MONTICELLO, NY — An investigation into the death of a 16-month-old child has exposed friction between Sullivan County’s top two legal offices: the county attorney’s office and the …
MONTICELLO, NY — An investigation into the death of a 16-month-old child has exposed friction between Sullivan County’s top two legal offices: the county attorney’s office and the district attorney’s office.
The child, Akasha Luvert, died on May 2. Investigations have indicated that she died of a fentanyl overdose. Four people have been charged in connection with her death, including her parents, Jimmie Luvert and Lisa Keitt.
Brian Conaty, Sullivan County acting district attorney, announced the charges at a press conference on May 18. He also accused county attorney Mike McGuire of refusing to act. Conaty claimed that three times, child protective services (CPS) asked McGuire to remove Akasha and her sibling from their parents, and McGuire refused those requests.
McGuire refuted those claims at a May 24 press conference.
“Mr. Conaty’s comments were callous [and] misleading and [they] demonstrate a level of poise and demeanor incongruent with one who seeks to hold the office of this or any county,” said McGuire.
Conaty claimed that “CPS had requested the removal of these children on three separate occasions, and when CPS brought these concerns to their legal branch—the county attorney’s office—the county attorney himself, Mike McGuire, refused to institute removal proceedings as requested. It was further learned [that], under his regime, he created a culture of widespread apathy that has discouraged the workers from bringing forth appropriate requests to remove children.”
McGuire rejected these allegations, claiming, “Such an assertion is patently false. From the time the now-deceased child was born until the day she died, there had never been a substantiated allegation of child abuse following an investigation by the CPS unit. As such, there would not have ever been a basis upon which to seek a removal.”
The River Reporter made a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to Sullivan County for information about the alleged requests. The county’s FOIL officer directed the request to Conaty, who informed the River Reporter that information about family court proceedings is sealed under New York State regulations.
The dispute takes place against the backdrop of a contested 2023 election for district attorney.
Conaty is running for the position of DA. Former DA Meagan Galligan selected him as acting DA in January, when she was elected to the third judicial district of the New York State Supreme Court.
Tom Cawley is his opponent. Cawley worked in the DA’s office from 1993 to 2000, and has worked in the county attorney’s office since then, most recently as McGuire’s deputy county attorney.
In making the allegations against McGuire, Conaty said, “I anticipate the county attorney will lambaste this statement as a mere political attack. However, when I was first sworn in as the acting district attorney of Sullivan County, I pledged to you that I would follow the facts wherever they lead, and I have kept that pledge and this is where we ended up.”
McGuire did connect Conaty’s claims to politics, calling him too young and inexperienced for the role.
“[Either] Mr. Conaty is misrepresenting what took place in order to evoke emotions to bolster his political aspirations while casting aspersions on my office, where his political opponent works, [or] he is simply ignorant of the law as it applies to protecting children,” McGuire said.
Cawley gave a statement to the River Reporter reading, in part, “The people of Sullivan County have a right to expect that their DA will make their safety and that of their families the top priority of the office. Sadly, with acting DA Conaty, we have someone who has chosen to put his political future ahead of the safety of residents.”
McGuire accused the DA’s office of being uncooperative in child abuse cases.
Sullivan County has a child advocacy center (CAC) that coordinates the efforts of the county attorney’s office, the DA’s office, the county’s Division of Health and Family Services and other involved parties.
“There was a time in this county where this unit operated flawlessly in pursuit of its mission… today, however, sadly that team concept has all but disappeared,” said McGuire.
He claimed that Conaty has refused to provide McGuire’s office with copies of statements, crime scene photographs or an autopsy report, “despite the fact that the last such tragedy, we had to take the district attorney’s office to court, and the judge within minutes ordered that that report be turned over to my office.”
Former DA Galligan defended her office’s actions in that case during a December 8, 2022 argument with the chair of the Sullivan County Legislature, Rob Doherty. Galligan’s position was that the release of the autopsy report in that case would harm her office’s investigation, she said. “I stood by it then, I stand by it now. I don’t care if a judge told me to hand it over, I’m going to stand up for my law enforcement community.”
Both Conaty and McGuire made requests for funding during their conferences.
Conaty requested that the legal section of the department of social services be reestablished, taking responsibility out of the hands of McGuire’s office. He also requested the establishment of a substance use disorder unit within the family violence response team, and for the release of funds already allocated to his department from the state’s opioid settlements to pay for overtime police work on those cases.
The Sullivan County Legislature did, as part of a resolution on March 16 modifying the 2022-2027 opioid settlement spending plan, authorize $75,000 from the county’s general fund for overtime funding for personnel conducting narcotics investigations.
McGuire called for a restoration to prior levels in the number of attorneys handling child protective proceedings; he was working with the legislature and the county manager to address that, he said.
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