Saturday, May 29, 2010

Judge won't dismiss grandparent's lawsuit against Social Worker


WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by grandparents accusing a social worker of failing to protect a toddler who was beaten to death by her father's girlfriend.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot ruled Friday that maternal grandparents Larry and Mary Crosetto had enough facts to overcome the state's claim of qualified immunity for social worker Linda Gillen.
The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services argued that Gillen had "no duty to intervene" after she investigated a report claiming abuse and neglect of the 23-month-old Coffeyville girl, who died in 2008 as a result of head injuries.
The Crosettos sued Gillen in January, accusing her of gross negligence for not protecting their granddaughter despite repeated complaints alleging abuse. The suit does not name the agency as a defendant.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

SRS: Social worker had no duty to protect child who later died

Posted on Sun, May. 16, 2010

The Wichita Eagle

An attorney for SRS also contends that because the girl was not in the agency's custody, the state owed no duty to protect her.
The arguments revolve around the case of 23-month-old Brooklyn Coons. Her father's meth-addicted girlfriend was convicted of murder after the girl died from brain injuries caused by her being violently shaken. Melissa Wells Coons is serving a life sentence.
Brooklyn's grandparents, Larry and Mary Crosetto, say they met with Linda Gillen, a veteran SRS social worker based in Coffeyville, and told her they thought Brooklyn was being abused and could be killed if she wasn't removed from the home of her father and his girlfriend. The Crosettos say they offered Gillen evidence but that she refused to act because of a grudge against them.
The legal argument that the social worker had no duty to protect Brooklyn doesn't sit well with her grandfather.
"I thought this was her job," said Larry Crosetto, who is suing Gillen in federal court.
The SRS arguments are in response to the lawsuit the grandparents filed in January. The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 in damages.
"What we hope to do is get SRS to act in these situations ... and prevent it from happening to another family," Crosetto said.
Brooklyn's death is one of several across the state where families have accused the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) of failing to protect children who were killed.
Child abuse or neglect has taken a heavy toll in Wichita, where police investigated eight child homicides in 2008. Seven of the eight deaths occurred from abuse or neglect by caregivers, police said.
In the past six months, several more suspicious child deaths have occurred in the Wichita area, raising more questions about the SRS role in protecting children.
SRS answers suit
In federal court documents defending Gillen, the social worker, SRS staff attorney Danny Baumgartner cites a U.S. Supreme Court case finding no constitutional duty of government to protect a child from violence committed by an individual.
Baumgartner also argues that Brooklyn was not in SRS custody, so SRS owed no duty to protect her.
The SRS defense is based partly on the idea that while government has a duty to the public at large, it can't be held liable for protecting one person from another individual unless special circumstances exist.
The situation limits government's exposure to liability.
But Larry Crosetto said the argument that government has no duty to the individual doesn't seem right to him.
"If it is the responsibility of government to protect the public, who protects the individual?"
The Crosettos' attorney, Randy Rathbun, argues in court documents that Gillen held a years-old grudge against the Crosettos that caused her to ignore reports of abuse from them and not follow her duty to protect the girl from her father's meth-addicted girlfriend, Melissa Wells Coons.
Brooklyn's mother, Angela Coons, died at age 24 in 2007 after a sudden illness. Brooklyn's death was the Crosettos' second loss.
The grandparents' lawsuit says that Gillen refused to accept photographs showing bruises on the girl a month before her death, which Gillen denies in court documents.
Court documents say, without elaboration, that the Crosettos believe Gillen held a grudge over their adoption of their daughter Angela years earlier.
SRS says Gillen has been employed with the agency since 1974.
The SRS response says Gillen denies having a grudge.
The SRS defense
In a court filing responding to the lawsuit, SRS attorney Baumgartner said (referring to the child, Brooklyn, as "B.I.C."):
* "Even assuming the imminence of danger, and even assuming Ms. Gillen knew about this danger (which Defendant denies), Ms. Gillen was under no duty to protect B.I.C. from a danger Ms. Gillen did not create."
* "Even assuming the 'animus' (which Defendant denies) Plaintiffs claim Ms. Gillen had against them, Ms. Gillen was under no duty to protect B.I.C. from third parties."
The SRS response says that the Crosettos seem to contend that once they met with Gillen about their concerns over Brooklyn, "their hands (and the Police's hands) were tied. This is far from the situation."
The document adds: "Ms. Gillen feels for Plaintiffs' loss, but with all due respect to Plaintiffs there is no Constitutional remedy for them here."
As a state employee, Gillen is entitled to "qualified immunity," SRS says.
Grandparents' case
In the court papers representing the Crosettos, their attorney Rathbun says, "This is not just another case of ... an overworked SRS employee and a report that fell through the cracks. Linda Gillen knew and hated Mr. Crosetto."
Rathbun also said that Gillen "carried a powerful animus that resulted in her refusal to follow her duty and protect" the girl from her father's girlfriend.
The Crosettos' filings provide this timeline:
* On Jan. 17, 2008, Coffeyville police responding to a 911 call found Brooklyn unresponsive and in the care of the girlfriend. Police saw head injuries and bruises on the girl.
* The next day, police placed three other children from the home of Melissa Wells Coons and Randy Coons, Brooklyn's father, into protective custody because of "deplorable" living conditions and the injuries to Brooklyn.
* Three days after the 911 call, Brooklyn died in a hospital.
Before the 911 call, Coffeyville police did not take steps to protect Brooklyn because they "reasonably believed that the defendant (Gillen) was undertaking her statutory obligations to safeguard" Brooklyn and her brother, a court document says.
The Crosettos contend that Gillen took it upon herself to monitor Brooklyn's situation — causing other agencies that could have protected the girl to defer to SRS.
Recently, Brooklyn's father pleaded no contest to aggravated endangerment of a child. He faces sentencing July 1.
Gillen remains a social worker with SRS, the agency says.
Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or
Read more:


More on this story to be found on the following links:
Coffeyville couple sues SRS worker after granddaughter's beating death
January 24, 2010
The Wichita Eagle
Read more:

SRS seeks dismissal of lawsuit filed by grandparents
March 11, 2010
The Wichita Eagle
Read more:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

**** May 5, 2010 **** "In The Best Interest Of The Child"**** A Wichita, Kansas Mother Was Attacked By The Foster Placement And Suffered Injuries Requiring Surgery

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another Lawsuit In The Making!

DA Declines to File Charges Against Camelot Nurse
Posted: Feb 26, 2010 11:37 AM CST
Updated: Mar 02, 2010 3:52 PM CST

No charges related to reported sexual abuse will be filed against a Camelot nurse.Latest Update

The Sedgwick County District Attorney's office declined to file charges against a nurse at the Camelot Center. The nurse was suspected of having sex with a 17-year-old staying at the treatment center.

A spokesperson says there was "no evidence to prove anything criminal was committed."

Police don't plan to investigate the case further. The nurse will still be charged in municipal court for Batter of a Law Enforcement Officer.


Original Coverage (2/26)

By Megahn Snyder (WICHITA, Kan.)

A nurse at a treatment center for teens could face charges for having sex with a 17-year-old client.

Wichita police tell us someone saw the woman leave the Camelot Center in Riverside with the boy early Thursday morning. The witness called 911. Police later responded to the woman's southeast Wichita apartment where they found the teen and the woman.

She was booked on one count of unlawful sexual relations for allegedly having sex with the teen who was locked up at the facility. She could also face battery charges for fighting the officers who arrested her.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

9 former employees sue Topeka juvenile facility

The Associated Press
TOPEKA, Kan. - A closed juvenile center in Topeka has been sued for discrimination by nine former employees.
In the federal lawsuit, the former employees of Forbes Juvenile Attention Center allege that they were subjected to racially insensitive jokes, intimidation and disparities in job evaluations.
The nine employees are seeking $500,000 in damages.
Scott Henricks, an official with center's parent company said the company wouldn't comment because it didn't know about the lawsuit.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported last year that a 12-year-old resident alleged he was repeatedly raped because of insufficient staffing and room checks at the center. The company settled that lawsuit out of court in late November.
The center closed a few weeks after the story was reported.
Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal,


Youth detention center in 'chaos'

Created October 17, 2009 at 9:30pm
Updated October 18, 2009 at 1:15am
Insufficient staff numbers and inadequate room checks by a Topeka juvenile residential center opened the door for a 12-year-old boy to be repeatedly raped by his roommate over three days in January 2008, a civil lawsuit claims.
"The rape, sodomy, sexual assault and sexual battery could not have happened if the boys or men were properly supervised," reads the suit.
The suit, filed last year in Shawnee County District Court against the owners of Forbes Juvenile Attention Facility, isn't the only place to find concerns about the welfare of residents of the facility.
Other issues related to the treatment of residents have been raised in inspection reports, internal memos and the words of former FJAC workers. Allegations of racial discrimination and questions about how FJAC administrators notify authorities of alleged abuse also have been raised.
The problems, former staffers say, allowed sexual misconduct to go unnoticed.
"The last couple months before I left, it was chaos," said Clarence Tyson, a shift supervisor who resigned in late 2008 after seven years at FJAC.
The allegations are just that -- allegations, the FJAC administration said. Terry Campbell, executive vice president for Clarence M. Kelley Juvenile Justice Resources, which owns FJAC, said a handful of unhappy workers have already made similar claims to other governmental agencies.
"I'm sure SRS has received them, KDHE has received them, JJA has received them, the governor has probably received them," Campbell said. "It's because we've got disgruntled staff, former employees. They're not the majority of the professional staff that we have."
Campbell said there have been only six reports of sexual misconduct at FJAC since 2007, and only two were sexual assaults.
FJAC, located at Forbes Field at 6700 S.W. Topeka Blvd., is a privately run youth residential center, a nonsecure group home for male juvenile offenders that houses up to 56 youths ages 12 to 17. The offenders sent to FJAC aren't the most dangerous in the juvenile system, thus one reason why it isn't a locked facility.
Since a new administration took over at FJAC in late 2007, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has investigated 20 complaints there. That is more than any of the 29 similar facilities contracting with the state except for one -- Camelot Lakeside in Goddard, which has had 26 such complaints. Many of the complaints against FJAC allege insufficient staffing led to the incidents.
And at least six workers -- five former and one current -- have filed state or federal discrimination suits in 2009. In addition to alleging black workers were treated differently, some of the suits say employees feared retaliation for reporting alleged abuse to authorities as required by regulations and law.
Campbell points out most allegations by the former employees and allegations investigated by KDHE couldn't be substantiated.
Ward Loyd, chairman of the Kansas Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, said he hadn't heard of the allegations but said "where's there's smoke, there's usually fire."
"It's certainly unfortunate to hear that we've got these types of allegations with any Kansas facility," he said. "The whole issue with having them placed in these kinds of facilities is to provide for their needs, not to complicate them."
Civil suit
The 12-year-old plaintiff in the current civil suit against FJAC was referred to the facility in late 2007 or early 2008 by case manager Kenyetta Byrd. Soon after, an FJAC worker contacted Byrd concerned about the boy's small size. According to a February 2008 report by the Juvenile Justice Authority's inspector general on the incident, the caller told Byrd the boy would be "eaten alive."
"They didn't even have clothes small enough to fit him," said Toni Wash, a drug and alcohol counselor who worked at FJAC from late 2007 to late 2008. "Everyone was asking why he was there."
Campbell said he wouldn't comment on any incident under litigation. In addition to the civil case against Kelley Juvenile Detention Services, the roommate suspected of raping the 12-year-old is facing criminal sodomy charges in juvenile court.
Immediately after Byrd got the alarming call from the FJAC worker, another case coordinator called and told her to disregard the previous caller. The boy was then placed at FJAC.
The alleged rape and sodomy occurred from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24, 2008, and as soon as FJAC learned about it, officials there contacted authorities. The lawsuit claims FJAC workers didn't conduct room checks every 15 minutes as their policy mandated. The inspector general's report says room-check logs contained blanket statements about the whole floor without specific mention of individual room checks.
In an e-mail to Campbell on Feb. 14, 2008, Kelley administrator Scott Henricks conceded some fault.
"The cause of the alleged incident can partially be attributed to staff error," he wrote.
In its court response, however, FJAC flatly denied the allegations of improper staff work.
JJA commissioner Russ Jennings said:, "Is there a concern that staff aren't checking rooms regularly? Yes, there certainly is."
Mona Brown, a floor staffer for more than a year until she was fired in January, said she wasn't surprised something happened.
"The staff ratio just wasn't there," she said. "That is the thing that sets it up for things to happen."
The alleged rape isn't the only incident in which inadequate supervision has been an issue at FJAC.
A KDHE investigatory report from March 19, 2009, chronicled how a resident stole a worker's cell phone and her car after FJAC staff members left him in a visitation room alone with instructions to stay put.
After meeting for 30 minutes and then going to their offices for another 20 minutes, staff members returned to the room to find the boy gone.
A security video would later show him walking up and down the halls on both floors. The report stated the boy roamed the halls for "approximately one hour and was able to steal a teacher's cell phone and car keys and then exit the building and steal a car without being noticed or missed."
"There was not adequate staff to supervise youth at all times," the report said.
The incident was reported to Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority police, but it wasn't immediately reported to KDHE, as required by FJAC's own policies. It was two weeks before KDHE was notified.
Campbell said it was important to remember residents aren't locked up at FJAC.
"One takes off, one steals a car, and the issue we have is why didn't we tell KDHE about that at the time?" he asked. "Well, we should have (notified KDHE), but I think our primary concern is getting the police notified, making sure the kid is all right and make sure no one gets hurt."
It wasn't the first time KDHE, which shares oversight responsibilities with the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, heard of a such problem.
KDHE has received five complaints ranging from sexual activity between the boys to runaway youths, all of them blamed on a lack of staffing. Three of the complaints were unfounded, KDHE said.
But a Jan. 14, 2009, investigative report found evidence of inadequate staffing. The visit to FJAC was prompted by allegations another 12-year-old -- not the boy in the lawsuit -- was sodomized by his roommate. The KDHE report stated staff ratios were in compliance at the time of the incident, but a review of the previous year's records by the agency showed 14 shifts weren't staffed properly.
The report said FJAC administrator Jeff Sampson stated he had hired six to seven new employees and was at that time fully staffed.
KDHE's findings were conservative, said Sue Mayhan, who was the second-shift supervisor from October 2008 through May 2009.
"In the eight months I was there, we might have had adequate staffing three months," she said.
Clarence Tyson, a first-shift supervisor who left in late 2008 after seven years at FJAC, said employees were "always asking about staffing."
"Sometimes they'd have 14 or 15 kids on a unit and only one staff," he said.
KDHE requires facilities like FJAC to have at least one staff member for every seven residents during waking hours and one employee for every 10 at night.
In a Nov. 2, 2008, memo, floor staffer Alan Barr wrote to Sampson, "I continue to be on the wing constantly by myself, and I feel my safety is in question."
Campbell wouldn't comment on specific incidents but said KDHE's lack of findings on most of the claims was vindication. He said any problems with staffing were most likely the cause of employees calling in sick, and any issues were immediately addressed.
He said maintaining a consistent staff can be difficult in a facility with juvenile offenders. Since 2007, the facility, which ranges from 40 to 60 workers, has employed 111 people.
Jennings said in his experience running a juvenile detention center in western Kansas, "There's a multitude of issues in terms of recruitment, retention and trainability of employees."
How the facility responded when things did happen is the source of former employees' complaints to KDHE and the Kansas Human Rights Commission.
'Tom, Dick and Harry'
Former employees' statements, complaints to KDHE and claims in discrimination filings allege staff members were routinely discouraged by Sampson from reporting alleged abuse or misconduct to authorities.
Mayhan said Sampson questioned her in November 2008 when she heard an allegation of sodomy and called the MTAA police and other authorities.
"He said it was stuff like that that can get a facility closed down," she said. "He told me I call MTAA too much and that KDHE keeps getting the reports on us and that it's not good for us."
Mayhan said Sampson later told her and other staff members he was tired of having SRS and KDHE investigating "for every Tom, Dick and Harry thing."
Campbell said he wouldn't comment on any personnel matters. He said allegations of employees being discouraged from reporting incidents have appeared in at least some of the discrimination cases filed with KHRC.
Sexual misconduct
Wash said she experienced the same roadblock when she reported a possible case of sexual misconduct involving a resident in November 2008. After pushing the incident up the chain of command and getting nowhere for weeks, she said, she got a meeting with Sampson.
Wash said Sampson told her he hadn't heard anything about the incident. Soon after, she said, she began to get written up on a weekly basis.
She believed it was an effort to build a case for firing her, which happened in December 2008.
Campbell said he wouldn't go into specifics but said Wash wasn't fired for pushing to report the incident. He also said there was an investigation by SRS and MTAA police and that Wash was involved in it.
Wash said she was never contacted by anyone investigating the incident.
The Kansas Department of Labor, in determining whether Wash should get unemployment benefits, said there wasn't enough evidence to show her "alleged actions were a violation of a duty."
Months later, in an investigative document dated March 19, KDHE asked about allegations that staff members didn't do anything about an alleged sexual misconduct between two residents. Sampson told the agency: "He had checked into the incident and was not able to verify that the incident did occur. He did separate the boys at the time."
'That's my call'
In another incident in April 2008, Tyson heard allegations a floor staff member was crawling into bed with residents in the morning. He told the staff and residents to write memos.
"Resident (unnamed) said that Mr. K comes into their room and lays in the bed with them to wake them up," reads one of the memos dated April 9, 2008. "Resident said that he grabbed his toes while he was in the bed."
Tyson said he placed the documents in the mailboxes of the case worker, building supervisor and Sampson.
A few days later, Sampson came to the floor and asked the kids what happened, said floor staffer Brown. She said the residents told Sampson they didn't want the staffer fired. Brown said Sampson told the floor's staff and residents he wouldn't fire the employee and that no one was to call SRS.
"He said, 'That's my call,' " she said.
In addition to the requirement in JJA's provider handbook and in FJAC's own operations manual to report such incidents, it also says the administration should never "interfere or otherwise attempt to alter the report of an abuse/neglect claim made by an employee of the facility."
Interference in reporting such an incident is also a class B misdemeanor under Kansas statutes.
That is why Campbell said FJAC never discouraged reporting.
Tyson said a few weeks went by after the memos were sent to Sampson and the staffer was still on the floor.
"I thought something should happen, maybe a suspension with pay until the veracity was checked out," he said. "It struck everyone as odd that he was still around."
Tyson said the staffer eventually was made an intern case worker for a few weeks before he left the facility.
The policy
Campbell said FJAC takes very seriously its obligation to report abuse. He said he was sure any staff member who felt a youth was being harmed would report it to the authorities, "and if they don't, they're negligent." But he also laid out the company's multilayered policy for reporting incidents.
"Staff should be reporting it, first of all, to their supervisor and the administrator, and if they don't feel it's being addressed then they should report it to our corporate compliance officer," Campbell said. "If they're not satisfied then, then they can always go to outside agencies."
He said employees would only face possible reprimand for reporting out of turn.
Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, chairwoman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, said that isn't how the law reads.
"It sounds like they've got a horrible policy in place that goes against the SRS intent," she said.
JJA commissioner Jennings said it isn't unreasonable for a facility to have a policy that requires the staff to report alleged abuse to superiors first so they can try to address the problem immediately. But that policy shouldn't be used as "a process of screening of what is reported or not."
"Really an employer shouldn't do anything that dissuades an employee from doing their statutory requirement to report alleged abuse," he said.
That being said, Jenning said, FJAC and other contractors "are in a position that they are able to ensure the environment is healthy and safe."
Campbell reiterated that most of the allegations haven't been substantiated by any state agency.
"Allegations can be made by people that maybe aren't the happiest with their employers," he said. "We're very concerned by every allegation. That's why we want to look into them."
James Carlson can be reached at (785) 295-1186 or

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kansas "The Best Interest Of The Child"

Another Kansas Lawsuit Against Social Workers, Judge, County Attorney ETC... Woodward et al v. DCCCA Inc. et al

Judge Rebecca Lindamood on left is listed on this lawsuit.
Woodward et al v. DCCCA Inc. et al
Plaintiffs:James W. Woodward and Destiny Brown
Defendants:DCCCA Inc., CASA, Randy Kauffman, Rebecca Lindamood, Charles Hart, Cheryl M. Pierce, Darrin C. Devinney, Kathleen Sebelius, Don Jordon, Deb Maaeir, Jennifer Wiebe, Loresa Lewis, Phyllis K. Webster, Janet Jacobs, Marry Lee Armstrong, Leslie Jensby, David McElhiney, Kelly Elliott, Tanya Lynn, Kristine Wilscam, Carmel Poor, Tom McDowell and Joshua AndrewsCase
Filed:December 24, 2009
District CourtOffice:Wichita Office [ Court Info ]County:XX US, Outside State
Presiding Judge:District Judge J. Thomas Marten
Referring Judge:Magistrate Judge Karen M. Humphreys
Nature of Suit:Civil Rights - Other Civil Rights
Cause:42:1983 Civil Rights Act
Jurisdiction:Federal Question
Jury Demanded By:Plaintiff
Amount Demanded:$5,100,000.00
Magistrate Judge: Rebecca Lindamood
Greenwood County Magistrate Court
311 N. MainEureka, KS 67045
Ph: 620-583-8155
Also listed in this lawsuit is the Secretary of SRS Don Jordan
and former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius

What about Judge Lindamood?
She has a history of kicking kids out of school and forcing them to get a GED.
Article from 2005:
Kansas Judge Is Ordering Teens To Drop Out Of School
KAKE On Your Side InvestigationReporter: Jeff Golimowski
Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005
A judge stands in the way of a hardworking, earnest girl trying to finish school. She’s not alone.Graduation Day: It’s supposed to be one of the proudest days of a person’s life, a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment for hard work. Jessica won’t have one.Jessica is a foster kid, who wished to remain unidentified. She should be a high school senior, but a judge told her to drop out.A lot of Kansas kids can’t wait to get out of school. The girl we met fought to stay in. But, she lost in court, now her future is in doubt. A system dedicated to making kids’ lives better failed to help her.Harold and Pam Walker have taken in more than 40 foster kids. The Walkers treat their charges like their own.“They want you to create good memories and stand up for your kids and get them to do what’s right,” said Pam Walker.Jessica’s been with the Walkers for almost a year after being removed from her parents by SRS. She had been having problems at El Dorado High. But, as soon as she got to the Walker’s and enrolled at Goddard High, things started turning around.Jessica will turn 18 Nov. 4. At 18, a ward of the state can be released from SRS custody. Judge Rebecca Lindamood, a magistrate judge in Butler County who’s in charge of Jessica’s case, sees a problem.Apparently, if a child hasn’t graduated by the time they’re 18, they’re going to lose them. The solution, according to Lindamood, is to force her out of school and into a GED.“Most people that hear GED hear you’re a quitter,” said Harold Walker.Jessica is not a quitter. She even found a way to graduate six months ahead of schedule. Not good enough.“The judge said if I didn’t get my GED, she would pull me out of this home,” said Jessica.For the Walkers, this is too familiar.“I really didn’t make an effort,” said Johnathan Alvord, a former foster kid. “So, instead of trying to keep me in, they made me go take a GED.”Alvord had truancy issues at 16. Lindamood’s decision, again, was to let him out of class.Alvord said, looking back, he agrees. Though he said he could’ve graduated had he been forced to stay in. He spent the next two years looking for work. His GED was nearly useless.We went to SRS headquarters in Topeka for answers. It’s against SRS policy for the agency to talk about specific cases. But we asked program manager Deanne Dinkel how the system is supposed to work.“We always encourage our youth to be very involved with their educational goals,” said Dinkel.So someone in Jessica’s position, who desperately wants to graduate, should be helped to succeed, according to the SRS. But, it’s not up to SRS. The ultimate decision for kids like Jessica is left in the hands of judges.Lindamood made helping kids in SRS get an education part of her campaign. Yet state law seals every SRS case. Her constituents have no way of knowing the decisions she’s making. We tried to talk to Lindamood. The Kansas state court system responded, saying Lindamood was unable to respond because it involves a child in need of care case. They said Lindamood, as with other judges presiding over children in need of care, put education of the child as the highest priority.Jessica has taken the tests for her GED and is now awaiting her results.Friday is Jessica’s 18th birthday. Another court hearing is her present. She’ll be back in front of Lindamood, possibly for the final time.

Coffeyville couple sues SRS worker after granddaughter's beating death
Coffeyville couple sues SRS worker after granddaughter's beating death

The Wichita Eagle

A family's lawsuit accuses a state social worker of gross negligence, saying she failed to protect a 23-month-old Coffeyville girl beaten to death by herfather's meth-addicted girlfriend.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Tuesday, accuses SRS social worker LindaGillen of not taking steps to remove Brooklyn Coons and her brother from adangerous household after the maternal grandparents repeatedly raised concernsabout injuries to Brooklyn.

The lawsuit — brought by Brooklyn's maternal grandparents, Larry and MaryCrosetto — contends Gillen "failed to act to protect their grandchildren becauseof a pre-existing grudge." The grudge involved actions the Crosettos took yearsearlier in their adoption of Brooklyn's mother, Angela Crosetto Coons, thelawsuit says.

Brooklyn's death is a case of a social worker who remained determined to keepchildren with a parent even when it put the children at serious risk, thelawsuit contends. Other agencies that could have protected Brooklyn deferred toSRS because they thought the social worker was taking steps to monitor the girl,it says.

In an interview, Larry Crosetto said Gillen, a licensed social worker withthe Coffeyville office of the Kansas Department of Social and RehabilitationServices (SRS), "was aware there was a situation in that home. She didn'tinvestigate and find out what the situation was.

"What we hope to do is get SRS to act in these situations ... and prevent itfrom happening to another family," Crosetto said.

SRS won't comment because of the pending litigation, spokeswoman MichellePonce said Friday.

Gillen remains employed as an SRS social worker, Ponce said.

Gillen could not be reached for comment.

The litigation is filed in federal court because of the argument thatBrooklyn and her survivors were denied their constitutional rights by the state,said Randy Rathbun, a Wichita lawyer and former U.S. attorney for Kansas who isrepresenting the Crosettos in their lawsuit.

The Kansas Attorney General's Office prosecuted the girlfriend in Brooklyn'sdeath, which occurred on Jan. 20, 2008. The girlfriend later married Brooklyn'sfather. On Dec. 30, 2009, a judge sentenced Melissa Wells Coons to life inprison for the murder of Brooklyn.

The same day the judge sentenced Melissa Coons, Brooklyn's father, RandyCoons, was charged with aggravated child endangerment, said Ashley Anstaett,spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

The lawsuit against Gillen seeks more than $75,000 in damages.

The first loss

The Crosettos had dealt with a tragic loss less than six months before theirgranddaughter's murder. On Aug. 9, 2007, Brooklyn's mother, Angela Coons, diedof a sudden illness at a Wichita hospital. She was 24.

Angela Coons had moved her small children — Brooklyn and son Christian, now 7— to be with her in Wichita just weeks before she died, Larry Crosetto said.Angela Coons was working in Wichita as a Comcare caseworker.

After their daughter became ill, the Crosettos rushed to Wichita. After shedied, they brought their grandchildren back to their Coffeyville home, Crosettosaid.

Before Angela Coons moved to Wichita, she had left Randy Coons and moved inwith her parents. Because Angela was busy completing her degree at PittsburgState University, the Crosettos had "practically raised" their grandchildren,Larry Crosetto said.

The weekend after they buried their daughter, their son-in-law, Randy Coons,showed up on their front porch with two Coffeyville police officers and demandedto take the children, Crosetto said. The son-in-law moved the children in withhim and his girlfriend, Melissa Wells.

"Within a week of the kids being put into that home, Brooklyn showed up on aweekend with her lip stitched together," Crosetto said.

A narrative, timeline

The lawsuit provides this timeline:

In the fall of 2007, the Crosettos started seeing bruises on Brooklyn, andtheir granddaughter received medical treatment twice for suspiciousinjuries.

"The Crosettos began to get more and more concerned about the bruises ontheir grandchildren," the lawsuit says.

On Nov. 5, 2007, school officials told Gillen, the SRS social worker, thatChristian had bruising that looked suspicious, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit narrative: The next day, Larry Crosetto tried toreach Gillen about the bruising, but got no return call, so he tried to contacther again on Nov. 14, 15 and 16, eventually reaching her on Nov. 20. Gillen saidshe had interviewed a school official, the children's father, his girlfriend andChristian. Gillen indicated she had been at the girlfriend's home, the lawsuitsays.

Gillen said a case had been opened and she would make a recommendation inabout 30 days. "She refused to discuss the suspected drug situation in thehome," the lawsuit says.

Crosetto said the grandchildren remained with the girlfriend during the week;the grandparents got the children on weekends. They would exchange the childrenin the front yard of the girlfriend's home. He said he wasn't allowedinside.

He became concerned about the conditions in the house, noticing that thechildren had rashes that appeared to be from fleas and that they looked "filthydirty" every Friday night when he or his wife picked them up.

"Sometimes it was hard to tell if it was bruises or dirt," he said.

"I tried everything to find out what was going on inside that house," saidCrosetto, a 62-year-old accountant.

He said he began taking pictures to document injuries he saw.

Escalating situation

The situation got worse.

On Dec. 10, 2007, the lawsuit says, Crosetto called Gillen again because the"bruising and marks were beginning to escalate. She told Crosetto to call thepolice as it was her duty to try to protect the family and keep it together.Larry asked for an appointment to visit about her duty to protect thechildren."

On Dec. 12, 2007, Crosetto sought help from school officials. "Their positionwas that SRS had taken control of the situation and it was out of their hands,"the lawsuit says.

On Sunday Dec. 23, the Crosettos' doctor noticed bruises on Brooklyn's facewhile she was at church, and he thought SRS should be notified. The doctorrecommended that Larry Crosetto have another doctor examine Brooklyn the nextday. On Dec. 24, the second doctor saw the girl, called police and sent a letterto the Coffeyville SRS office asking that "they investigate the situation andget back to him."

Gillen did not respond to the letter, the lawsuit says. But that same day thedoctor called police, a Coffeyville police officer took a report from Crosettoin the doctor's office and said he would contact the prosecutor's office when itopened after the holiday, Crosetto said.

"I was under the understanding that the Police Department was trying ... tointervene, that the roadblock was SRS," Crosetto said.

The Crosettos believed Brooklyn was in danger.

"I was scared to death," Crosetto said.

The grandparents met with Gillen at her office on Dec. 28, and Larry Crosettooffered a CD showing Brooklyn's injuries. Gillen refused to accept it, saying itwould be a police matter, the lawsuit said.

"The meeting became heated when it became apparent to the Crosettos that thedefendant had some animus against them and was not going to do anything toprotect the children. Mr. Crosetto made it clear that he was afraid she was notgoing to do anything until one of his grandchildren was killed."

And then the worst happened. On Jan. 17, 2008 — 20 days after the Crosettosexpressed their fears to Gillen — Coffeyville police responded to a 911 callabout Brooklyn. She was unresponsive, and she was in the care of Wells. Policesaw head trauma and bruises.

Doctors found that Brooklyn's brain was bleeding as a result of her beingstruck on the head, and she had brain damage from being shaken, the lawsuitsays.

The day after the 911 call, it says, police put three other children from thehome of Wells and Randy Coons into protective custody because of "deplorable"living conditions and because of the fatal injuries to Brooklyn.

The lawsuit says that the Police Department didn't take more steps to protectBrooklyn and the other children before Jan. 18, 2008, "as it reasonably believedthat the defendant was undertaking her statutory obligations to safeguard" thechildren.

The lawsuit argues that Gillen's "conduct increased the danger to (Brooklyn)from the meth addicted girlfriend."

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684