TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida child welfare agents were warned three times about a man before he allegedly killed his 5-year-old daughter by throwing her off a bridge, the state Department of Children and Families reported on Monday.
The death of Phoebe Jonchuck, a kindergarten student, has led to scrutiny of the agency, which acknowledged in the report failures in its dealings with her troubled family.
One call to a state abuse hotline last month reported her father’s bizarre behavior just hours before she was dropped 60-feet into the waters of Tampa Bay in front of a police officer.
John Jonchuck, 25, had custody of Phoebe, whose mother was also being investigated by the agency at the time of the child’s death over alleged violence and substance abuse, the report said.
“Phoebe’s family had come to the attention of the child welfare system on multiple occasions,” the report said. “There were points at which further intervention or examination were warranted.”
The agency should have referred John Jonchuck for services in June 2013, after a child welfare investigation following his arrest, stemming from a fight with Phoebe’s mother, the report said.
In late December, less than two weeks before Phoebe’s death, the agency received a call raising concerns about John Jonchuck and past harm to Phoebe, as well as her current home conditions, but did not act on the information. A counselor did not follow protocol, the report said.
A final warning came on Jan. 7, only hours before her death, when a Tampa attorney representing John Jonchuck in a custody case called the hotline over worries about her client’s mental state.
Immediately after Phoebe’s death, state officials announced changes to require investigators to visit within four hours if a caregiver appeared to be suffering a psychotic episode.
John Jonchuck’s mental competency is set to be discussed at a court hearing on Tuesday.
He faces charges including murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer.
His attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.
Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Eric Beech