BUSHNELL, Fla. (CN) - A father blames the Florida Department of Children and Families for his 2-year-old daughter's death by a pet python, which escaped from its aquarium and bit and asphyxiated the girl.
Joseph Gilkerson sued the state on behalf of his daughter, Shaiunna Hare, who died on July 1, 2009.
Shaiunna's mother, Jaren Hare, and her boyfriend, Charles "Jason" Darnell were convicted of manslaughter and child neglect and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Gilkerson claims that the Department of Children and Families received a complaint in May 2009 that Hare and Darnell were not properly caring for Shaiunna at their home in Oxford, Fla.
According to his complaint in Sumter County Court, DCF Investigator Matthew Shelby visited the rural home and saw a "large, yellow snake in an aquarium." He says the snake was an 8½-foot-long Burmese python, possession of which requires a license in Florida, which Hare and Darnell did not have.
Gilkerson adds that DCF failed to report the snake to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, which inspects captive pythons to ensure the snakes are safely and adequately penned.
He also claims that the DCF's investigation, which lasted from May 1 to June 12, 2009, "determined that Jaren Hare was not protecting her child ... inasmuch as Jaren Hare and Charles Darnell continued to smoke marijuana in the home."
He adds: "Defendant, DCF's, investigation determined that, since Shaiunna Hare was only 2 years old and she was mostly nonverbal, her risk of exposure was increased."
In the early morning of July 1, 2009 the snake escaped from its container and slithered into the child's crib, biting her repeatedly in the arms and face, then wrapped itself around her and asphyxiated her.
Gilkerson says he suffers continuing mental anguish for the wrongful death of his daughter.
He is represented by J. Scott Gunn of Fort Lauderdale.
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