Manatee sheriff's case workers believed Janiya Thomas was 'dead for a long time,' emails show

MANATEE -- The morning after Janiya Thomas' body was discovered in a freezer, a supervisor with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office Child Protective Investigative Division emailed an investigator that there wasn't much more they could have done, because they knew Janiya "had been dead for a long time."

Janiya Thomas was found dead Oct. 18, after relatives grew suspicious of a padlocked freezer her mother, Keishanna Thomas, and a boyfriend had brought over four days earlier under the guise she was being evicted. The relatives had seen the media reports that Janiya was missing and broke the lock, found her body and called law enforcement.

In response to a public records request, the Bradenton Herald has obtained hundreds of pages of emailed exchanges between Child Protective Services personnel and other sheriff's employees regarding Janiya and Keishanna Thomas over the years.

The lead investigator in the case became upset when she learned a child's body believed to be Janiya had been found, she wrote in an email to her supervisor on the morning of Oct. 19.

"I'm so frustrated because I kept saying Keishanna wasn't telling me where the child was and I kept trying to get a detective involved," Danielle McCoy wrote. "I feel like I should've done more but I didn't know what else to do."

Her supervisor, Kristy Kall, responded, saying they had a court order to produce the child, and "Joey" was looking for Janiya and trying to get information from the mother.

"The only thing I can think of was maybe have ad (sic) the staffing sooner but we all know she had been dead for a long time so we couldn't have saved her but I know we saved the other kids and that's what is keeping me going," Kall wrote.

McCoy, who had been on vacation in Mexico, was responding to an email Kall had sent her at 7:19 a.m. Monday, alerting her to the developments in the case: "On a sad note, did you hear the news about Janyah (sic)?" Kall urged McCoy to make sure all her notes on the case were complete, including "diligent search requests".

McCoy emailed back to ask, "Can I go back and check and update if something appears to be missing even though it is already closed?"

Kall responded that she could, adding, "We did all the right steps, it's just now I know it's going to be looked at closely. I'm just so sad today. We can all support each other."

The exchange between the two had started with Kall writing to McCoy in an email Oct. 17 that she needed to work 6.6 hours to reach 40. McCoy asked how she could do that, saying she had been typing up cases while out of the country but not on her work computer.

Kall responded, "as long as you typed for 6.6 hours you are good."

When is a child missing?

The last known time case managers saw Janiya was June 9, 2014, during a visit by the Safe Children's Coalition, other documents have shown. The coalition's case was closed and listed as non-compliant after Keishanna Thomas became uncooperative, after she had been referred to voluntary services. That followed the 11th case involving allegations of child abuse against her in 15 years.

On Sept. 23, investigators with the sheriff's office CPID already knew Janiya was missing from her mother's home when they were called out for allegations of child abuse against her 12-year-old brother. Despite a court order to produce Janiya, her mother has refused for weeks to give investigators information about Janiya.

On Oct. 16, Janiya was officially reported missing. Two days earlier, email records show, Florida Department of Children and Families attorneys had already received a request for consult from the Safe Children's Coalition on a "possible missing child," to which CPID director Melissa Lancsarics agreed. Prior to consult, attorney Pauline Black emailed Lancsarics asking if she had considered a missing child report.

"Does this meet the legal requirement of a missing child?" Lancsarics wrote. "I do not know the whole story as to what mom has said regarding the child."

Lancsarics added she would have law enforcement sit in on the meeting the following day to determine that.

On Oct. 16, Kall sent an update on the case to Maj. Connie Shingledecker, head of the Investigative Bureau, which includes CPID, just moments before Thomas' court hearing that day. In the email, Kall wrote of Janiya, "We have been trying to locate her via school records and school locator here in Florida. We have spoken to a relative here, who used to care for her, but have not had any luck finding her.

"Today, there will be a hearing at 1:30 for the mother to produce and then if she does not, hopefully the judge will hold her in contempt," Kall wrote. She added a detective was working with them and waiting to see what other information he would have for a missing person's report following the hearing.

A forensic interview with three of Janiya's siblings was also scheduled later that afternoon, Lancsarics added in a subsequent email.

Employees from within the sheriff's office exchanged emails around 3 p.m. Oct. 16 regarding an alert for a missing child being entered.

CPID supervisor Kim Burnham sent emails at 9:56 p.m. and 10:37 p.m. to a Bradenton police detective, one with notes from the June 9, 2014, case management visit during which Janiya was last seen alive, and another with Janiya's photo.

On Oct. 18, Burnham updated Lancsarics and Shingledecker in an email at 4:40 p.m., telling them she met with Bradenton police detectives.

"I found dad's (dad to Janiya's) other children and have given BPD the birth certificates and went into school locator and gotten their addresses and info for them to follow up on with possible contact with his family," Burnham wrote. "I went through all of mom's priors and gave them a list of mom's relatives and friends and their last known info along with DOB and SS# so they can try to find them.

"I told BPD to check with the school locator in Sarasota tomorrow as that is where Janiya is rumored to be," Burnham wrote.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.

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