Solomon Atkins says for nine years he worked as a model employee for the foster care agency Youth and Family Alternatives (YFA), transporting foster kids from here to Seattle.
But whatever trust he once earned as YFA’s employee of the year faded instantly 14 months ago, when a 15-year-old foster girl accused Atkins of forcing her to commit a sex act during a road trip between Bradenton and Arcadia.
“I lost my job and I haven’t been charged with a crime yet,” Atkins said.
A Manatee Sheriff’s Office detective noted the girl waited 5 to 6 months before reporting the alleged assault and then changed her story. There was no physical evidence to support what happened on the 120-mile round trip in the vehicle, occupied only by the girl and Atkins sometime during the summer of 2016.
“There should have always been two people transporting any female,” Atkins said. “I don’t care if it was around the block.”
Last week YFA Manager John Luff said it’s not possible to have two people during a transport due to budget and personnel constraints.
The Manatee State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped the case, citing the lack of any physical evidence, previous rape allegations made by the girl and the girl’s refusal to press charges because she thought no one would believe her.
As far as the law is concerned, Atkins has a clean record.
“I’ve never been charged with a crime in my entire life,” he said
Atkins insists he was the victim of false allegations made by a troubled 15-year-old foster girl who he suspects was trying to gain leverage against YFA so she could reunite with her 1-year-old child.
“That is my hand to God on my mother’s grave,” Atkins said. “If I could stand up and prove it somehow I’d be more than willing to do it.”
He recollects having a pleasant if uneventful, trip with the girl while taking her to Arcadia to visit her 1-year-old child who is also in foster care. He says she was mostly quiet during the transport.
“She told me she worked at Burger King. I told her that was good she needed to get back in school and that was as far as our conversation went,” Atkins said.
Records show that YFA fired Atkins one month after the girl first made her claims on Dec. 20, 2016. YFA sent Atkins a letter citing the results of an internal YFA investigation. YFA now admits no such investigation occurred and says the decision was based on the sheriff’s investigation pending at that time and Atkins’ unwillingness to speak to investigators – a decision Atkins says he made on the advice of his attorney.
Atkins, who is now 62, was never arrested, charged or spent even a single day in court, but says he lost his livelihood due to the whims of a disturbed foster child.
“I’m sitting here suffering, waiting on social security to come in,” Atkins said.
He’d like to get his job back, or at least the 300 hours of accrued vacation pay that he says YFA refused to give him following his termination.
YFA refused to comment for this story, citing a policy of not discussing personnel matters.
“The company never even said ‘Hey let’s sit down and talk about this, do you need representation, did you do this,’ nothing. A letter in the mail is what I got from them,” Atkins said
After we started raising questions, YFA managers said they are now considering purchasing dash cameras during the next budget cycle as a safeguard against future incidents like the one that cost Atkins his job.
Atkins says he called 8 On Your Side after seeing the kind of shoddy treatment Tampa YFA caseworker Sharday Moore complained about last month – detailed in our Rides to Nowhere foster care investigation. YFA fired her due to an abuse complaint that she had abandoned a foster girl at the Eckerd Family Center in Tampa. Moore insists she was following orders from a YFA supervisor. That case is still under investigation.
Moore has become a whistleblower in an 8 On Your Side investigation that exposed the mishandling of other teens who were held day after day in caseworkers’ cars at a Wawa gas station in Tampa instead of attending school, therapy or going to foster homes. A team of experts from DCF will soon head to Tampa for a top to bottom review of Hillsborough’s foster care system and the mishandling of teenage foster kids we exposed in our investigation.