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Suit against Riverside School District, DSHS in 5-year-old’s death to continue

UPDATED: Tue., June 13, 2017

Gary Blanton III
Gary Blanton III

Five-year-old Gary Blanton III told school employees his aunt had punched him on April 16, 2015, according to court documents.

He then complained of head pain. But, according to a wrongful death lawsuit, staff members at Chattaroy Elementary didn’t report the alleged abuse, instead following school procedure requiring employees discuss suspected abuse reports with the principal or another administrator. Neither were at school on April 16, 2015.

The child died the following morning, allegedly at the hands of his aunt.

Now, those employees, along with the school district and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, are named in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The suit claims the school district and DSHS ignored signs of child neglect and abuse in the months leading up to the death of the boy.

Lawyers representing the more than 30 named defendants filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that “state actors generally have no constitutional duty to protect an individual from harm by third parties, and that no exception applies here.”

However, Judge Salvador Mendoza ruled recently that the “serious signs of abuse” required the district employees intervene. Additionally, a school policy funneling all reports of abuse through the principal and another administrator exacerbated the situation, ultimately leading to the boy’s death.

“They likely did not know G.B. would be killed,” Mendoza wrote. “But it is certainly probable that they knew he would be harmed.”

The boy’s grandmother filed the suit as a representative of the boy’s estate, according to Ryan Dreveskracht, one of the attorneys involved in the case. Any proceeds from the case will go to the boy’s two siblings, he said.

“The point of the lawsuit is to get some sort of justice,” Dreveskracht said.

Blanton was sent to live with his aunt after his father was murdered in 2012 and his mother died of pneumonia in 2014.

On April 17, 2015, the boy’s aunt, Cynthia Khaleel, called 911 after she said she was unable to wake Blanton up. The boy was taken to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, where he later died.

Khaleel told investigators that she heard a loud bang at 5 a.m. and believed the boy had fallen while climbing on his brother’s crib. She gave him ice and a pain reliever, she said. However, the boy’s injuries were not consistent with a fall, according to court records.

Khaleel has been charged with second-degree murder.

The school district didn’t report signs that the boy was being abused prior to his death, according to the suit. On April 16, Blanton told school employees “Mommy punched me” and complained of head pain, according to court documents. Court documents allege that Blanton called his aunt “Mommy.”

The incidents weren’t reported, according to court documents, because the school had a policy that required employees discuss suspected abuse reports with the principal or another administrator.

“I think the school district’s policy and procedures, as the court found, were clearly inappropriate and clearly put this child in a place where this happening to him was almost inevitable,” Dreveskracht said.

According to school district policy and procedure when abuse is suspected “staff or the principal will immediately contact” Child Protective Services. If CPS is unavailable, staff are to contact law enforcement, according to the procedure. The procedure then states staff have 48 hours to report suspected abuse.

Additionally, school staff are required to report suspected abuse to the principal or their supervisor, according to the policy. They must also report any reports made to CPS or police.

Dreveskracht maintains there was an unofficial school policy to bring abuse allegations only to the principal, who then can decide whether to report them.

Current Riverside School District Superintendent Ken Russell, who was not the superintendent at the time, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. The lawyer representing the district, Mick McFarland, did not return a calling seeking comment.

The suit also claims DSHS negligently placed Blanton with his aunt despite a documented history of child abuse and neglect. Additionally, the suit claims DSHS didn’t do an adequate background check on Khaleel and falsified health and safety visitation reports.

Dreveskracht said the case will now head to trial.

“If we could, in a heartbeat we’d dismiss the case and have the youngster back,” said Dreveskracht.

“But unfortunately that’s not something we’re able to do.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on June 13, 2017 to correct the spelling of Chattaroy.

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