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Social worker's story of being attacked with acid is under scrutiny

Police are investigating the possibility that a Los Angeles County social worker fabricated a story that two people attacked her with acid outside her Santa Fe Springs office, a department spokesman said.

The alleged Aug. 19 attack on the 43-year-old social worker became the lead story on many local news broadcasts, played into a national debate over the safety of child welfare workers and triggered a manhunt for suspects.

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Philip Browning, the director of the county Department of Children and Family Services, and a sheriff's chief, James Hellmold, visited the Santa Fe Springs office to calm nerves and ordered new security procedures, including having social workers conduct field work in pairs or accompanied by law enforcement.

Agency spokesman Armand Montiel emphasized that the incident was still under investigation and declined to say whether any action was being taken against the worker, who has not been identified. Whittier police, who patrol Santa Fe Springs, also declined to discuss the status of the investigation or whether she might be criminally charged.

County officials said they became suspicious after reports began to circulate among workers on Friday that the woman's injuries — said to be severe burns — were actually accidental and that the social worker may have lied about their cause.

The woman told police that she was approached near her office by a man and woman in a black or blue sedan. She said they asked her if she was a social worker. When she said yes, the worker said the woman threw a corrosive substance on her arms.

The security of child protective services workers has been a topic of concern nationally following the killing of a Vermont social worker earlier this monthhttp://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/08/10/us/ap-us-vermont-deaths.html. The mother of a child who had been placed in foster care has been arrested in that slaying.

"I wouldn't say that we are going to pull back on any efforts to make the social workers safer, even if this incident turns out not to be what it appears," Montiel said.

Twitter: @gtherolf

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