Hancock County

Hancock DHS case: Forensics point to forgery

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JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALDMindi Stiglet of Kiln on talks Thursday Feb. 19, 2015 about how she believes a Hancock County Department of Human Services investigator forged her records.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALDMindi Stiglet of Kiln on talks Thursday Feb. 19, 2015 about how she believes a Hancock County Department of Human Services investigator forged her records. SUN HERALD

HANCOCK COUNTY -- Forensic handwriting analysis of a Department of Human Services document used in a child protective services case indicates the parent's signature was most likely forged, sheriff's officials said Monday.

Sheriff's Chief Deputy Don Bass said the Mississippi Forensics Lab found an 85 percent likelihood that the signature was forged.

The document is a key piece of evidence in the ongoing probe launched by the Hancock County Sheriff's Office early this year. It was part of a DHS case file on single mother Mindy Stiglet of Kiln, and led to her child being taken into state custody, investigators said.

Stiglet was the lead complainant who sparked Sheriff Ricky Adam's probe into the county's DHS office. Hers was the first criminal complaint investigators received shortly after the county's foster-care crisis became highly publicized in January and spawned a local Youth Court task force and a 100-page report by the state Legislature's investigative committee.

In January, Stiglet brought forth allegations that a social worker forged her signature on the document. The handwriting analysis, however, did not render an opinion on who may have committed the forgery, Chief Investigator Glenn Grannan said.

Rigo Vargas, Mississippi's leading expert in forensic document analysis and the only forensic document examiner for the State Forensics Lab, gave an interview to the Sun Herald in August on how handwriting analysis cases are conducted.

Ideally, in order for document examiners to render an opinion on who may have forged a document, Vargas said at the time, law enforcement should obtain a warrant compelling the suspect to sit down and sign the victim's name about 25 times on an electronic pad provided and monitored by the document examiner.

The process gives a handwriting expert enough comparison samples and electronic data to render a conclusion, Vargas said.

On Monday, Assistant District Attorney Crosby Parker said his office has not yet received the DHS case from the sheriff's office. He agreed with Vargas' assessment of how a handwriting investigation is typically conducted, likening it to the way police would obtain a warrant to draw blood from a DUI suspect.

Without a forensic opinion on who forged the document, the sheriff's office has not filed any charges in the case, which has stalled and restarted several times since it began.

Investigators hit a large speed bump earlier this year when DHS claimed the original ink-on-paper document was lost from Stiglet's case file, the sheriff said.

When similar complaints of tampered documents surfaced from other parents, the sheriff's office subpoenaed Stiglet's entire case file from DHS and found numerous documents. However, the only thing missing from the file, investigators said, was the original document they were seeking -- a key piece of evidence needed to allow for the most conclusive handwriting analysis.

Investigators even searched through Youth Court records but were unsuccessful and left with only a photocopy to submit to the forensics lab.

Adam and his investigators believe the original document was destroyed.

"I can't imagine anybody holding on to it for a souvenir," the sheriff said in an August interview.

The state Attorney General's office and DHS internal affairs have assisted the sheriff's office in the investigation.

So far, the only result has been the termination of a Hancock County DHS case worker.

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