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Lawsuits & Litigation

Clark County Commission Set to Approve $100K Settlement in Child Abuse Case

— October 23, 2020

Clark County Commission recently approved a settlement for $100,000, ending a suit involving child abuse.

Child abuse is one of those terrible things that often occurs behind closed doors. Unfortunately, it also often results in fatalities and devastation for families, including the case that was recently settled in Clark County. Earlier this month, the Clark County Commission approved a $100,000 settlement with a woman who hit the county with a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit back in 2016 over the death of her 3-year-old granddaughter. According to the suit, the “county child welfare officials botched the handling of an open case.”

What happened? What open case did the county allegedly botch? According to the lawsuit filed in District Court by Bernadine Morimoto, the child, referred to as ‘Abygaile B.’ in the suit, “died of blunt-force trauma to her chest on July 1, 2016.” The child’s father, Justin Tom Bennett, was “indicted in January 2017 and charged with murder and several counts of child abuse.” Additionally, his mother, Sherry Morse, was also indicted in September 2017 on child abuse charges and “accused of failing to protect her grandchildren.” That particular case is still ongoing.

Gavel; image courtesy of bloomsberries, via Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0, no changes made.

During the litigation process, the chief prosecutor in the case noted the “severe abuse the victim suffered in the days preceding her death…was one of the worst cases of physical abuse they had ever seen.”

Morimoto was the child’s maternal grandmother. In the suit, she argued the county’s Division of Family Services failed to investigate several reports of abuse before the fatal incident. For example, “six months before the victim’s death, police reported the children’s physical abuse to Family Services, but child welfare officials improperly flagged the case and assigned it to a nonprofit contractor that provides child welfare services in low-priority matters.” The contractor was HopeLink. The suit alleged HopeLink “lacked training and the authority to remove children from custody even if mistreatment was suspected.

In addition to the county, HopeLink and the caseworker that was working the case are named as defendants, though both have denied wrongdoing. In fact, they ended up filing their own countersuit against Morimoto and her family, the county, Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services, and the state Division of Child and Family Services, claiming they “were negligent in their oversight.” 

At the moment, details surrounding the agreement have been kept under wraps, with all parties turning down requests for comment. 

So far Bennet has pleaded not guilty. He is expected to return to court on March 28 for a trial readiness hearing, according to court records. 


Clark County settles lawsuit over 3-year-old’s death for $100K

Coroner identifies 3-year-old girl found dead in Henderson home Friday

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