Alabama officials have failed to protect several children who have been abused and neglected for years while in foster care, according to a series of lawsuits filed today.
Foster children who lived with Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon were sexually, physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally abused, according to the four lawsuits. As the children were starved, isolated, tortured and assaulted, according to the lawsuits, the Alabama Department of Human Resources ignored signs of abuse and neglect.
The lawsuits, each asking for $ 25 million and changes to DHR, were filed in Lauderdale County Circuit Court on behalf of four victims, three of whom are still minors. To protect their identity, victims are only identified by age and initials: JJ, AR, IS and HS
The accused include DHR, Commissioner Nancy Buckner, eight other unidentified DHR employees and the Spurgeons. (Daniel Spurgeon is serving a 25-year prison sentence on criminal charges in connection with the abuse. Jenise Spurgeon is awaiting trial.)
The lawsuits indicate that “many” abuse and neglect complaints have been filed with DHR by the children and others. The complaints included violations of DHR standards for foster homes and the ban on corporal punishment, as well as reports that children were not properly washed or were forced to bathe with other children. , according to the lawsuits.
“The victims in these cases suffered the most shocking abuse imaginable as a direct result of a catastrophic failure of Alabama’s child welfare system,” the lawsuits say. “The system is broken in Alabama and it has failed these victims and countless others. “
[Read more: ‘When he gets a hold of a belt, he doesn’t stop:’ Fear silenced abused foster children for years]
Barry Spear, a spokesperson for DHR, declined to comment on the pending litigation. AL.com’s efforts to reach the lawyers who represented the Spurgeons were not immediately successful.
While the Spurgeons lived in Alabama, they took in more than 50 children – and adopted some – who were placed in their care by the DHR starting around 2003, according to court records. The Spurgeons had custody of at least 11 children while they lived in Florence, a city of about 40,000 people in northwestern Alabama, between 2008 and 2015.
For abuse that occurred while living in Florence, Daniel Spurgeon is serving a 25-year prison sentence after pleading guilty last year to 14 crimes of rape, torture and child abuse.
Jenise Spurgeon is due to stand trial in April on charges of child abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. The human trafficking charge stems from the fact that the Spurgeons were given money from the state for being a foster family while the abuse was occurring, according to the lawsuit.
The Spurgeons home-schooled children, in violation of DHR policy and Alabama law, according to the lawsuits, in an attempt to hide evidence of abuse and neglect, and prevent the children from escape.
It wasn’t until 2016 – nearly a year after the Spurgeons moved from Alabama to Florida – that law enforcement became aware of the abuse.
In July of the same year, Florida police found one of Spurgeon’s children – a 13-year-old girl – drunk in a restaurant, law enforcement said. She and a teenage brother spoke to the police about their life with the Spurgeons. In interviews with Florida police, the adopted and adopted children of Spurgeons also revealed abuse that occurred in Alabama.
After the Spurgeons were arrested, examinations revealed the children had not seen a doctor or dentist in years, lawsuits filed today, and some of them were diagnosed with scabies.
Children suffer from physical pain and discomfort, emotional injury and mental anguish, trauma, humiliation, fear, anger, family turmoil and lack of faith, and an inability to form relationships. close relationships, nightmares and sleep disturbances, mistrust in the intentions of others, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the lawsuits.
“My clients have been through a daily nightmare because the DHR employees did not do their job and it is appalling that the DHR allowed this to happen,” said Tommy James, a Birmingham lawyer representing children with l lawyer Jeremy Knowles.
“It is incomprehensible that these abuses have been going on for years under the noses of DHR employees,” James said in a statement. “They ignored the clear and repeated signs of child abuse and neglect that resulted in emotional and physical consequences that my clients will live with forever.”
The lawsuits accuse DHR and its employees of negligent, gratuitous, willful, malicious or fraudulent inaction.
James said his clients must see changes within DHR to prevent other children from becoming victims. He called on Governor Kay Ivey and Attorney General Steve Marshall to call for these changes.
“These victims hope and pray that these cases and the attention they are receiving will lead to a change in the foster care and adoption systems in Alabama so that it never happens again,” he said. James said. “My clients are extremely courageous and they deserve justice. It is high time that DHR and its employees were held accountable for the constant failures of our children. “