alexis, spoke about her daughter’s death, CBS Miami station WFOR-TV reports.

“I am sick and devastated by this tragedy,” Alexis said. “I have trusted Florida’s foster care people to care for my baby. Instead she killed herself on Facebook.”

Alexis’ attorney, Howard Talenfeld, said Naika was abused in foster care.

“It was determined that Naika was sexually abused by a 14-year-old foster boy while in care, while she was 7 years old,” Talenfled said in January.

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