Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Oregon - Girl’s death spurs lawsuit

The state Department of Human Services faces a $1.5 million case over the abuse suffered by Jeanette Maples

By Karen McCowan

The Register-Guard

Oregon’s child protective services agency faces a $1.5 million lawsuit for failing to prevent the 2009 starvation, torture and beating death of north Eugene teenager Jeanette Maples.

Portland attorney David Paul mailed the wrongful death complaint Monday to Lane County Circuit Court. The court clerk had not received or filed the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon, but Paul’s legal assistant provided a copy to The Register-Guard. Paul has successfully represented children injured in state foster care, including a record-breaking $2 million settlement for twins injured by poor foster care.

The suit on behalf of Jeanette’s estate targets the state Department of Human Services, which is responsible for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect. The complaint accuses the agency of failing to reasonably respond to multiple reports over four years that Jeanette was being abused. It called the state’s inaction “a substantial factor” in her death at age 15.

Jeanette’s mother, Angela McAnulty, is on Oregon’s death row after pleading guilty in February to the aggravated murder of her daughter. The dead teen’s stepfather, Richard McAnulty, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to murder by abuse. He denied inflicting harm, but admitted failing to protect Jeanette from her mother or to report her injuries and starvation to authorities.

“Jeanette Maples’ death could have been prevented if the State of Oregon exercised reasonable care in responding to reports that Jeanette Maples was being abused,” the suit charges. It alleges that state workers failed to “investigate and heed” allegations of abuse from reliable sources beginning in 2006, four years before Jeanette died. It also accuses the agency of failing to consider Angela McAnulty’s documented history of child abuse in California before moving to Oregon.

The suit also faults the agency for failing to adequately assess Jeanette’s “vulnerability to abuse.” It says workers wrongfully concluded that Jeanette “could fend for herself as a young teenager” despite “a history of abuse and neglect by the adult parents in her home.”

Those charges echoed the January 2010 findings of an internal Department of Human Services critical incident team.

The suit says state “negligence” was a substantial factor in Jeanette’s “suffering, humiliation, pain, fear, anguish, and torture” and ultimately in her violent death. As a result, she suffered “severe hunger, starvation, anemia, dehydration, alienation of affection, distress and a lack of the enjoyment of her short life, to her non-economic damage in the amount of $500,000.”

Siblings not considered heirs

The Oregon Attorney General’s Office, which will defend the Department of Human Services in the case, declined comment on the suit Tuesday.

“It is the policy of the Department of Justice not to comment on pending litigation,” spokesman Tony Green said.

The bulk of the lawsuit’s damages would go to Jeanette’s father, Anthony Maples, of California. The suit seeks $1 million in noneconomic damages for his loss of Jeanette’s “society, love and companionship.” As her “lone qualified heir” under Oregon law, Anthony Maples would also receive $500,000 the suit seeks as the value of the estate his daughter would probably have accumulated in her lifetime if not for her wrongful death.

The suit seeks an additional $7,000 to cover the teen’s burial and related expenses.

Anthony Maples could not be reached for comment Tuesday. He told The Register-Guard shortly after Jeanette’s death that he had not been in touch with his daughter for nearly a decade. According to his unsuccessful February 2010 court petition to be appointed personal representative of her estate, he had nine drug possession convictions — at least five involving methamphetamine — between 1990 and 2008. The petition shows that he was in and out of jail until late 2008, when he entered and completed a one-year residential treatment program. According to a June 2010 declaration in support of that petition, Maples had been clean and sober for 16 months.

Lane County Circuit Judge Lauren Holland in August 2010 denied Maples’ request, instead appointing Portland attorney Erin Olson as the estate’s personal representative.

Step-grandmother speaks out

The prospect of Anthony Maples collecting damages from the suit distressed Jeanette’s step-grandmother, Lynn McAnulty. She testified during Angela McAnulty’s trial that she made multiple — and apparently futile — abuse reports to the Department of Human Services in the last months of the teen’s life.

“Why should he profit off Jeanette’s death?” the Leaburg woman said. “He doesn’t deserve it because he wasn’t involved in her life. He didn’t know her. He didn’t even come to her memorial service.”

Lynn McAnulty said lawsuit proceeds would more rightfully go to Jeanette’s surviving half-siblings — a 14-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy — both in foster homes and in state protective custody. Absent a will, however, only a deceased person’s parents, spouse or children are legal heirs under Oregon law.

In a interview this month, McAnulty elaborated on her trial testimony that she repeatedly and unsuccessfully phoned child protective service workers in 2009, urging them to investigate Jeanette’s emaciation and injuries. She acknowledged posing as a concerned neighbor, saying she feared losing the limited access she had to her grandchildren if Angela McAnulty learned she’d reported abuse. (According to child protection caseworkers, the agency protects the confidentiality of people who report abuse.)

Lynn McAnulty said she told one phone screener, “This child looks like an Ethiopian (famine victim),” only to have the screener respond with “something like, ‘You’re telling us she needs medical help — that’s not us,’ and, ‘Are you sure she’s not anorexic?’ ”

McAnulty said she placed her last call to the agency the week before Jeanette died, after her son called to tell her he’d caught the girl drinking from the toilet.

“I said, ‘Someone needs to go there. Something’s wrong with this child. It’s urgent,’” McAnulty said. “I told her, ‘I’ve called several times,’ and she said, ‘We don’t just drop everything — we have to go through channels.’ ”

McAnulty also reiterated her trial testimony that she asked one screener if she should call the police, but was advised that child protection workers could more effectively investigate.

The agency’s internal investigation, now posted on its website (www.oregon.gov/DHS/abuse/publications/children/cirt-jm-initial-report.pdf) without the redactions that originally blacked out information that might have compromised Angela McAnulty’s trial, reports only two calls in 2009, both from “the same individual” on Dec. 1. It says the person reported that Angela McAnulty’s children were being “abused and neglected, especially the older one.”

Report details decisions

The newly public material says the caller reported that the older child — Jeanette — was not attending school, had “current marks and bruises” and “appeared malnourished.” It also said the caller reported that the child was “not allowed to speak with her.”

“The (caller) initially would not provide the last name of the children or an address,” the state’s internal report said. “In a subsequent call that same day, the reporter called back and provided the last name and address for the family. Concluding that the call did not constitute a report of abuse or neglect, the matter was closed at screening.”

The critical incident team found that conclusion to be in error, the internal report said.

“This report in fact constituted abuse or neglect and should have been assigned for child protective service assessment,” it said.

The team’s report also acknowledged that additional calls “may have been made but not documented” if they “did not rise to the level of abuse or neglect.”

The newly public material from the internal report shows that the agency responded to two 2006 reports that Jeanette was “being punished by being forced to kneel on the tile floor with her nose to the wall and hands behind her back for extended periods of time, that she was being forced to eat chili peppers, and that her hair was being pulled making her head sore.” But the agency “could not determine whether there was a safety threat” to the girl because of inconsistent information about food deprivation and punishment from Angela and Richard McAnulty, Jeanette’s sister, and Jeanette herself.

The new material also details the agency’s response to a 2007 report from “a credible source” that Jeanette had a bruise on her chin. It says the critical incident team found that the agency erred in closing that case without further assessment, based on Jeanette’s “denial that abuse had occurred.”

The agency has adopted new protocols in response to the internal report — including a policy of more thoroughly investigating cases involving children such as Jeanette, who are not in school or other settings where other adults can see their condition.

Source http://www.registerguard.com/web/updates/26794414-55/jeanette-maples-death-oregon-paul.html.csp

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