The state Department of Human Services (Courtesy/State of Oregon)
A 15-year-old foster child who awoke to find two state workers having sex near him sued state officials in federal court Tuesday, claiming he had been repeatedly neglected while under state care.
The victim, identified in court papers only as YG, claims in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that when he told officials what he saw, he was summarily sent to the Yamhill County Juvenile Detention Facility and then to a facility in Utah that subsequently closed after a high-profile child abuse investigation.
The complaint, filed on the victim’s behalf by Salem attorney David Kramer, claims that state Department of Human Services systematically harmed the boy by denying him access to translators for the three years he’s been in state custody. The complaint said he spent the first 12 years of his life in a Bulgarian orphanage, speaks little English and was intentionally deprived help communicating with counselors, teachers and medical professionals.
The suit also names as defendants two state caseworkers, their manager, the director of the state Human Services Department.
“Defendants expected and accepted that YG would fall through the cracks of its system until he would eventually ‘time out’ of the foster system at age 18,” the complaint said.
The suit seeks $7 million over child abuse, neglect, emotional distress, false imprisonment and violating the child’s constitutional rights.
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The complaint also demands the state agency give the child a Bulgarian interpreter and stop placing him in motels with state workers without added safeguards.
An agency spokesman could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts by reporters.
Kramer told Salem Reporter he hoped the lawsuit would shed light on the culture at the agency's child welfare divisions.
“DHS’ indifference to this boy’s care and safety is so persistent and so aggravated that a problem child from a Bulgarian orphanage has likely become a hopeless child,” Kramer wrote in an email. “From warehousing kids to using them as props for sexual entertainment, this and other cases show that there is a big disconnect between mea culpas and promises made in DHS’ public relations campaign compared to the culture that exists in some DHS circles.”
In April, Gov. Kate Brown announced an executive order to give her and her staff more control over the agency’s child welfare division.
Salem Reporter first reported that the state Department of Justice opened criminal investigations into two Polk County workers who’d been on paid administrative leave since November, but ultimately chose not to prosecute.
Details emerged days later, however, in a tort claim Kramer filed with the state. The child was taken to a Best Western Motel in Dallas by a state worker, who then invited over another worker and the two started having sex in a bed next to the child, according to the tort claim.
Their supervisor also was later put on paid leave but for issues not connected with the Dallas motel episode, state officials said. The supervisor returned to duty after nine months and transferred to the agency’s headquarters in Salem.
Meanwhile, the agency shuttled the child from facility to facility, from Oregon to Utah, the complaint said.
The complaint said the child was moved to the Yamhill County Juvenile Detention Facility the day after the incident at the Best Western at the direction of one of the workers who had been having sex.
He was then transferred to the Red Rock Academy Residential Treatment Center near St. George, Utah. According to reports from Oregon Public Broadcasting, the child was one of 23 foster children there from Oregon.
During his time there, the complaint said, YG faced bullying and assault at the hands of other kids and witnessed a riot break out in late April. The riot led Oregon lawmakers to call for children to be pulled from the facility. The facility closed last summer.
The agency then moved the child to a residential facility in Roseburg. The child has moved since, Kramer said, but the attorney couldn’t say where the child currently is. He remains in state custody, Kramer said.
According to the complaint, a Polk County family is willing to foster the child but would need state help.
Kramer told Salem Reporter the complaint hopes to prompt the state to give the kid a chance at being a functioning adult.
“We want this boy to at least have a shot at helping himself and having a minimally successful life,” Kramer said in the email. “We don’t want him or taxpayers to bear the burden and expense of having yet another kid stuck for life in Oregon’s juvenile and adult systems. We want DHS to be accountable for its mistakes and to compensate those kids who it knows it hurt.”
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.
State investigated workers at Polk County child welfare for abuse (March 25, 2019)