CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Agency ignored abuse of boys, suit says

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Agency ignored abuse of boys, suit says

Postby tommixx » Tue Mar 24, 2009 6:32 pm

Agency ignored abuse of boys, suit says ... uild=cache

The aunt of two boys who were reportedly abused over a period of years has filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court alleging that a long history of abuse was ignored by state caseworkers.
By Andrew Clevenger
Staff writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The aunt of two boys who were reportedly abused over a period of years has filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court alleging that a long history of abuse was ignored by state caseworkers.

The suit, filed earlier this month by Charleston lawyers Mary Downey and Lonnie Simmons, alleges that longstanding abuse by the boys' mother and her son-in-law went unchecked for years.

Ultimately, hospital workers diagnosed the 8-year-old boy with gonorrhea and the 10-year-old boy with scabies on his buttocks, both of which strongly suggested sexual abuse, according to the complaint.

The suit also maintains that both children indicated that their mother's son-in-law bit their penises.

The suit names the state Department of Health and Human Resources and its leader, Secretary Martha Walker, as defendants. A protective services worker and a DHHR supervisor also are named.

In painstaking detail, the suit describes how the boys, who are identified only by their initials, suffered abuse at the hands of family members. It also chronicles the involvement of Child Protective Services in response to various allegations reportedly made by school officials, medical personnel and police officers.

DHHR spokesman John Law did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

The abuse began within months of the death of the boys' father in August 2003, according to the lawsuit. Four months later, CPS, a subdivision of DHHR, opened a file based on reports that the son-in-law, who lived in the same home as the children, was beating the older boy, the lawsuit alleges.

Throughout 2004, CPS continued to find that no maltreatment of the boys had occurred, even though it received reports that their mother had made them drink whiskey and they had been beaten, the suit says.

On June 18, 2004, the same day a hospital examination showed extensive bruising, the older boy "disclosed [to a CPS caseworker] that his mother struck him with a piece of iron on his back leaving a bruise and [her son-in-law] punched him between the legs, but CPS failed to find that maltreatment had occurred," the suit says.

The following January, CPS received information that the son-in-law beat the boys, hit them in the groin area, and put his penis in their mouths and made them put their penises in his mouth, according to the suit. Again, CPS "failed to find maltreatment" and "stated that the risk to the children was minimal," the suit maintains.

In July 2005, 19 months after the initial reports of abuse were made, CPS concluded that the boys had been maltreated and the risk of further maltreatment, according to the suit.

Days later, hospital workers document multiple bruising and knots on the boys' heads and bruising on their penises, the suit contends.

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In September 2005, CPS found that the boys were in imminent danger because they were subjected to "bizarre cruelty," but the boys remained in the custody of their mother, who earlier had admitted that she hit them with a stick and firewood between 12 and 18 inches long when they were younger, according the suit.

Roughly a month later, a counselor at the boys' school reported that the older boy had marks all over his body, bruises on his legs and chest, what appeared to be cigarette burns and bruising around his kidneys and forehead, but CPS concluded that no maltreatment occurred, the suit maintains.

"In the same month, November 2005, CPS documented ... that risk was minimal even though another DHHR employee reported that she believed that [the boys] were sexually abused and pictures of the boys with bite marks on their penises would make anybody cry," the suit states.

In response to an abuse and neglect petition filed by the boys' paternal grandparents, a circuit judge concluded in August 2006 that there was probable cause that the children were abused and neglected, the suit says.

After testimony from a CPS worker, the judge concluded that she was overwhelmed and could not possibly do a thorough investigation, having been a caseworker for only four months, according to the suit.

The complaint quotes the judge as finding that the CPS worker "barely had time to interview clients and did not have time to interview other people; she did not interview the State Trooper, [hospital] staff or any doctor who had examined the children" and she did not know where the boys' mother was living and "did nothing to try to find her."

The mother took the boys to North Carolina in violation of a court order, but DHHR made no effort to find her or take custody of the children, the suit alleges.

In February 2007, DHHR filed permanency plans for the children that recommended that the mother have custody, but the court gave custody to the boys' paternal grandparents, the suit contends.

The court found that "[n]o effort has been made on the part of [the mother] or the Department to attempt to determine the veracity of the allegations in this case or how, by whom and where [the younger boy] contracted gonorrhea," the suit states. "It appears no attempt has been made by the Department or [the mother] to get counseling for the boys, either," the court continued.

The suit contends that the boys, who have been aggressive and had flashbacks since they have lived with their grandparents, "will need ongoing services as a result of the severe emotional, physical and sexual abuse."

The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Reach Andrew Clevenger at [email protected] or 304-348-1723.

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