Jury awards former foster child $2 million from state of Oregon over abuse suffered at hands of foster parents
Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2011, 6:26 PM Updated: Thursday, October 27, 2011, 5:47 AM
A Multnomah County jury unanimously awarded $2 million Wednesday to a former foster child who was abused and starved for two years while under the watch of state child welfare workers.
An attorney for the boy successfully argued that the Oregon Department of Human Services repeatedly failed to protect the boy despite repeated reports to a child-abuse hotline. The boy lived in the Clackamas County foster home of Thelma and William Beaver from 2002 to 2004. He weighed more at age 1, when he moved into the home, than at age 3, about the time he was removed from the home.
B.D.’s older sister, then known as Jordan Knapp, also suffered. She weighed just 28 pounds at age 5, when she was flown by Life Flight helicopter to OHSU with a broken skull. The girl’s injury — not a long list of reports of suspected abuse to the hotline — spurred DHS to remove the children from the foster home for good.
Attorney Scott Kocher filed suit on behalf of Jordan, and days before B.D.’s trial, settled the case with the state for $1.5 million.
The children, along with a younger sister, have since been adopted by one family. Their adopted mom hugged B.D.’s attorney, John Devlin, after the Wednesday’s verdict was announced.
Jurors awarded precisely the amount Devlin had asked for.
“This isn’t just about helping (B.D.), it’s also about helping other foster children by getting DHS to do a better job,” Devlin said. “The defense was not only that (DHS) didn’t do anything wrong, but that (B.D.) wasn’t abused and starved.”
Attorneys representing DHS weren’t available for comment Wednesday.
Juror David Filmer said he was convinced that DHS didn’t do enough to protect the boy, especially after his second hospitalization for failing to gain weight.
“We all really felt that the system was flawed,” Filmer said. “That calls would come into the help line, and …the response was insufficient.”
At least 10 of the jurors spread the fault among the State of Oregon and five current and former DHS caseworkers and supervisors: Lesley Willette, Steve Duerscherl, Shirley Vollmuller, Peggy Gilmer and Audrey Riggs. Willette and Vollmuller still work at DHS, while the others have retired, Devlin said.
Because the jury also found that the boy’s civil rights were violated, Devlin can seek that his attorneys fees be paid for by the state.
The 3 1/2 week trial included testimony from about 50 witnesses, said Devlin. The boy, who is now 10, took the stand for a short while. He spoke of lingering memories of life in the double-wide trailer that his foster parents and seven other children shared. He said he remembered being forced to sleep in the dog house.
According to lawsuits filed on behalf of the boy and Jordan, the Beavers horribly mistreated the children. A child advocate nicknamed the boy “Mr. Won’t Smile.” And DHS workers didn’t believe Jordan when she repeatedly told them of her suffering. According to her lawsuit, her hands were beaten with a wooden spoon, she was hit with a hairbrush, she was held upside down by her feet and her head slammed against furniture and door frames, and she was forced her to sleep outdoors without blankets.
Thelma Beaver was sentenced to five years in prison for criminal mistreatment of Jordan, and William Beaver received two years of probation. for a lesser charge.
Jordan still faces challenges in her life, but the settlement “will make a big difference in making sure her future is as good as it can be,” said Jordan’s attorney, Kocher.
The boy has made a “remarkable” physical recovery, Devlin said. The jury’s award will compensate the boy for what could be life-long psychological trauma.
“He’s not the same kid he was when he was placed in the Beaver home,” Devlin said.