Seeking to dismiss lawsuit, DCYF says it’s not liable for abuse suffered by girls

  • Gov. Maggie Hassan read a proclamation declaring April as child abuse prevention month during the Granite State Children’s Alliance's annual Beat the Odds Rally at the State House on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. ELIZABETH FRANTZ

  • Attorney Rus Rilee speaks at a press conference to announce a lawsuit filed against DCYF in October. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 12/14/2016 6:33:12 PM

A married couple accused of molesting children at a homeless shelter where they were staying were never independently investigated by the Division for Children, Youth and Families, the agency admitted in court documents Monday.

The Claremont Police Department began investigating reports in July 2013 that the couple – later convicted of sexually assaulting their own daughters – had molested a boy and girl at the shelter. Aware of the accusations and the criminal investigation, DCYF employees still allowed the couple to have unsupervised visits with their own 18-month-old and 4-year-old daughters that year.

Claremont “police investigated those allegations and ultimately did not pursue criminal charges against the biological father who was the subject of that report,” the agency said in response to a civil lawsuit accusing the agency of failing to protect the daughters.

DCYF has asked a judge to dismiss the civil lawsuit filed in mid-October by the grandparents of the 18-month-old and 4-year-old, who are now 5 and 7 years old. The agency says it’s not liable for the physical harm and sexual abuse suffered by the children, and that it has no legal obligation to the grandparents.

The grandparents of the two girls – also their adoptive parents – allege that DCYF failed to protect the children from “horrific” sexual abuse by their biological parents despite repeated warning signs. The family accuses DCYF and Easter Seals of negligence, negligent training and supervision of its employees and breach of fiduciary duty.

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State officials have declined to discuss the specifics of the pending litigation in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester beyond their court filings.

Attorney Rus Rilee, who is representing the grandparents, said in an interview Wednesday that DCYF’s decision not to investigate the reported abuse in Claremont is unacceptable. The girls were first removed from their parent’s home in July 2012 after the father was accused of kicking one of them. The Claremont criminal investigation began a year later, when the girls were still under DCYF supervision.

“Their failure to do so is a violation of their own policies and procedures,” Rilee said. “Had they followed their policies and procedures, any rational person would come to the conclusion that it was unsafe to place these little girls in the home of these parents.”

DCYF’s policy manual and directive stipulates that when a child under the agency’s supervision could be at risk as a result of a new allegation, the situation must be reviewed by the case worker and his or her supervisor. That includes new allegations of abuse not directly linked to the child, such as the incident in Claremont.

Although DCYF states that police did not pursue criminal charges against the girl’s biological father, a Claremont Police Department report indicates that the investigation was never closed. Further, the report identifies two parents of interest, not just the father.

In its response to the lawsuit, DCYF states that the grandparents and the young girls failed to “mitigate damages.” Further, it alleges, that their “injuries were caused or contributed to by the actions of third parties over whom DCYF is not legally responsible.”

Rilee responded Wednesday by asking, “What are they claiming that these foster parents or the little girls themselves could have done to reduce their own damages?” He noted that the grandmother voiced her concerns to DCYF on multiple occasions but there was no follow up.

DCYF admits in its response that conversations took place with the grandmother about the infant’s diaper rash – believed initially to be caused by negligent diapering – and about the parents’ decision to shave the 4-year-old’s legs.

The agency denies many of the families more detailed allegations of abuse, and in other instances says it is “without sufficient information” to respond.

The lawsuit alleges that the biological parents sexually abused the girls during supervised and unsupervised visits in 2013, and that the mother filmed 14 of those sessions.

Police recovered flash drives from the home containing those videos. In one, a child’s cry is muffled because her mouth is covered with duct tape and her wrists are bound behind her back.

The lawsuit says some of the abuse occurred during “bath time” with the parents, while an Easter Seals caseworker was in another room.

After the grandparents became aware of the abuse, they immediately went to police. Days later, the parents confessed to their crimes.

The mother and father pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges of felonious sexual assault charges and manufacturing child pornography. Each was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Rilee has until Jan. 6 to file an objection to the state’s motion to dismiss. DCYF will have 10 days from that date to respond, after which the court could issue an order or request a hearing.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319, adandrea@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @_ADandrea.)




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