Portland woman accused of punching 4-year-old foster child in the face





Kimblery Vollmer, 33, is charged with third-degree assault and first-degree criminal mistreatment. (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, 2013)
PORTLAND, Ore. -– Criminal charges were filed Friday afternoon against a foster mom accused of hitting her foster child.
Officials said 33-year-old Kimberly J. Vollmer of North Portland was arrested Thursday following an investigation into suspected child abuse. She faces one count each of third-degree assault and first-degree criminal mistreatment.
On Jan. 13, Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) notified Portland police detectives that a report was filed against a foster parent for allegedly striking a child. DHS officers said the 4-year-old girl had a visible injury to her face.
On Jan. 15, detectives with the Multnomah County Child Abuse Team spoke with Vollmer, who also has three other foster children.
According to investigators, Vollmer alleged that the child’s injury occurred when she was changing laundry detergent. When asked why the child would make up a story about being assaulted, Vollmer reportedly told detectives that the child had been abused when she was younger.
Doctors with CARES Northwest, a medically-based child abuse assessment and intervention program, determined that the child’s injuries were intentional, Portland police said. DHS investigators interviewed the three other children, who reported witnessing Vollmer hit the girl in the face.
When confronted with the information, Vollmer eventually admitted that she had hit the child with her left hand, Portland police said. Vollmer then confessed to investigators that on the afternoon of Jan. 12, she tried to place all four children down for a nap at her North Portland home. The four-year-old, according to Vollmer, was mad that she could not watch TV. Vollmer said she got frustrated and hit the child, Portland police said.
When asked by investigators how hard she hit her, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most powerful, Vollmer estimated her punch to be a 10.
Vollmer made her first court appearance Friday afternoon in Multnomah County Court.
She entered a not guilty plea and was given a second court date for next month.


Jurors deliberate caretaker's fate in case of Fla. missing foster child Rilya Wilson



Published January 24, 2013
Associated Press
MIAMI – Jurors in Miami have begun deliberating the fate of Geralyn Graham, who is accused of killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson more than a decade ago.
Jurors went behind closed doors Thursday after receiving instructions from Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez. The trial has lasted two months and involved dozens of witnesses.
Prosecutors say the 67-year-old Graham smothered Rilya in late 2000 and disposed of her body, which has never been found. The defense has focused on the possibility that Rilya might be alive and might have been sold to someone else. Graham insists she is innocent.
Rilya's disappearance wasn't discovered for 15 months, leading to resignations at the Department of Children and Families and passage of reform laws.
If convicted, Graham faces up to life in prison.

Ex-Foster Child Testifies in Mass. Class Action




Beginning at age 8, Lauren James bounced among at least 14 different foster homes, along the way being forced to scrub floors, clean up after dogs, miss meals and take up to five psychiatric mediations at a time.
Now 24, she was the opening witness Tuesday in a case aimed at putting the Massachusetts foster care system on trial.
The federal class-action lawsuit was filed in 2010 by Children's Rights, a New York-based child advocacy group that alleges that thousands of children in state foster care are being abused and neglected. The group claims the state Department of Children and Families has violated the constitutional rights of children by placing them in unstable and sometimes dangerous situations.
James described a turbulent childhood marked by the death of her father just before her 6th birthday and her mother's suicide when she was 12. She said she was shuttled between foster homes and sent to live with her mother between ages 8 and 11. Then, after her mother died, she hopped from foster home to foster home.
In most of the homes, she wasn't given enough to eat, and her weight dropped from 100 pounds to 73 pounds, she said.
In one home, she was forced by the foster parents to do a lot of housecleaning, including scrubbing floors on her hands and knees and cleaning up after six Chihuahuas, she said.
In another home, her foster parents made fun of her biological mother, James said. At one point, while she was grieving her mother's death, her foster parents told her that her father had "killed himself because he didn't want you," she said.
James said she often felt depressed but didn't express her feelings to her case workers very often. She said she was always told there were not enough foster homes.
"Really, it doesn't matter because they can't do anything about it," she said.
James said she was given lithium beginning at age 6.
"I remember them saying that because my father had bipolar, I was predisposed to it," she said.
After that, she said, she was put on various psychiatric medications, up to five at once. She said the medications made her feel "absolutely dreadful" and caused her to develop sleep problems. At one point, after she was given a new drug to take, she gained 45 pounds in three or four weeks, she said.
Under cross-examination from Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Collins, James acknowledged she first began taking psychiatric medication before she was ever placed in foster care. She acknowledged that both her biological mother and father had spent time in psychiatric hospitals. She also said a boyfriend her mother had after her father's death was sometimes violent and abusive.
She said she herself spent time in a psychiatric hospital as a child and was diagnosed over the years with various mental illnesses, including oppositional defiant disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and reactive-attachment disorder.
She acknowledged that the state had provided services intended to stabilize her family and allow her to remain at home with her mother, but that the services did not work, she said.
Collins asked James whether she blamed DCF, at least in part, for her mother's suicide.
"I don't blame anyone for my mother's death except my mother," she said.
She also said her mother had spent 4½ years of her childhood in foster care.
"With that cycle, I have inherited things that I despise and that the Department of Children and Families has not truly helped to fix, to help mend," she said.
The lawsuit seeks reforms on behalf of approximately 7,500 children in foster care in Massachusetts. The non-jury trial is being heard by U.S. District Judge William Young.
A lawyer for DCF told Young that the department has increased the number of children being safely cared for at home, with about 2,000 fewer children in foster care than just a few years ago.

Prosecutor says in closing arguments Fla. woman killed foster child Rilya Wilson out of hatred




MIAMI — The caretaker of foster child Rilya Wilson grew to hate the 4-year-old because of defiant behavior, finally smothering the girl with a pillow in 2000 and covering up the slaying with a web of lies, a Florida prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.
Assistant State Attorney Joshua Weintraub said in closing arguments that the law permits the jury to find 67-year-old Geralyn Graham guilty of first-degree murder even though Rilya’s body was never found. Graham, who insists she is innocent, faces life in prison if convicted.
Evidence and testimony during the eight-week trial showed that Graham abused Rilya, even confining the girl in a dog cage or keeping her hidden in a laundry room for hours, Weintraub said. It was all because Rilya wouldn’t do exactly as Graham ordered, the prosecutor said.
“It happened because of this woman’s frustration and hatred of Rilya,” Weintraub said. “This woman hated Rilya Wilson for a variety of reasons.”
Defense attorney Michael Matters, however, said there was little testimony about hatred or maliciousness toward Rilya on the part of Graham. Jurors ought to focus on what evidence the state did not have, he said.
“Lack of physical evidence. Lack of a body. Lack of any physical discovery of remains. Lack of a motive for killing her,” Matters said. “You should use your common sense.”
Matters added that investigators should have focused on whether state child welfare workers might have sold Rilya to a family, possibly in another country, rather than zeroing in on a possible murder.
“There has not been any reliable or credible proof that Rilya is dead,” Matters said.
Jurors are likely to begin deliberations Wednesday, after the defense finishes its closing arguments and prosecutors have a chance at rebuttal argument.
Rilya’s disappearance went unnoticed by the state Department of Children and Families for about 15 months, largely because a caseworker failed to check on the girl in person. The shocking discovery that she had disappeared led to a shake-up at the agency, including high-level resignations, and passage of reforms including better tracking of foster children.
The state’s case rests heavily on the testimony of three jailhouse informants who claim that Graham implicated herself behind bars when she was in jail on a fraud charge.
The star witness, career criminal Robin Lunceford, said Graham told her she smothered Rilya with a pillow in December 2000 and disposed of the body near water.
Lunceford said Graham considered the child evil and referred to the girl as “it.” One of the last straws was Rilya’s insistence on wearing a Cleopatra mask on Halloween rather than an angel costume, Lunceford testified.
The defense has raised questions about Lunceford’s motivation, noting that she got a life prison sentence reduced to 10 years in exchange for her testimony.
Weintraub told jurors that Graham made up a series of stories for friends who noticed Rilya was no longer at her home, including a claim that an unidentified DCF worker had taken the girl for mental tests and never returned her. At other times, she told friends Rilya was on trips to Disney World, New York or New Jersey. She also told people Rilya had severe behavioral problems, including spreading feces around the house, trying to hurt her younger sister and touching men’s private parts.
Investigators had no evidence to back up Graham’s stories or the claims of Rilya’s bad behavior.
“Lies, deceit and cover-up,” the prosecutor said. “It’s all lies to distract them from the horrible truth of what happened.”
Sitting in the courtroom Tuesday was Pamela Kendrick, who was Rilya’s foster parent until DCF removed the girl in April 2000 at Graham’s insistence. Weintraub said witnesses from those days remember a happy little girl who loved dolls and was doing well in preschool.
Those who knew her during Graham’s time painted a far different picture.
“Rilya was ostracized. Rilya was isolated,” Weintraub said. “She wasn’t smiling. She wasn’t laughing. This was a sad little girl.”

Foster father accused in baby's death had drug arrest


 

Foster father accused in baby's death had drug arrest

 
The foster father accused of beating a 5-month-old baby girl to death in December while she was in his care was in Mendocino County Superior Court Friday to schedule a future appearance.

Wilson L. Tubbs III, 38, faces a charge of child abuse resulting in death, which carries the same weight as murder, according to the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office.

He had on Dec. 2 brought the baby girl, who had months earlier been taken from her mother, to the Mendocino Coast District Hospital not breathing and blue, and with bruises on her face and head.

Tubbs, the girl's foster father, initially claimed the infant was injured when she fell from a changing bench onto a hardwood floor in his house, and later admitted he slapped and violently shook the baby, the Fort Bragg Police Department reported previously.

Mendocino County Public Defender Linda Thompson, who is representing Tubbs, asked the court to set another court date next week to prepare for the preliminary hearing.

Thompson said that rather than having a typical preliminary hearing where the district attorney makes a case to show that the defendant should be bound over for trial for the crime, the hearing might take more than a day because she plans to make her own case in Tubbs' defense.

"I may be putting on medical evidence and (calling) other witnesses," Thompson said, and asked the court to give her adequate time to contact expert witnesses.

No autopsy report was yet available, according to Assistant District Attorney Paul Sequeira, who is prosecuting the case.

Records about the case released earlier this week by the Mendocino County Counsel's Office and Health and Human Services Agency contain a Live Scan criminal background report that, while the foster parents' names are redacted from the form, shows a clean result.

The Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force arrested Tubbs in July 2010 on suspicion of illegally possessing a controlled substance and possession for sale. He allegedly had 20 generic hydrocodone pills and eight Valium pills, according to Sequeira.

Tubbs entered a diversion agreement with the court, whereby his case would be dismissed with no criminal charges on his record as long as he completed a yearlong drug diversion program, according to Sequeira.

As part of the arrangement, Tubbs on Nov. 9, 2010, pleaded guilty to the felony charge of possessing the hydrocodone, Sequeira said, and the misdemeanor charge of Valium possession was dropped. Tubbs' sentence was deferred for a year on the condition that he completed the drug diversion program, according to Sequeira, who also noted that such a program didn't exist on the coast, so coastal residents took an online course to complete the requirements.

 A year later on Nov. 9, 2011, the court found that Tubbs had complied with the terms of the agreement and successfully completed the diversion program, and the case was dismissed.

Sequeira said that while the felony would not have gone on Tubbs' record because of that, the arrest and subsequent diversion agreement would still show up if someone were to "run his rap sheet."

Tubbs is due in court for a pre-preliminary hearing date on the child abuse charge at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Courtroom B of the Ukiah courthouse.

 

Trial Set To Begin In Mass. Foster Care Lawsuit


BOSTON — A trial is set to begin in a lawsuit alleging the abuse and neglect of thousands of Massachusetts children in foster care.

Opening statements are scheduled Tuesday in federal court in a class-action lawsuit filed in 2010 by the national advocacy group Children’s Rights.

 The lawsuit alleges that the state Department of Children and Families violated children’s constitutional rights by placing them in dangerous and unstable situations. The suit seeks broad reforms on behalf of approximately 7,500 children in state care.

After the suit was filed, the department said it shares the goal of protecting children. The agency said it has increased the number of children being safely cared for at home, and has met and exceeded the national standard for timeliness to adoption and reunification.  The trial is expected to last several weeks.

 

 

 

Foster care controversy: Kids taken from home, judge outraged




The brother and sister taken from the foster parents, who were trying to adopt the kids. We blurred the pictures to protect the identities of the children.


PORTLAND, Ore. - The Oregon Department of Human services has removed two children from the Portland home of their foster parents, despite the fact child therapists and a judge have said it's the "worst thing" that could happen to the young brother and sister.

Brenda Lincoln and Willie Norman opened their home to the siblings, an 11 year old boy and his 10 year old sister, more than two years ago. And it's been a better life there for them: nothing but positive reviews from case workers and the children's biological mother and grandmother, who both support the couple.

But that all changed when Brenda and Willie applied to formally adopt the kids. The process was well under way when suddenly, in October, state child welfare workers for DHS removed the children from the home.

"We get really emotional when we talk about this because it wasn't really fair," Willie said. "It caught us off guard and caught the kids off guard."

DHS not only took the kids out of the place they've called home for two years – they're now planning to send the siblings to go live with strangers miles away from any friends. A foster home has been found for them in Eugene.

Brenda and Willie, the children's biological family and the court-appointed legal advocate for the 10-year-old girl, have been scrambling to stop the transfer. Even a judge hearing their appeal is asking why, after giving them permission to raise the kids for two years, DHS suddenly has a problem with Brenda and Willie’s care now.

Addressing the DHS representatives, Multnomah County Court Judge Susan Svetky said, "I don't think it's a secret how upset I am at this case. You have evaluations for their survival. They're telling you to move them is catastrophic to these kids."

The biological mother of the children and the kids' grandmother also support leaving them with Willie and Brenda.

"In their position, the words 'mom' and 'dad' are really sacred and I could see them calling (Brenda and Willie) 'mom' and 'dad,' that they were reaching out, they were trusting," said Joy Gambrel, the biological grandmother.

The judge's harsh words were aimed largely at DHS caseworker Karey Menagh.

"She came to the house and sat there right on the couch and said 'we're going to find you better parents,'" Brenda said. "I'm going 'wow.'"

DHS documents lay out the reasons the couple was disqualified from adopting the children, although they're puzzling since they contradict some of the agency's own findings.

Documents from 2010 show the agency knew Willie had a restraining order against him from a former spouse; however, the agency determined "there do not appear to be any current concerns that could pose a threat to a child in foster care."

Court records show that Willie got the restraining order dismissed and his record wiped clean.

Then, after two years of positive reviews, DHS suddenly changed its tune.

"Willie has a pattern of emotionally controlling behavior. Brenda has not used good judgment in assessing his ability to control his behavior," a DHS report said. “Willie has a criminal history of domestic violence that has reoccurred since living in her home."

Brenda responds by asking why it took two and a half years for DHS to change their opinion and report these concerns. Judge Svetky asked DHS why Willie’s background is an issue now, when it was not a problem when it was talked about in court six months ago.

"It's essentially old news," Svetky said. DHS did not explain itself.

The case has become so dysfunctional, DHS will not allow the court-appointed lawyer for the girl in this case to speak directly to case worker Menagh. DHS lawyer Dana Forman must be the go-between.

Judge Svetky said she's never heard of such a situation in her many years in juvenile law.

Forman said she couldn't discuss the case with KATU. In court this week, Forman admitted the agency made "mistakes" but did not elaborate what those mistakes were.

Agency spokesman Gene Evans wrote that "DHS cannot provide details or other information on child welfare cases."

Judge Svetky has not been shy in expressing her feelings.

"I can't remember a time where I have been so upset professionally and personally on how a case has been handled," she said.

She is frustrated the state Legislature did not give judges the power to order DHS to make things right. The biological mother still has a chance to get her kids back, but she faces a long road to do that.

"The timing of all this is concerning and suspicious,' Svetky said. "This whole thing is a disservice to these children."

The children are white; Brenda and Willie are black. The children's biological grandmother thinks race is a factor in the decision by DHS.

Willie would like to think that his skin color has nothing to do with this, but, he said, "if you look at all the documents that are out there, and the circumstances of how they removed the kids from our home, it could have. I can't say. I can't put my finger on it."

Judge Tells Child Welfare Officials to Stop Hiding Info about Deaths



A San Diego Superior Court judge smacked down the state’s main child welfare agency for writing regulations that short-circuited a 5-year-old law meant to increase public access to information about kids who died while under its supervision.
Judge Judith F. Hayes’ December 28 court order said the Department of Social Services had subverted Senate Bill 39, passed in 2007, which clearly intended to “maximize public access to juvenile case files in cases where a child fatality occurs as a result of child abuse or neglect.” The bill’s accompanying analysis noted that its author and proponents believed the changes “will spur reform and save the lives of children.”
But the judge said regulations introduced under the direction of former department Director John Wagner subverted that instruction by limiting access to information to cases that involved children deaths at the hands of parents, guardians or foster parents. That would exclude cases where other relatives, friends, babysitters, caregivers or social services employees were implicated.
The regulation also precluded investigations of child suicides and limited the release of case file information if the district attorney objected.
 “The restrictions lead to under reporting or inconsistencies in the reporting of the child abuse cases involving fatalities,” the judge wrote.
Current Director Will Lightbourne, hired two years ago, supported the regulation and hasn’t indicated whether his department will appeal the ruling.
Despite the regulation’s limiting effect, the law has facilitated investigations by the media of suspect child deaths and institutional shortcomings.
There has been significant resistance to the law. The National Center for Youth Law complained in 2011 that the Department of Social Services had misinterpreted the law, which requires redaction in certain instances, and issued an errant regulation that empowered police to require redaction of names in investigations. The center said the department admitted it had erred but wasn’t making an effort to correct it.

Fort Bragg: Foster father due in court today in baby's death; details released






While authorities still aren't saying much about the violent death of a 5-month-old baby girl in Fort Bragg, details have come to light about the events that led up to the December tragedy.
Wilson L. Tubbs III, 38, the baby's foster father, was arrested last month and booked under $500,000 bail at the Mendocino County Jail on suspicion of child abuse resulting in death, a charge the District Attorney's Office says carries the same weight as murder.
Fort Bragg police responded to the Mendocino Coast District Hospital Dec. 2, where the 5-month-old girl had arrived "not breathing and blue," and with bruises on her face and skull, according to a "suspected child abuse report" filed Dec. 3 with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. The baby had "acute or chronic brain injury, including subdural hematoma and hemorrhages," according to the report.
Subdural hematoma is the accumulation of blood on the brain's surface, and is most often caused by serious head injury, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
The baby was flown to Oakland Children's Hospital by REACH helicopter, and an examination revealed she had two skull fractures, the Fort Bragg Police Department reported previously. The child abuse specialist who examined her told police that the injuries could not possibly have been caused by the fall Tubbs initially said the infant took in his home.
Tubbs allegedly admitted to authorities that he slapped and violently shook the baby, after he initially claimed she fell from a changing bench onto a hardwood floor when the family dog walked by and bumped it, according to the FBPD.
Tubbs is due in Mendocino County Superior Court today at 1:30 p.m. to confirm the date of his preliminary hearing.
The Daily Journal requested information about the case under the Public Records Act, and the Mendocino County Counsel's Office and the Health and Human Services Agency on Tuesday released documents pursuant to that request.
The names, birth dates, addresses and other information for all involved parties are blacked out on the 182 pages of documents the county released. The documents include reports and evaluation sheets from social workers, police reports and Child Protective Service reports for the baby's birth mother going back to 1999.
The mother, whose name is redacted in the released county records, has had three children taken from her care since then. According to county CPS records, she had been referred seven times to CPS and had three cases between July 2005 and June 18, 2012, the day she gave birth to the baby girl, for general neglect and one incident of physical abuse.
The Mendocino County HHSA's Chuck Dunbar wrote a letter to the Mendocino Coast District Hospital's obstetrics unit on May 22, 2012, asking the unit to make a CPS referral when the mother went into labor, stating the mother "is a (Redwood Coast) Regional Center client with significant intellectual deficits" and "some drug history."
A report was made to CPS the day she gave birth stating that the mother had used methamphetamine in the past and had tested positive for marijuana three weeks before the day she gave birth, but didn't have any drugs in her system when she was admitted.
The baby's father was in jail at the time, and the mother was living with friends, according to the report, which also notes that the mother was "very cooperative."
Social Worker John Melnicoe notes in a June 21 safety assessment report on the mother that she had used methamphetamine and had mental health issues more than a year ago, and that she had "a lot of CPS history as to older children," citing "anger issues in past, etc." Melnicoe also notes the mother is "willing to work with CPS, looks a lot better - but still warrants a case."
In a "notice of referral disposition" on the same date, Melnicoe writes, "I am opening up a voluntary case, all looks quite good actually, even after consulting with this mother's Reg. Center SW and MH person - many people are involved with her now, she is clearly motivated, and appears to have grown emotionally. I will follow this one for awhile - at least several months."
On June 28, the county's records show, the mother's roommate called CPS and law enforcement to report she was "very worried about this child's safety" as the mother hadn't been sleeping and had become "increasingly upset and frustrated."
The roommate reported the baby's father had called collect from the jail that day, and that the roommate had asked the mother not to accept collect calls to keep the phone bill down.
The mother became upset, the roommate reported, saying the mother held the baby with one arm and that the baby's head was "basically being flung around due to a lack of proper support" while the mother gathered her belongings with her other hand.
Police found the mother at another location the same day and confronted her, but the mother reportedly claimed she had cradled the baby and supported its head.
Officer Stephen Gray of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office describes in his report about the June 28 incident how the roommate reported the mother had, "as with any newborn and corresponding sleep deprivation ... slept little," and wouldn't let anyone else in the house hold the baby.
The mother complained about her small living area in the home, the roommate told Gray, comparing her attitude to that of a drug addict. The mother told social workers later that day that the roommate had taken the phone from her, and that she resented the roommate telling her what to do, among other things.
Authorities ultimately decided it was "at least plausible in all the excitement" that the infant's head wasn't supported, and that, combined with her history, guided the county's decision to take the baby from her custody.
In his July 2, 2012 risk assessment report on the mother, Melnicoe writes in his comments: "Sad situation. This mother is low functioning, is a Regional Center client since 1998, main issues however revolve around anger management/MH issues, not on meds for years though. Mom had angry outburst - child in arms - detained child due to prior lost/adopted out sibs/anger issues remain."
The baby's Dec. 2, 2012 admittance to the coast hospital is the next CPS report in the county's records.
"Child is in very critical condition and now has been transferred to Oakland Children's Hospital for surgery," according to the report. "Foster father reports that child fell off bench in the kitchen area of foster home on the evening of 12-1-12."
Also included in the released documents is a report stating that the baby died at the Oakland Children's Hospital Dec. 4 after she was "injured very seriously by relative caregiver." Her cause of death is "confirmed abuse," according to the county demographics page.
Marie and Wilson L. Tubbs III (also known as Josh Tubbs), relatives of the mother, were approved as the baby's foster parents in late October. The most recent CPS report notes that the foster mother was away on a trip at the time of the alleged abuse, according to county records.
They were screened using checklists for standards of approval and health and safety standards for foster homes, and passed Live Scan testing for criminal history.

Brevard couple files lawsuit against child welfare agencies


A Brevard County couple has filed a lawsuit against five state and local child welfare agencies, alleging officials did not investigate reports that two children, who they later adopted, were being abused while in foster care.
The suit was filed by “Doug Doe and Tammy Doe,” names used to protect the identity of the children, and seeks unspecified damages from the foster mother, Florida Department of Children and Families, Brevard Family Partnership, Florida Mentor, the Devereux Foundation and Intervention Services.
“They ended up adopting two children that had been in foster care for a while and it came to light while (the children) were in foster care that they were being abused by the foster mother,” said W. Clay Mitchell, an Orlando attorney representing the parents. “They made a complaint to DCF about it and they were basically told they needed to drop the complaints” or they would not get to adopt the children, he said.
Mitchell said the children were so emotionally and physically harmed by the abuse that the parents have to give up the 6-year-old girl. The boy is 4.
“They’re both still having significant problems,” Mitchell said. “The little girl is institutionalized and the little boy is at home.”
No criminal charges have been filed against the foster mother in the case. Representatives of Devereux, DCF and Brevard Family Partnership said they could not comment on the pending case. Those agencies will have to reply to the legal complaint, which was filed in mid December, before the case moves forward. The foster mother had no comment and deferred to her attorney, who could not be reached.
Jon Fisher, executive director of Florida Mentor, did release a statement by email.
“Children trust that adults will nurture and care for them, and, as an organization dedicated to doing just that, Florida MENTOR takes their trust very seriously,” Fisher wrote.
“We are very saddened to see the allegations in the lawsuit recently filed. We were not aware of any abuse in our foster home and still aren’t aware that any abuse occurred there. This lawsuit is in its very early stages, and we are unable to comment further at this time.”

The lawsuit says the children told the parents, during visits before the formal adoption, that they were being abused by their foster mother. The parents reported the allegations of “emotional, mental, verbal and physical abuse” but, the lawsuit says, they were told “they would lose their adoption rights if they pressed the issue about the abuse.”
The complaint says the parents incurred medical expenses, loss of “companionship of the children, emotional pain and suffering, interference in their enjoyment in life” as a result of the alleged abuse. The lawsuit says the foster home was approved by DCF.
DCF “owed a duty of reasonable care to its foster children, including (the boy), to take reasonable steps to ensure that foster parents provide safety for the foster children, including (the boy), and specifically to prevent abuse, and to terminate such altercations as quickly as possible once they had notice or reason to believe such abuse may have occurred,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit claims the child welfare agencies did not do those things.
State prosecutors have not been contacted in connection with the incident. FLORIDA TODAY is not identifying the foster mother because no charges have been filed with the state attorney’s office.
The adopting family’s attorney said the ordeal has been devastating.
“They’re both very emotionally distraught; they’re upset,” he said



Brevard couple files lawsuit against child welfare agencies


A Brevard County couple has filed a lawsuit against five state and local child welfare agencies, alleging officials did not investigate reports that two children, who they later adopted, were being abused while in foster care.

The suit was filed by “Doug Doe and Tammy Doe,” names used to protect the identity of the children, and seeks unspecified damages from the foster mother, Florida Department of Children and Families, Brevard Family Partnership, Florida Mentor, the Devereux Foundation and Intervention Services.

“They ended up adopting two children that had been in foster care for a while and it came to light while (the children) were in foster care that they were being abused by the foster mother,” said W. Clay Mitchell, an Orlando attorney representing the parents. “They made a complaint to DCF about it and they were basically told they needed to drop the complaints” or they would not get to adopt the children, he said.

Mitchell said the children were so emotionally and physically harmed by the abuse that the parents have to give up the 6-year-old girl. The boy is 4.

“They’re both still having significant problems,” Mitchell said. “The little girl is institutionalized and the little boy is at home.”

No criminal charges have been filed against the foster mother in the case. Representatives of Devereux, DCF and Brevard Family Partnership said they could not comment on the pending case. Those agencies will have to reply to the legal complaint, which was filed in mid December, before the case moves forward. The foster mother had no comment and deferred to her attorney, who could not be reached.

Jon Fisher, executive director of Florida Mentor, did release a statement by email.

“Children trust that adults will nurture and care for them, and, as an organization dedicated to doing just that, Florida MENTOR takes their trust very seriously,” Fisher wrote.

“We are very saddened to see the allegations in the lawsuit recently filed. We were not aware of any abuse in our foster home and still aren’t aware that any abuse occurred there. This lawsuit is in its very early stages, and we are unable to comment further at this time.”
The lawsuit says the children told the parents, during visits before the formal adoption, that they were being abused by their foster mother. The parents reported the allegations of “emotional, mental, verbal and physical abuse” but, the lawsuit says, they were told “they would lose their adoption rights if they pressed the issue about the abuse.”

The complaint says the parents incurred medical expenses, loss of “companionship of the children, emotional pain and suffering, interference in their enjoyment in life” as a result of the alleged abuse. The lawsuit says the foster home was approved by DCF.

DCF “owed a duty of reasonable care to its foster children, including (the boy), to take reasonable steps to ensure that foster parents provide safety for the foster children, including (the boy), and specifically to prevent abuse, and to terminate such altercations as quickly as possible once they had notice or reason to believe such abuse may have occurred,” the lawsuit reads.

The suit claims the child welfare agencies did not do those things.

State prosecutors have not been contacted in connection with the incident. FLORIDA TODAY is not identifying the foster mother because no charges have been filed with the state attorney’s office.

The adopting family’s attorney said the ordeal has been devastating.

“They’re both very emotionally distraught; they’re upset,” he said

Judge denies acquittal in Fla. foster child trial



MIAMI - A judge refused Wednesday to order the acquittal of a woman accused of killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson despite arguments from defense attorneys that there's no conclusive proof the girl is even dead.
Scott Sakin, one of the attorneys representing 66-year-old Geralyn Graham, contended that a not guilty verdict was legally required because Rilya's remains have never been found, there are no eyewitnesses to a slaying and virtually no forensic evidence exists. Rilya disappeared from Graham's home in 2000.
"There is no direct evidence the child is dead," Sakin said.
The prosecution's main evidence is testimony from three jailhouse snitches that Graham confessed to them behind bars. All three could win sentence reductions or parole because of their cooperation.
Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez, however, said the inmates' statements and other testimony was enough for the case to go forward.
"The evidence is sufficient to go to the jury," the judge said.
With that, the defense began putting on its case. The prosecution rested Tuesday following five weeks of testimony and the jury could begin deliberations sometime next week.
Graham faces life in prison if convicted of killing Rilya, whose disappearance was not discovered by state officials for some 15 months. That failure led to a high-level shakeup at the state Department of Children and Families and passage of several foster child reform laws, including tighter case worker reporting rules and better tracking of children.
One of the three jailhouse informants, Robin Lunceford, testified that Graham told her she believed Rilya was evil, smothered her with a pillow and disposed of her body in or near water. Another inmate, Ramona Tavia, testified that Graham told her she killed Rilya to protect her live-in lover, Pamela Graham.
The defense questioned Wednesday with how Tavia got into position to hear the purported confession. Graham attorney Michael Matters questioned a jail official about records showing that Tavia and Graham were housed continuously in separate cells during November 2003 when the confession allegedly took place.
Tavia testified that she spent one night in Graham's cell because of an overcrowding problem and that's when Graham tearfully talked about killing Rilya. Although the records did not show a cell change, jail official Rene Villa said under cross-examination that Tavia could still be telling the truth.
"If it was a temporary matter, no cell change would have taken place in the system," Villa said.
Defense attorneys declined comment on whether Geralyn Graham will testify. She has maintained in the past that Rilya was taken from her home by an unknown child welfare worker for mental tests and never returned. Investigators, however, have found no evidence to support that claim.




State rests in missing Fla. foster child case


 

MIAMI -- The prosecution has rested in the murder trial of a South Florida woman accused of killing 4-year-old foster child Rilya Wilson, whose body has never been found.

The final witness Tuesday against 66-year-old Geralyn Graham was a jail inmate who testified that while Graham was jailed in 2003, she admitted killing a child. Two other inmates also said Graham confessed to the crime while in jail.

Graham's defense will begin Wednesday with investigators who never recovered Rilya's remains or found any forensic evidence. It's unclear if Graham herself will take the stand.

Graham has insisted that Rilya was taken for mental tests by a state child welfare worker and never returned. Detectives have found no evidence to back up that story.

Graham faces life in prison if convicted.

Suit cites abuse in foster home



There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self. -- Aldous Huxley


A case against the state is filed on behalf of a boy, 12, who reportedly was sexually abused
An attorney for a 12-year-old Eugene boy is seeking more than $500,000 from the state in a lawsuit that alleges the boy was sexually abused while in foster care.
The boy’s name is not disclosed in the suit, which was filed in Lane County Circuit Court. It claims the boy was abused by an 18-year-old man who at the time was under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court and lived in the same foster home.
The suit seeks $450,000 in noneconomic damages and $120,000 in economic damages. It was filed by Portland attorney David Paul, who also pursued settlements from the state in two other prominent Lane County cases involving children in state care who were subjected to severe abuse.
In the most recent case, the victim is identified only by the initials M.C. The suit says that in August 2011, when the boy was 11 years old, he reported that he had been physically and sexually abused while in state-¬approved foster care.
The suit does not name the foster parents or any supervisor of the foster home. A spokesman for the Department of Human Services said the agency does not comment on active lawsuits.
Paul claims the state was negligent for failing to adequately screen the foster placement, failing to do an adequate home study and background checks, failing to adequately screen and investigate other adult and juvenile residents of the foster home, failing to detect the abuse and failing to protect the boy and remove him from the placement before abuse occurred.
As a result, the boy suffered emotional and physical injuries, upset and trauma, and is unable to form close relationships, the suit alleges. It seeks $20,000 for his medical and counseling expenses to date and $100,000 for future expenses, saying the boy will need treatment for the rest of his life, “especially at times of significant life events and milestones.”
In an interview, Paul said the boy suffers from “substantial, ongoing problems” and no longer is in foster care.
In seeking noneconomic damages, the suit says the boy has been left “sick, angry, nervous, upset, traumatized and unable to form close relationships and (has) suffered a loss of his concentration.”
Paul also has been involved in civil lawsuits in the cases of murdered teenager Jeanette Maples and a foster child placed with Alona and Rodger Hartwig. In the Maples case, he won a $1.5 million settlement for Anthony Maples, Jeanette Maples’ biological father.
Jeanette Maples, 15, died in 2009 as a result of severe abuse by her mother, Angela McAnulty of Eugene. The resulting lawsuit alleged that the state failed to investigate and follow up on reliable reports of Maples’ abuse.
Angela McAnulty later pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to death.Her husband, and Maples’ stepfather, Richard McAnulty, pleaded guilty to murder by abuse and is serving a life sentence.
In the Hartwig case, Paul last year filed a suit seeking $4.75 million on behalf of an 11-year-old boy who suffered severe abuse by the Hartwigs, his adoptive parents. The boy suffered multiple burns and broken bones along with other forms of brutal abuse over several years starting in 2005.
Alona Hartwig pleaded guilty in 2010 to first-degree abuse and first-degree criminal mistreatment. She is serving a 10-year sentence.
Rodger Hartwig pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and is serving a five-year sentence.
Paul said the current case does not involve either the Hartwig or McAnulty cases.