County reaches settlement agreement in lawsuits by former foster children
- Category: Child Protection Lawsuits
- Created: Saturday, 18 August 2018 22:10
- Written by Morgan Cook
Former foster father Michael Jarome Hayes appears in a photo taken by San Diego police in 2013. San Diego Police Department
San Diego County has agreed to settle two lawsuits by former foster children who allege the county failed to protect them from abuse by a former foster parent, then invaded one of the children’s privacy during resulting litigation, according to papers filed Tuesday in federal court.
The filing notified the court that the parties had reached an agreement for both lawsuits Aug. 9, but it did not disclose the terms of settlement.
Parties submitted the notice Tuesday in the privacy lawsuit, which one of the twin boys — identified as A.G. in court records — filed earlier this month in federal court. The notice called off upcoming filing deadlines in the lawsuit, which claimed the county’s civil-defense attorneys violated A.G.’s right to privacy by looking at his confidential juvenile case files without judicial authorization.
The notice said the Aug. 9 settlement also resolved a $5-million-plus lawsuit A.G. and his twin brother, M.G., filed in 2016 against the county and 14 social workers, according to court records. The twins sued the defendants for allegedly ignoring or failing to properly investigate more than a dozen reports of suspected child abuse, leaving the brothers at the mercy of their foster father, Michael Jarome Hayes, who sexually abused them for years.
Hayes pleaded guilty in 2014 to sexually molesting A.G., M.G. and another little boy the county had placed in Hayes’ care. Hayes is serving a 20-year, 8-month prison sentence for his crimes.
County officials did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about the notice and settlement terms.
The twins’ attorney, Shawn A. McMillan of San Diego, said he could not disclose details of the settlement because it is not yet final, but his clients were satisfied with the outcome.
“They’re looking forward to moving on with their lives and putting this behind them,” McMillan said by phone. “They are hopeful this lawsuit and the resolution will change things at the county so other children don’t have to have a similar experience. They were failed at every possible point that a government could fail a child.”
McMillan said his clients chose to settle the litigation because it can take years to get a civil-rights lawsuit like theirs through trial and appeals.
“I hope that the county learns that they need to vet their foster providers quite a bit better, they need to actually listen to the children in their care and they need to follow up with timely appropriate investigation,” McMillan said. “There are rules and laws in place to protect kids — follow them.”
The day after The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on the lawsuit in a July 22 article, candidates running for election to the county Board of Supervisors in November called for an internal investigation of the county’s foster system.
Former Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who is running to replace departing Supervisor Ron Roberts, released a statement condemning the county government’s handling of the plaintiffs’ foster care case.
Fletcher said county officials “owe the public answers as to how their system allowed a sexual predator to serve as a foster parent for seven years and missed repeated reports of his abuse. It is time for a full and transparent investigation into the failures that led to this tragedy followed by concrete actions to ensure accountability and structural changes moving forward.”
Later the same day, Fletcher’s opponent, former District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, released a statement in which she also called for an inquiry.
“I have reached out to Supervisor Ron Roberts and have spoken to a representative of the Child Abuse Prevention Coordinating Council,” Dumanis said at the time. “I am asking them to conduct an investigation into these allegations, as well as, help identify areas for reform.”
On Aug. 10, one day after the parties agreed to the settlement, Roberts and Supervisor Greg Cox issued a news release and a memo calling for a multi-stakeholder advisory council to identify ways to improve the foster care system.
“Over the past few weeks, we have been in numerous discussions concerning the recent public interest and inquiries regarding Child Welfare Services,” the statement said. “As a result of these discussions, we have decided an assessment and subsequent report are timely and appropriate responses.”
The supervisors suggested establishing a working group to partner with the Child Abuse Prevention Coordinating Council to conduct a review of the system and identify areas for improvement by the end of the year.
Cox and Roberts suggested the working group include a former foster child and parent and representatives from entities including county agencies, foster child advocacy groups and the juvenile court.