Lawsuit: Oregon DHS covered up, ignored Keizer couple’s abuse of foster children
Because of Oregon Department of Human Services’ ignorance and inadequate investigations, three children were abused for years in a filthy Keizer foster home, according to a $100 million civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court.
The abuse became so severe, one foster child, a 10-month-old girl, was hospitalized with fractures in all four of her limbs.
Another child suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of her foster parent.
The man responsible for the abuse, Casey Miller, is in prison serving a 30-year sentence for repeatedly sodomizing the girl. His wife, Melissa, was never criminally charged in the case. The couple first became foster care providers in 2011.
The Millers, DHS and multiple child welfare case workers are listed as defendants in the lawsuit. According to attorney Steven Rizzo, the agency deliberately ignored obvious signs the couple were unfit to be foster parents.
DHS spokesman Jay Remy declined to comment on the case because of the pending litigation.
The Millers had no prior childcare experience when they were first recruited to be foster parents in 2011. According to the lawsuit, the agency knew both were emotionally unstable, lived in a cramped, filthy home and relied on foster care payments to meet their household expenses.
The Millers rented a 900-square-foot, two-bedroom, unheated home in Keizer. During a 2013 visit, caseworkers observed the conditions of the already dirty home were worsening.
Walls rotted, overladen shelved teetered, mold grew in corners and a layer of dust covered the furniture. The pervasive odor of cat urine hung in the air.
Despite the dismal surroundings, the lawsuit says, caseworkers chose not to suspend or revoke the Millers’ foster home certificate.
The lawsuit detailed the alleged abuse of three children: 2-year-old “J.M.”, 5-year-old “A.S.” and 10-month-old “R.L.”
Within a month of arriving at the Millers’ home in 2011, J.M. began to show signs of child abuse and maltreatment. The bruises and marks appeared on the toddler’s face, ears, head, neck, arms, ribs, hips, legs and buttocks. Cuts covered his face, and he ate food compulsively.
When responding to reports of possible abuse, caseworkers allegedly accepted Melissa’s explanation that the boy was harming himself. They did not interview Casey.
The pattern continued for years.
Bruises also began to appear on A.S. around the same time. The girl reported signs of sexual abuse like incontinence and itching. Before her “nap time,” she fell into fits of rage. The 5-year-old said she wished she were dead and begged to be reunited with her biological mother.
Melissa told caseworkers the girl was hurting herself. Again, they neglected to interview Casey.
In 2017, the girl disclosed that Casey had repeatedly sexually abused her. She told detectives Casey would take her into his room at “nap time,” make her watch pornography with him and force her to perform oral sex on him. He would “reward” her by giving her chewing gum and pocket change.
Casey admitted to detectives that he had sexually abused the girl for years. He was sentenced to 30-years in prison in September.
At his sentencing, the girl’s mother addressed Casey.
“You have done things to my daughter that could never be undone,” she said. “You took away her innocence.”
She said she felt like her concerns over her children’s care were ignored by officials.
Her daughter, then 11, also spoke during the sentencing. She said she was sad about the other children Casey hurt.
“I also hope I will never see you again,” she said. “You were supposed to take care of me … instead, you molested me.”
The lawsuit claims DHS made no effort to console the girl or her family. The agency insisted it would charge the family $10,000 to access its client files and records.
When the family’s attorney served a tort notice to the Department of Administrative Services, “DAS, acting in concert with DHS, failed to complete the sham ‘investigation’ and determine legal responsibility,” according to the lawsuit.
When R.L. arrived at the Miller home in 2013, the 10-month-old was developing at a normal rate, standing and crawling around on furniture. But caseworkers soon observed the infant was oddly quiet and her ability to walk and crawl was impaired.
The lawsuit claimed DHS “knew that R.L.’s condition deteriorated rapidly, and it knew and/or suspect that R.L. was being abused.”
The morning of Oct. 20, 2013, the infant was rushed to hospital with a swollen upper arm. Melissa told DHS workers she didn’t know the infant was injured but might have fallen out of a playpen. An examination revealed she had seven fractures spread across all four of her limbs. They were consistent with blunt force trauma or a wrenching motion.
Medical providers deemed the injuries to be suspicious and notified law enforcement.
During his police interview, Casey said foster care services frustrated him. The 6-feet-tall, more than 250-pound man said he yanked on the infant’s arm the night before her hospitalization. He said he heard a loud pop. The infant reacted with a shocked look on her face.
Casey admitted to forcing her into her sleeper by straightening her legs and grabbing her wrist on another occasion.
Casey was charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment.
The lawsuit claimed DHS officials worked to keep the story out of the news and attempted to link the child’s injuries to brittle bone disease instead of abuse.
Oregon Health & Science University personnel concluded the infant did not have brittle bone disease.
DHS officials allegedly accepted Casey’s “light” sentence of three years probation and no additional jail time without advising the child’s parents, according to the lawsuit.
In the claim, Rizzo said the three children had the right to safety and protection while in DHS care. The caseworkers involved with the Millers failed to protect the children from physical harm and sexual abuse.
They overlooked the Millers mental health problems and financial instability, he said. More than once, a caseworker disregarded reports of abuse and failed to interview Casey.
The plaintiffs are seeking at least $100 million in damages, including $75 million in punitive damages.
They also demanded the individuals that participated in the alleged cover-up be fired.
Following Casey’s September sentencing, Rizzo warned the agency would be facing a civil suit.
“It’s just another tragedy written and directed by DHS,” he said.
For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 503-399-6884 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth