It is believed to be the largest such settlement involving a single child in Washington state history.
A man who never would have qualified as a foster parent was ziplined through the state child-welfare approval system, gaining custody of an 18-month old child with disastrous and expensive results.
The child was so badly beaten by her alleged father, she was left blind, brain-damaged and quadriplegic and because of that, the state last week agreed to pay $19.3 million to settle a 2017 lawsuit filed on her behalf.
It is the largest such settlement involving a single person in Washington state history, according to the state’s risk-management department, capping an eight-year period in which the state’s human service agency paid out $223 million to settle legal claims.
According to the girl’s attorney, the now-5-year-old child and her older half-sister had been taken from their mother’s home in 2014.
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The mother left the older child with a registered sex offender in another state. She left the younger girl with, Bryant K. Davis, of Texas, who she thought was the girl’s father.
When she brought the girls back to Washington, they were taken from her by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which oversaw child welfare at the time.. In early 2015, the girls were placed in a stable foster home with parents who were interested in adopting the siblings, according to the Pierce County Superior Court lawsuit.
When Davis came forward for custody, claiming he was the younger girl’s father, the agency sent her to Texas “in the blink of an eye,” ignoring red flags that should have disqualified him from having custody, according to attorney Tim Tesh.
In violation of its own policies, the agency did not require Davis to submit to a legal paternity test or undergo a court-ordered parenting assessment, nor did it investigate his criminal history, which included drug offenses, aggravated robbery and domestic violence, the suit claimed.
Even the child’s social worker said during a deposition that she did not read the Texas home study until after the lawsuit was filed, Tesh said.
The child was sent to live with Davis and his wife in April 2015.
Three months later, emergency medical crews were called to the child’s home after Davis reported the toddler, then 21 months old, was having a seizure. She was discovered to have 16 fractured ribs, liver and spleen lacerations, a brain bleed and facial bruising, according to the suit.
Davis told police the child had gone to the bathroom on the living room floor and he had responded by punching her in the ribs, spanking her and putting her in the bathroom. When he later found her standing in the toilet, he “slammed (her) into the toilet, causing her to hit her head on the back of it” then took her to the living room for another beating, the suit says.
Davis was arrested and charged with seven counts of first-degree felony injury to a child and sentenced to 23 years in prison, Tesh said.
The child was returned to Washington and lives in a rehabilitative center in Walla Walla.
Last year, the authority over child welfare was transferred from DSHS to a new agency, the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Between 2011 and 2018, DSHS paid $223 million to settle legal claims, including a record $42.9 million in payouts in fiscal year 2018.
Ross Hunter, head of the new agency, said the settlement ensures the girl will receive quality care for the rest of her life. He also said the new agency is continually reviewing its practices to improve.
“We understand that we cannot prevent every tragedy, but we can do a better job of reducing the number of them that happen under our watch,” Ross said in a news statement.