DSHS settles in abuse case
Former foster children to get $6 million
The state of Washington will pay more than $6 million to former foster children of Carole DeLeon, including the estate of the 7-year-old boy who died of starvation in her care, according to a settlement filed Wednesday in Spokane County Superior Court.
Two adults and five children will be paid between about $400,000 and $1.6 million, and Tyler DeLeon’s estate will get $180,000, according to the settlement reached by Seattle lawyers representing the plaintiffs and the Department of Social and Health Services.
“The decision boiled down to, what is it going to take to take care of these kids for the foreseeable future given what happened to them in this home?” said Allen Ressler, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “These children are going to be able to receive monthly income for the foreseeable future.”
Ressler and his law partner, Tim Tesh, are entitled to a third of the settlement.
Carole DeLeon, 52, was sentenced to six years in prison in July after entering an Alford plea in the criminal mistreatment of Tyler and another boy in her care. In an Alford plea, the defendant doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges she could be found guilty based on the evidence presented in court.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit, filed in December, accused DSHS of failing to properly investigate DeLeon’s background and that of another caregiver in her home in Stevens County, or to respond to numerous complaints of abuse. The suit sought $95 million, but the court wouldn’t allow the plaintiffs’ lawyers to ask for money for Tyler DeLeon’s pain and suffering, only the money he could have earned had he lived a full life, Ressler said.
It hadn’t been determined who will get the money awarded to Tyler’s estate.
Judge Teri Eitzen will review the settlement Dec. 1. It requires a judge’s approval to take effect.
The settlement ends the lawsuit against the department and three employees but does not address claims against Dr. David Fregeau, Tyler’s primary care doctor; Fregeau’s employer, the Rockwood Clinic; and Sandra Bremner-Dexter, the boy’s psychiatrist. Those claims are scheduled for trial in April, Ressler said.
The lawsuit cites an extensive history of abuse complaints and health concerns regarding foster children at DeLeon’s home, including bruising, broken bones, knocked-out teeth, routine withholding of food and water, sexual abuse by a registered sex offender, bite marks and multiple scars.
Included in the settlement is a child psychologist’s assessment of the five children who will be awarded money.
Gilbert Kilman, of San Francisco, said the children suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt. He predicted each will have difficulty in school and work and will require counseling.
“Searing images of Tyler being kicked down the stairs and drinking from the toilet fester in her psyche,” Kilman wrote of Tyler’s half-sister, who witnessed his death. The settlement gives the girl $1.2 million.
A girl who spent the first five months with DeLeon will receive more than $560,000. A boy whom DeLeon adopted and stayed with her for more than two months after Tyler’s death will receive $930,000.
Another boy who lived with her for 10 months will receive nearly $400,000. The largest amount – $1.5 million – goes to a boy who lived with DeLeon for about 4 1/2 years and left three months before Tyler’s death Jan. 13, 2005. Two adults – former foster children of DeLeon – will receive about $564,000 and $1.3 million.
The settlement came after two negotiation sessions with a professional mediator, Ressler said.
“No one was suggesting there was not liability on the part of the state,” he said.
Along with the allegations against DSHS and three employees, the suit alleges that Fregeau and Bremner-Dexter – both of whom are required by law to report valid suspicions of abuse or neglect – were aware of injuries suffered by Tyler in the home, allegations of abuse, and the fact that Tyler’s height and weight fell into the bottom fifth percentile for his age during his time in DeLeon’s care.
A CPS investigation of Fregeau’s role in the case concluded that he had seen many injuries suffered by Tyler and a foster brother but that DeLeon convinced him and others that there was no abuse. Fregeau, a pediatrician who has worked in Spokane for more than 15 years, assured a medical examiner Tyler hadn’t been abused, which Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen said led to his decision to drop charges of homicide by abuse against DeLeon in favor of the lesser charge that she pleaded guilty to last summer, according to a previously published report.
Money from the settlement could be withheld to pay for costs associated with the suit against Fregeau, Bremner-Dexter and the Rockwood Clinic, according to a declaration filed with the settlement.
Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.