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Big (and Meaningless) Verdict
December 17, 2014 permalink
A jury in Oregon has awarded $4.1 for two girls abused while in foster care. The abuse was committed by foster mother Kimberly Janelle Vollmer, a low-functioning woman with a record of past child abuse. The girls, identified only as ES and NE, were two and four years old at the time of the abuse last year and remain in the custody of Oregon DHS, though with a different foster mother. The verdict, which sounds like a victory for abused children, will come from the taxpayers and go into a trust fund which Oregon DHS will have a decade to consume on the girls' behalf.
Portland jury awards record sum against DHS: $4.1M to girls who said foster mom molested them
A Portland jury on Friday awarded the largest sum ever levied against the Oregon Department of Human Services for failing to protect children: $4.1 million to two girls who said they were molested by their Portland foster mom, who had been reported to a child-abuse hotline seven times before state child-welfare workers intervened.
During a two-week trial in Multnomah County Circuit Court, attorneys for the girls said that the state failed to protect the then 2- and 4-year-olds from Kimberly Janelle Vollmer, who never should have been certified as a foster parent.
DHS approved Vollmer, then 31, as a foster parent in January 2011, even though she had a borderline low IQ of about 70; had been hospitalized in 2005 on a psychiatric hold for five days because she’d purposely cut her arms and her face; and had been fired from a job as an adult caregiver because of repeated medical negligence, the girls' attorneys said.
Even though Vollmer originally was supposed to care for three foster kids at most, DHS let her house as many as eight children at a time, the girls' lawyers said.
After deliberating for three hours, the jury gave the girls every dollar their attorneys asked for: $2 million for each child's pain and suffering, and $50,000 apiece to cover years, if not decades, of counseling.
“We only hope the Department of Human Services and the Oregon Legislature will hear and respond to the jury’s message, and do what needs to be done to ensure these vulnerable children are placed in safe foster homes,” said Portland attorney Josh Lamborn, who represented one of the girls, who was identified only as E.S. in the lawsuit.
Portland attorney Erin Olson represented the other girl, identified as N.E.
A state spokeswoman did not return requests seeking comment on Saturday.
The next largest payout by DHS for crimes committed in a child-welfare case was $3.75 million. In 2007, a Gresham man so violently shook his 2-year-old foster daughter that he blinded her in one eye and caused irreversible brain damage. The money given to the girl, Stephanie Kuntupis, was a settlement, not a jury verdict.
During the trial of E.S. and N.E., attorneys for DHS contended that the child-protection agency couldn’t have known of the terrible abuses taking place under Vollmer’s roof.
Vollmer lived in both North and Northeast Portland in the roughly two years she worked as a foster parent.
During that time, DHS received seven calls to its child-abuse hotline, Lamborn said. Some of the calls pertained to unexplained blood in the diaper of a different foster child. Another call was made by an employee of a medical clinic, who reported seeing Vollmer slap one of her foster children so hard the child fell to the floor.
“They closed it at screening,” Lamborn said of the agency’s query into the reported slap. “They called her on the phone, and she denied it, and they believed her.”
DHS finally intervened in January 2013, after 4-year-old N.E. was singing at church but suddenly stopped. She was crying, and the pastor’s wife asked her why.
N.E. said nothing was wrong, but the pastor’s wife noticed what looked like a handprint on the girl’s face. The pastor took a look and noticed blood in the corner of the girl’s mouth. The girl reluctantly told the pastor that Vollmer hit her.
At CARES Northwest, an organization that assesses children for possible abuse, N.E. told investigators that her foster mom hit her and the other children.
The girl also said her foster mother had stuck her fingers inside of her, Lamborn said, but an exam turned up no physical evidence of sexual abuse.
Vollmer was criminally charged for the incident that left the handprint on N.E.’s face, and she pleaded guilty in Multnomah County Circuit Court to third-degree assault. She was sentenced to three days in jail, and three years of probation.
At the time of Vollmer’s sentencing in July 2013, a prosecutor said he couldn't comment on the possibility of filing charges against Vollmer tied to any sex crimes.
There also was some evidence that Vollmer had physically and sexually abused E.S., said Lamborn, the girl's attorney. A few months after E.S. was removed from Vollmer’s home, she told her new foster mom that she’d been sexually abused.
A medical exam at CARES Northwest found evidence of the abuse, although the girl didn’t say anything about sexual abuse to an investigator, Lamborn said. But she did say Vollmer had struck her in the face.
Lamborn said even though the girl was barely 3 years old at the time of the CARES Northwest assessment, she was “extremely verbal” and exceptionally bright. Tests showed she has an IQ of 115.
Lamborn said he and Olson, the other attorney, found red flag after red flag in their investigations of Vollmer’s life before she was allowed to become a foster parent. Vollmer indicated some of her problems on her DHS application. Others, she omitted, Lamborn said.
But the now-retired employee who certified Vollmer as a foster parent failed to do a thorough investigation by, for example, checking the Portland Police Bureau's data system, the girls' lawyers said. Doing so would have turned up police reports about Vollmer's 2005 hospitalization for cutting herself, and reports about a friend who'd called police in 2006 saying Vollmer was missing and reportedly expressing suicidal thoughts, they said.
No DHS employees were disciplined for lapses that allowed Vollmer to become a foster parent and allowed her to commit sexual, physical and psychological abuse of her foster children, the girls' attorneys said.
The jury's award will go into funds for E.S. and N.E., and a court-appointed representative will monitor how it is spent.
Since leaving Vollmer's home, the girls have been adopted by different families. They are both living in "safe and loving homes," Lamborn said.
Source: The Oregonion