Crime

Jury awards $8 million to foster girls placed with Custer molester

Bellingham

A Whatcom County jury awarded $8 million this week to two foster girls who were sexually abused after Washington state social workers placed them in a home with a boy who had been accused of recent sex abuse.

The state Department of Social and Health Services had records showing the boy, then 12, had been suspected of sexually abusing a 5-year-old family member in 2001. Another family member, also 12, claimed he had walked in on them and saw it happening.

That report was forwarded to Whatcom County sheriff’s deputies, but both the boy and the alleged victim denied the sexual contact, according to attorneys for DSHS.

Two innocent girls were led into a dungeon of depravity and violence.

Raymond J. Dearie, lawyer for the girls

No probable cause was found, and the boy wasn’t charged.

A lawsuit alleged the agency did not review or consider those records before two girls, ages 3 and 6, moved into the foster home in June 2003.

Over the years that followed, they were repeatedly sexually abused by the boy and his younger brother, according to the girls’ attorney and criminal charging papers. One girl came forward to police in 2013.

“Two innocent girls were led into a dungeon of depravity and violence,” their attorney, Raymond J. Dearie, wrote in a court filing.

One of the boys, Colten Lee Lange, now 24, of Custer, pleaded guilty to three counts of child molestation in September 2014. He was sentenced to five years and six months in prison.

His older brother, Dillon Lee Lange, 26, had been living in Texas around the time he was charged with two counts of first-degree child rape and four counts of first-degree child molestation. He was arrested last autumn. Since then he has been awaiting trial in Whatcom County Jail in lieu of $30,000 bail.

An expert witnesses for the state, Joan Rycraft, testified that “even if it had been known to the licensors, state law does not allow for inconclusive reports to be used as a basis to deny a foster care license,” according to a motion filed by DSHS in November 2015.

Days later in a partial summary judgment, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Ira Uhrig ruled that the state agency was liable for not considering the boy’s sex abuse file. It was left up to jurors to decide exactly how much the girls would receive in damages.

The trial lasted weeks in Whatcom County Superior Court.

We hope this helps the girls receive the therapy, education and other services they might need in the future.

Statement from Department of Social and Health Services

In a deposition a state social worker, Helen Anderson, said she did not review the record about the allegations of sexual abuse.

“I should have seen it,” she said, “but I don’t— I obviously did not.”

She said the file may have been missed because DSHS reviewed background about the foster parents, but it’s possible they had not looked at reports about their son.

Dearie also noted the agency had found other red flags about the older brother: brain damage at birth, serious mental health disorders, and “unsuccessful” counseling after being the victim of sex abuse himself.

Jurors awarded $4 million to each girl Wednesday, Feb. 10.

The state DSHS released a brief statement Thursday.

“We thank the jury for their work in this trial, which resulted in an $8M verdict for the plaintiffs,” the statement read. “We hope this helps the girls receive the therapy, education and other services they might need in the future. DSHS’ Children’s Administration continually improves policies and practices to keep children safe.”

One of the girls testified that she was motivated to file the lawsuit because “it wouldn’t be fair for any other kids to go through what we went through,” according to a statement released by the Dearie Law Group.

“All the state needed to do was to read its own internal records,” Dearie wrote in one of his motions. “Somehow, no one did.”

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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