SALEM, Ore. — Oregon’s child welfare agency is headed to trial later this year in a lawsuit seeking millions in damages for the death of a 2-year-old who died in the care of his stepfather.
On Monday, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Donald Abar ruled the lawsuit could proceed, despite objections from lawyers for the Department of Human Services and cities of Monmouth and Dallas.
Toddler Hayden Henry was found dead in October 2014, after his stepfather repeatedly beat the boy. The stepfather, Richard Tyle, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter for causing Hayden’s death. He had a lengthy history of allegations of violence, plus convictions of strangulation and domestic violence in three separate cases.
Lawyers for Hayden’s estate allege that state child protective workers and police in Monmouth and Dallas failed to adequately investigate bruises on Hayden’s face and neck in the weeks before he died. Officers from both cities and a state child protective services worker observed Hayden’s injuries in the weeks before the toddler’s death. Hayden’s younger sister, who had also been in Tyle’s care, now lives with their biological father.
Under Karly’s Law which the Legislature passed in 2007, anyone conducting an investigation who observes “suspicious physical injuries” on a child must follow a certain protocol. That includes taking photos of the injuries and getting a medical examination within 48 hours. Bruises on the head, neck and face are on a list of injuries the state considers suspicious.
Karly was a 3-year-old from Corvallis murdered by her mother’s boyfriend.
The lawyers for Hayden’s estate argue that both the state and police agencies failed to follow the Karly’s Law protocol, among other claims. For example, lawyer Travis Eiva said Monmouth police officer Mark Robertson took photos of the bruises around Hayden’s neck on Oct. 3, 2014 but did not send them to the human services agency. A child welfare worker said during a deposition that the photos from Hayden’s first contact with law enforcement would have triggered an investigation, Eiva said.
“(The investigation) has to be of a type that is sufficient to determine the nature and cause of abuse of a child,” Eiva told the court. Eiva said a jury should determine whether the state and cities’ investigations met the standard in Karly’s Law.
Lawyers for Hayden’s estate are seeking $10 million in damages from the child welfare agency and the two cities, with more than half of that sought from the Department of Human Services.
Andrew Campbell, an attorney for the cities, said the investigation “might not have been the investigation that everyone wants” but the officers “did an investigation. They satisfied Karly’s Law.”
Dirk Pierson, a lawyer who represents the human services agency, said the injuries that workers found after Hayden’s father called the police a second time were not suspicious enough to require the Karly’s Law protocol.
“There’s no trigger for (Department of Human Services) to do Karly’s Law,” Pierson said. The lawyer added that the child protective services worker Nick Alfonse who was notified Oct. 13, 2014 of a “small scratch” and bruise on the boy’s bottom “went above and beyond his duty” by forwarding information about Hayden’s injuries to a group called Liberty House that assesses child abuse claims.
By Oct. 19, 2014, Hayden had died.
In the end, Abar agreed with the lawyers for Hayden’s estate that a jury should decide whether the agencies met the standard of investigation under Karly’s Law. “I am persuaded there is a genuine issue of fact,” Abar said.
Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com