Hennepin County and two social workers recently came under fire in a lawsuit over the 2018 death of an infant girl, Layla Mary Ann Jackson.
A lawsuit was recently filed against two social workers who allegedly failed to “protect 18-month-old Layla Mary Ann Jackson from a foster family that physically abused, mocked and ultimately murdered the infant girl.” According to the lawsuit, Layla, a Native American and African American girl, died on August 28, 2018, from injuries she sustained at the hands of her foster father, Jason Betlach. It turns out, he “shook her violently to make her stop crying,” causing blunt force trauma to her neck and head. He is now serving a 30-year sentence in Rush City correctional facility.
The recent lawsuit filed last week in Minnesota U.S. District Court alleges Betlach isn’t the only one responsible for the infant’s death, though. Instead, the suit argues Layla is the “latest casualty of Hennepin County’s broken child welfare system.” It names “Hennepin and Scott counties for negligence and Hennepin specifically for violations related to deprivation of rights.” Additionally, two social workers, Bree Meduna and Julie Malecha are also named as defendants, as is Betlach’s wife, Jessica Betlach, because she failed to intervene and stop the abuse.
Jeff Storms is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. He said:
“Layla Jackson’s death follows in the footsteps of the equally horrific deaths of Kendrea Johnson and Arianna Hunziker, all foster children to whom Hennepin County owed duties of protection…Sadly, we expect that Hennepin County will once again reject accountability as it did by forcing the families to endure prolonged litigation in the Johnson and Hunziker cases.”
Layla and her brother were first placed with the Betlaches back in April 2018. During their stay, Betlach regularly referred to Layla as a ‘Mongoloid’ and used other racist and abusive terms towards her. Additionally, “he recorded a video shouting ‘white power’ at her, mocked her medical needs and status as a foster child and wrote ‘loser’ on her forehead,” according to the suit.
On top of that, Betlach allegedly lied on the paperwork to become a foster parent when he said he had no criminal history. In fact, he has past convictions for “possession of drugs and paraphernalia, theft, DWI and a citation for not using a car seat with a child under the age of 8.” Additionally, “no one from the foster system ran a background check on him.” Because of this, and the fact that Layla was a relative of Jessica Betlach, Layla was placed with the Betlaches “with the understanding they would complete licensure.” However, the family “was hostile toward training and the licensure process, and took no steps to do so, which the social workers knew,” according to the suit.
While on her one and only home visit, Malecha noted “a lack of smoke detectors properly installed and working on every level of the home and that weapons and ammunition were stored together and not locked in areas that are not accessible or visible to children.” She informed Meduna, but neither spoke to Mr. Betlach. To make matters worse, Mrs. Betlach was aware that her husband was abusing Layla. The psychological abuse was “damaging the young girl and stunting her growth.” Even though Mrs. Betlach knew this, she didn’t stop her husband and the social workers never intervened, “even when Layla’s biological mother and Jessica Betlach told them Layla wasn’t safe.”
When late August rolled around, the Betlaches began canceling appointments with the social workers and Meduna and Malecha noted they were unfit to be foster parents. Despite this, they still failed to act. Tragically, on August 28, 2018, Layla was left alone with Mr. Betlach and his biological daughter and when the fatal incident happened. Immediately following the incident, Layla was hospitalized with injuries so severe that she “sustained cardiac arrest and a brain injury.” Two days later, she died.
The suit states:
“Meduna and Malecha had reason to know [Layla] was suffering from these constitutional violations. They had a realistic opportunity to intervene to stop these constitutional violations, but either maliciously or with reckless disregard for whether [Layla’s] rights would be violated, failed to intervene.”