Jurors awarded $45.4 million Thursday to a now 15-year-old girl who suffered two years of sexual abuse in an El Monte, California, home where county social workers at the children’s services agency let her reside despite evidence showing that an accused molester lived in the house. The Department of Children and Family Services ignored warning signs of potential abuse and failed to notify law enforcement of their suspicions. This left the child, beginning at age seven, to be molested by at least four men whom her mother invited into the home, according to documents.
Deliberation lasted four and half hours before jurors decided on the amount to be awarded. They put the county’s liability at 45 percent, requiring Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to pay $20 million of the verdict. The mother and the four men, previously convicted of abusing the girl back in 2010, were required to pay the remainder.
“She endured two years of sex abuse you cannot imagine,” said David Ring, an attorney for the girl’s father, who sued the agency and child predators on behalf of his daughter. “The Department of Children and Family Services is the last line of defense for defenseless children, and they walked away here and let her be abused.” Ring said it is his hope that the substantial verdict will initiate changes to DCFS policies.
The department began providing services to the girl in December 2009 after her mother reported a man she had been in a relationship with had physically abused her family. According to the lawsuit, social workers then discovered a different man living at the home, Louis Fluet, who had previously been arrested on suspicion of child annoyance and molestation involving another minor. He was never charged in that case, but the social workers concluded that as long as he was in the home, this placed the girl at high risk of being sexually abused.
The child should have been referred to a forensic child abuse expert at that point, but never was. Workers demanded Fluet leave the home after the child told them she was sharing a room with him. Yet, despite claims by the girl’s mother that the man had left, workers later learned from the girl’s school and her grandmother that he was still at the home. But, the agency refused to take action.
The workers discovered that Fluet was taking the child to school and was sometimes alone with her. Her mother abused drugs and allowed sex offenders and other criminals to live in the home. From 2010 to 2012, the child estimated about fifteen men raped or sexually assaulted her in other ways, according to documents.
“She had no idea how to act as a 9- or 10-year-old,” Ring said. “She will need a lifetime of therapy.” He added of the agency’s inaction. “They were mandatory reporters and they never reported it to law enforcement.”
The jury’s award included $30 million for future emotional suffering, $15 million for past emotional suffering and $400,000 for the child’s future therapy. Ring said he doubted the mother or the men would be able to pay the full amount.