SOURCE: Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, Abate & Webb P.A.

September 24, 2013 13:00 ET

Prominent Children's Rights Lawyers Sue Florida Department of Children & Families on Behalf of Boy, 7, Stabbed in Known Pedophile Father's Murderous Rampage

Suit Claims DCF Negligent in Disregarding Father's Known History of Violence, Sexual Abuse on Kids

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL--(Marketwired - September 24, 2013) - Children's rights attorneys with Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, Abate & Webb P.A. have filed a lawsuit on behalf of a boy who was stabbed in the head by his father, a known pedophile who also killed the boy's older brother and a bystander and seriously injured the mother. The lawsuit claims the Florida Department of Children and Families and its lead agencies knew the father, who had custody removed then returned by DCF officials, posed a serious danger to his family.

The complaint, filed in Broward County Circuit Court late Monday, claims negligence and culpable negligence against DCF and the agencies. The suit comes about a month after an investigation revealed that more than 20 children under the watch of DCF and its community-based care providers have died this year. Those cases never had been revealed by the agency.

The boy's assault in February 2012 followed verified reports of physical and sexual abuse by the father and the mother on the boy and his brother. State officials knew of the abuse and had sought to strip the father and mother of all parental rights, before later retracting the request.

"I have not had many cases with a fact scenario as egregious and compelling as this one. The details are gruesome, but the warning signs were there," said Joel Fass, a shareholder with Colodny, Fass, Talenfeld, Karlinsky, Abate & Webb P.A. The firm represents the child, called "S.D." in the complaint. "DCF granted custody to a verified and violent pedophile, then expressed shock when the situation exploded. This child faces years of psychological counseling that will probably still not make him emotionally whole. Meanwhile, DCF and its agencies seemingly have learned nothing."

Along with DCF, defendants in the complaint include community-based care providers The Devereux Foundation Inc., Community Partnership for Children Inc., Heartland for Children Inc., and the Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services Inc.

Facts of the case date back to 2007, when Florida authorities first arrested the father after being called to the family's home to investigate reports of physical violence and the man's threats to kill the mother if she left with S.D. and his brother. Florida authorities then learned from New York officials that the father had a history of violence against a woman and their children together. This led to a protection/no contact order being filed in New York. The father's criminal history also revealed previous violations, including a domestic violence injunction, aggravated assault charges involving a weapon, and battery-domestic violence. His son from New York even called Florida authorities to warn them of the man's behavior.

In November 2007, the Florida investigation was closed with Verified Findings of family violence, threats to the children, and indications of substance abuse. By February 2008, the parents separated and the mother and children moved to the maternal grandmother's house. Later that month, the father showed up at the home intoxicated. It was reported to DCF that the boys had been sexually abused by their parents, which the mother later admitted to.

The children were formally removed from the parents' custody and placed in therapeutic foster care with services contracted and subcontracted to the defendants. Notwithstanding their history of sexual abuse, the boys were placed together without a safety plan, the complaint alleges. Meanwhile, foster parents reported seeing signs of the boys having been sexually abused, including violent and sexually aggressive behavior and child-on-child sexual abuse. Following psychological evaluations of S.D. in October 2008, the psychologist concluded it was likely the boy was sexually abused.

Earlier, in April that year, DCF had filed a petition seeking to terminate parental rights on the fear they would be "severely endangered" based on the sexual abuse and threats of further physical violence, especially as supported by reports of the father's history of abuse of his New York family.

Notwithstanding the reports, findings and allegations, in April 2009, S.D.'s parents were permitted to have supervised visitation, and DCF changed S.D.'s case plan goal from Termination of Parental Rights/Adoption, to Reunification. Following supervised visitation that began weeks later in May 2009, the foster mother reported that the child was not doing very well; a letter from his teacher noted that S.D. had expressed fear of having to return to a man who had threatened him with a knife. Case workers failed to report these issues to the Florida Abuse Hotline and did not implement a safety plan for the boys. On June 17, 2010, notwithstanding all of the red flags pointing to the potential for disaster, the boys were reunited with their parents.

On February 10, 2012, the father exploded in a violent, murderous rage. The family arrived at a stranger's motor home in Deerfield Beach. The father killed the motor home's owner and S.D.'s brother, and stabbed both the boy and his mother. He later committed suicide, and the mother was arrested, later convicted and imprisoned for not protecting her children.

The case is emblematic of DCF's and its CPCs' pattern of inaction in situations that pose grave threats to children under its watch, said Howard Talenfeld, co-counsel in the case. The case demonstrates a lack of competent qualitative assurance staff to evaluate DCF's efforts, and the state's pattern of ignoring red flags and whitewashing findings after the fact, he said.

"This is another in a long and growing line of cases that 'fell through the cracks' of a failed privatized system. Every time it happens, DCF administrators state shock and alarm. The truth is, what's most alarming is their inability to identify and learn from past mistakes," Talenfeld said. "Nothing in their report talked about how to prevent this from happening in the future. If the Department was as good at stopping these preventable disasters before they happen as they are at having to express remorse when one child after another dies, Florida's children would be much safer."

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