The Florida Legislature agreed to pay the surviving victim of one of the most horrific child-abuse cases in state history $3.75 million in legal damages Wednesday and sent the bill to the governor for his signature.
Victor Barahona, the surviving twin brother of Nubia Barahona, would receive the money as part of a legal settlement with the Department of Children and Families, which admitted negligence after Victor was found near death and covered with pesticides alongside his sister’s decomposing body along I-95 in Palm Beach County in 2011. They were 10 years old and in the custody of their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who have been charged with murder.
“They would tie them up, beat them, smear feces on their face,” said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, sponsor of the House bill, HB 6523, which was approved 114-2. The Senate had already passed SB 18 in a 37-0 vote. He described the abuse as “the most horrible, atrocious thing you can imagine.”
The Florida Department of Children and Families “had many red flags they did not pay attention to,” he said.
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The state’s insurer has already paid $1.25 million, but because of sovereign immunity laws, the state itself is shielded from having to pay more than $200,000 unless the Legislature agrees to lift the cap and authorize the payment in what is known as a claims bill. For the last two years, legislation has been proposed but lawmakers failed to include the compensation in the DCF budget and adjourned without approving it.
As a result of pending legal proceedings and interviews with Victor, the House’s special master’s report detailed the abuse the children endured. They would be tied in bathtubs, subjected to electrical shock and tortured in front of the couple’s other children. Teachers made numerous complaints to the child abuse hotline, but the state allowed the Barahonas to adopt the children and failed to stop the routine beatings and torture inside their West Miami-Dade home.
Victor, now 16 and living with relatives in Texas, continues to be haunted by the horrific trauma he endured and is in need of counseling and treatment, according to Eli Newberger, a pediatrician hired to diagnose his condition as part of the lawsuit.
The chemical burns from the pesticides cover 10 percent of Victor’s body, the mental trauma is significant, and he “suffers from ongoing, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the physical and mental abuse he suffered at the hands of the Barahonas,” Newberger wrote.
Parker Aziz, the House lawyer who reviewed the case and wrote the special master’s report, concluded that DCF was negligent in its duty to protect the twins and “those negligent acts were the legal cause of death” for Nubia and “the permanent physical and emotional damage suffered by” Victor.
“Before the adoption, DCF had an ongoing duty to protect the children from threats that it knew of or should have discovered,” he concluded.
Diaz, who is serving his seventh year in the House, said this is “the single worst case that I’ve ever seen on a claims bill since I’ve been up here” and has made it a priority to pass the bill before he leaves office next year.
He commended the Legislature coming together to pass “significant” reforms dealing with child welfare, after the Barahona case and other stories of neglect were documented by the Miami Herald’s “Innocents Lost” investigative series.
“It is one of the votes that I am most proud of,” he said. “Today, we have an opportunity to help the surviving victim, whose sister was killed.”