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Lawsuit Refiled Against Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services After Sudden Death of 3-Month-Old Baby

— July 15, 2019

A lawsuit against Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services was recently refiled and centers on the sudden death of 3-month-old Charlee Marie Faith Ford.

A wrongful death lawsuit settlement was refiled last week for a 4-month-old baby girl who died while in the care of the Rockbridge Area Department of Social Services. This isn’t the first time the particular lawsuit has been filed, though. In fact, it was nonsuited without prejudice back on January 15. As part of it being refiled, the suit has a “narrower list of defendants.”

But what happened? Why was it filed in the first place? Let’s go back to the beginning of the case. Back on April 16, 2016, little Charlee Marie Faith Ford died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) after she was placed in a home the Department of Social Services had deemed high risk. FPrior to her death, workers for the department noted “dirty conditions and evidence of drug abuse in the home but failed to remove the infant or take actions to correct the situation before her death.”

Safe Sleep Logo
Safe Sleep Logo; image courtesy of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) via Wikimedia Commons,

According to an internal review by the regional office, “a child protective services supervisor refused to assign an investigator to the case.”

When the original suit was filed by the Day Law Group, it alleged that the infant was “born addicted to drugs, which would immediately qualify her to be in a ‘high risk’ situation.” However, the investigator on her case only marked her down as low risk, “which limited the involvement of child protective services.” As a result, the baby girl was left with her parents and child protective services didn’t investigate more until an outside complaint was filed.

Once child protective services received the outside complaint, Charlee was classified ‘high risk’ by an investigator, though “neither she nor her family were offered services.” To make matters worse, when law enforcement investigators requested urine and hair tests on the parents, the department did not complete the tests,” according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after the infant’s death, her parents, Diana Nicole Hazelwood and Charles Everett Ford III were arrested on felony murder charges. Soon after, Hazelwood pleaded guilty to a “reduced charge of attempted felony murder in exchange for her testimony against the infant’s father.” Charles Ford, on the other hand, pleaded not guilty and is expected to be tried later this year in September for felony murder.

When commenting on the recent decision to refile the lawsuit, Richard Gilman, the attorney representing Charlee’s estate, said the suit hopes to bring focus to the “local department because they are the ones who were liable and at fault for what happened to the infant.”

Listed as defendants are “Ford, Hazelwood, Meredith Downey, the acting director of the department at the time of Charlee’s death, Brenda Perry, the acting child protective services supervisor at the time, Wade Cress, the CPS investigator, the Rockbridge County social services department and the local board of social services as defendants,” according to the suit.


$17 million wrongful death lawsuit refiled against Rockbridge County social services

Rockbridge Co. social services, others face $17 M lawsuit in death of three-month-old

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