How Could You? Hall of Shame/Lawsuit-James Earl Mooney Bittersweet JusticeUPDATED
This will be an archive of heinous actions by those involved in child welfare, foster care and adoption. We forewarn you that these are deeply disturbing stories that may involve sex abuse, murder, kidnapping and other horrendous actions.
From Salem, Oregon, foster parent James Earl Mooney was “sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree sodomy” in 2012. Now a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 11 victims. The Oregon DHS is being sued for $23 Million.
“James Earl Mooney told police he couldn’t remember how many of the 50 babies and toddlers who lived in his Salem foster home fell victim to his sexual abuse from 2007 to 2011.
But attorneys for 11 of those children have filed nearly $23 million in lawsuits against the Oregon Department of Human Services. Investigators may identify more children who were victims and their names could be added to the suits.
The lawsuits represent one of the most sweeping cases against the state child-welfare agency for abuse by a single foster parent. Some of the children were as young as days or weeks old.
“It’s hard to fathom a more dangerous perpetrator,” said David Paul, a Portland attorney who filed suit on behalf of one of the children, who is now 5. “The notion that these kind of crimes can occur serially in a home where the state pays to house children is a tragedy beyond measure.”
A DHS spokesman on Monday referred questions about details of the case to the Oregon Department of Justice, which declined comment.
Last year, Mooney was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree sodomy. His wife, LaTamra Moody, wasn’t charged with any wrongdoing. She divorced James Mooney later that year.
According to two suits filed Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court and U.S. District Court by Portland attorney Steve Rizzo on behalf of 10 foster children:
Mooney and his wife were 22-year-old newlyweds and didn’t have children when DHS approved them as foster parents. Their application, background checks, home study and training took less than two months. Soon, young children — and money from DHS — were arriving at the Mooneys’ apartment.
Rizzo’s suits fault DHS employees for allegedly ignoring escalating signs of abuse from the children — including complaints of pain while using the toilet, redness on their buttocks and unusual behavior, such as smearing feces on walls.
It wasn’t until April 2011 that the molestations came to light, after one of the foster children moved out of the home and told a prospective adoptive parent that Mooney had sexually abused her in the shower.
Mooney denied the abuse, but nearly two months later, he told police that as a youth he sexually abused babies at his mother’s in-home day care and committed acts of bestiality against cats and dogs, according to the suits. It’s unclear whether Mooney was prosecuted as a juvenile for any of these offenses because juvenile records are protected from the public.
Mooney admitted that he abused many of his foster children. He described one instance when he preyed on a child who was strapped into a car seat in a parking lot while his wife was inside a medical office with another child, Rizzo said.
Although DHS spokesman Gene Evans said he couldn’t talk about the specifics of the pending suits, he addressed department policies that allowed the Mooneys to become foster parents.
People as young as 21 — newlyweds, co-habitating couples or single people, regardless of whether they have children — can apply to be foster parents of children who aren’t relatives.
In 2007, when the Mooneys were approved, a supervisor would have been required to OK a screener’s decision to approve them, but not necessarily in writing. In 2010, the department began requiring supervisors to commit their signatures to paper. The agency also gave supervisors more training emphasizing that they need to review the details of each foster parent application, not just OK it as a mere formality, Evans said.
DHS does a better job of sharing information among caseworkers who supervise children in the same home, Evans said, so now anytime a report of abuse is made against a foster parent, all caseworkers are automatically alerted.
Rizzo’s suits allege DHS failed to give James Mooney a psychological evaluation that might have identified his sexual attraction toward young children. DHS doesn’t require an evaluation for all applicants, but can require a specific applicant to undergo one.
Although James Mooney had an auto repair job when he first became a foster parent, both the Mooneys later became unemployed. DHS policy states that foster parents must be able to financially support themselves independently of money they receive as foster parents. “
[Oregon Live 6/24/13 by Aimee Green]
REFORM Puzzle Pieces
Update: “The families of eleven infants and toddlers placed in foster care with a Salem man are suing Oregon’s Department of Human Services, alleging the agency failed to vet the family and ignored signs of sexual abuse.
Lawsuits filed Friday in Multnomah County and U.S. District Court on behalf of nine victims seek $22 million in damages for negligence, abuse of a vulnerable person and deprivation of civil rights.
The suit also lays the groundwork to add up to 50 additional victims who could have been abused by James Earl Mooney — making it one of the largest abuse cases ever brought against a single foster parent in Oregon.
“Several of the children have memories, bad ones,” attorney Steven Rizzo said. “We view it as an extremely serious injury, and we want DHS to come forward and reveal the identities of the children who passed through the home to find out whether they have been evaluated and tested for disease.”
Mooney, now 29, and his wife were approved as foster parents in February 2007 when they both were 22 years old and living in a “small apartment.” According to the lawsuit, the couple agreed to take “medically fragile newborns, infants and toddlers.” The kids suffered from things such as drug withdrawal and physical disabilities.
The lawsuit alleges DHS didn’t require Mooney to undergo a psychological evaluation that might have revealed his troubled upbringing.
“Defendant Mooney watched a parent engage in the sexual abuse of this sibling, and he sexually abused and molested infants in his mother’s in-home day care,” according to the lawsuit. “In addition, defendant Mooney regularly engaged in acts of bestiality with dogs and cats and was involved repeatedly in acts of theft. He also committed arson.”
The Statesman Journal couldn’t verify these claims because juvenile records are sealed.
The lawsuit accuses multiple named and unnamed DHS employees of ignoring symptoms of abuse in Mooney’s foster children, including complaints of pain while using the bathroom, redness around their bottoms and self-harming behaviors such as biting, hair-pulling and smearing feces on the walls.
Although Mooney repaired cars when DHS approved the couple, the lawsuit alleges that Mooney and his wife were later unemployed. DHS policy requires foster parents to support themselves independently of the money DHS supplies as compensation.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice, which will represent DHS, declined to comment.
The abuse allegedly continued until April 2011 when a child’s adoptive parents told DHS and Salem police that Mooney forced his genitalia into their child’s mouth while the two were in a shower.
Mooney initially denied the allegations.
He confessed in June 2011, providing explicit details about his abuse of multiple foster children.
In January 2012, Mooney was sentenced to 50 years in prison after pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree sodomy against one female victim whose name the Statesman Journal is withholding.
His wife did not face any criminal charges and divorced Mooney soon after.
No victims’ families came to the sentencing. The lawsuit alleges that could be by design.
Specifically, it notes that the adoptive parents of one child were ignored when they asked the Marion County District Attorney’s office in writing to be told when Mooney would be sentenced.
“I think all of the families wanted a chance to be involved and be heard,” Rizzo said.
The suit also claims DHS and the DA’s office repeatedly rescheduled Mooney’s sentencing and didn’t issue a public statement to avoid media exposure.
“We were not able to find any media on James Mooney or the Mooney prosecution at all,” Rizzo said. “I can’t say whether it’s intentional … We will know more once we get into discovery in this case.”
Deputy District Attorney Nicole Theobald petitioned the court during Mooney’s sentencing to close the room to media and seal the case file. Circuit Judge Jamese Rhodes denied both motions, according to court documents.
Jean Kunkle, a spokeswoman for the DA’s office, said Tuesday she couldn’t comment on pending litigation.
She did say that the female victim and her family were notified of all of Mooney’s appearances, and Theobald asked to close the courtroom to media at the request of the girl’s family.
DHS has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit or ask for an extension. Once the agency responds, the case will move into discovery.”
[Statesman Journal 6/26/13 by Anna Staver]
Update 2: “The Department of Human Services is asking a federal judge to forbid the release of evidence in a civil lawsuit that accuses the agency of neglecting signs of sexual abuse involving at least nine infants and toddlers.
“Child welfare litigation creates unique problems for the State of Oregon,” according to court documents filed by Oregon’s Department of Justice. “DHS must respond to discovery requests while trying to adhere to a myriad of state and federal laws, which require that the requested information be kept confidential.”
The plaintiffs want the documents made public, with “sensible redactions,” stating that otherwise Oregonians may never know how a Salem man committed such acts in what could be the largest case of sexual abuse by a foster parent in the state’s history.
The case started in April 2011 when a girl told her adoptive parents that she was sexually molested in a shower by her foster father, Jame [sic] Earl Mooney.
Salem police arrested Mooney in May 2011, and he confessed to sexually abusing multiple children in his care between 2007 and 2011. Mooney was sentenced to 50 years in prison in January 2012.
In June, Portland-based attorney Steven Rizzo filed civil lawsuits in Multnomah County and U.S. District Court against DHS on behalf of nine children.
The lawsuit accuses the agency of improperly vetting Mooney as a foster parent and ignoring signs of abuse in the children, such as complaints of pain when using the bathroom.
The plaintiffs asked for $22 million in damages for negligence, abuse of a vulnerable person and deprivation of civil rights.
The lawsuit also laid the ground to add up to 50 additional victims, alleging that its possible all of the children in Mooney’s care were abused.
As part of the discovery process, Rizzo filed a 53-page document requesting 319 pieces of evidence from the state — including the names of all the children DHS placed in Mooney’s care and the names of all the DHS employees who interacted with Mooney.
Attorneys for DHS said no.
“It is not the obligation of the defendants to determine which persons who may have been offended by the conduct of Mooney or if anyone else should or will join the lawsuit or file separately,” according to court documents filed by attorneys at the DOJ.
The plaintiffs, sisters Cassandra and Rebecca, adopted two of Mooney’s victims and they contend in court documents that DHS never told them the kids were sexually abused before adoption.
The sisters write in their affidavits that the 4-year-old girl they adopted suffered nightmares and would cry when held.
“These were traumatic episodes,” Rebecca and Cassandra wrote. “We began to think that perhaps we were doing something wrong.”
The sisters were further worried after a therapist told them that their adopted daughter likely had been abused, and they called a caseworker with their concerns. Only then, the sisters contend in the lawsuit, did DHS inform them — four months after the adoption — that their daughter had been repeatedly sodomized.
DHS promised in court documents to release its files on the nine named children and on Mooney, but only after the judge rules on a protective order. That order would forbid anyone associated with the case from “discussing or revealing the contents of these documents,” and require the files be returned or destroyed within 30 days of a final verdict.
That would mean lawmakers, media and members of the public couldn’t learn how Mooney was approved as a foster parent or how DHS caseworkers checked on the children. If DHS conducted its own internal investigation after Mooney’s arrest, the report and its findings would also be covered by the protective order.
The case files contain protected information about the children’s biological parents, including records of neglect, criminal activity and drug abuse.
Eleven of the plaintiffs’ 18 biological parents signed affidavits waiving their rights to confidentiality, according to court documents. And the plantiff wants the names of the remaining parents to ask whether they would also waive their rights.
DOJ attorneys claim redacting the documents would place an unreasonable burden on DHS.
Oral arguments on the protective order are scheduled for Jan. 15.”
[Statesman Journal 12/22/13 by Anna Staver]
Update 3: “In a record settlement for wrongdoing by a state agency, the state will pay $15 million to resolve a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of nine young children abused by a Salem foster father.
“We feel we achieved a successful outcome for the victims,” Portland attorney Steven Rizzo said Monday.
Rizzo filed the lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Human Services on behalf of medically fragile newborns, infants and toddlers ranging in age from 2 days to 3 years.
The former foster parent, James Earl Mooney, now 31, is serving a 50-year prison sentence state at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution.
His crimes came to light in 2011 after a 3-year-old disclosed that Mooney had sexually abused her, Rizzo said.
The children’s families hope that the Department of Human Services learns from this case and commits to preventing other cases of abuse, he said.
In a statement Monday, interim Director Clyde Saiki said the department “understands and admits responsibility for the damages suffered by these innocent victims.”
“The settlement reflects the agency’s accountability for failing to ensure the safety of these children in its care,” he said.
An inquiry into the agency ordered by Gov. Kate Brown, who is “deeply concerned about what has been happening at DHS,” is underway, he said.
Saiki said he also is conducting an internal investigation “of this particular matter to determine how it happened and why we failed to protect these children.”
“As soon as possible, I will take the appropriate action to see that system failures are corrected and that the appropriate personnel action(s) is taken,” he said.
Mooney, who became a foster parent in 2007 at age 22, told detectives that he couldn’t remember the names of all the children he’d abused, sexually or otherwise.
Rizzo said about 30 children were placed with the Mooneys over four years. The plaintiffs were all children who stayed for several months and were repeatedly abused.
Mooney told investigators that the children’s crying upset him and he had a history of abusing animals and small children. Court records show he pleaded guilty in 2012 to five counts of first-degree sodomy and one count of first-degree sexual abuse.
Rizzo said the Department of Human Services committed a slew of failures, beginning in the certification phase, when it made Mooney and his then-wife foster parents. And the pattern of errors continued in the agency’s supervision of the Mooneys and the children in their care, he said.
Among the missteps, the lawsuit faulted department employees for allegedly ignoring escalating signs of abuse such as the children’s complaints of pain while using the toilet, redness on their buttocks and their behaviors such as biting, pulling out hair and smearing feces.
This settlement, reached last week, will be the most the state has paid out whether ordered by a jury or agreed upon by lawyers during settlement negotiations.
The second biggest payout was a $5 million settlement over a 1997 shooting by Oregon State Police.”
State pays record $15 million in abuse case involving babies, toddlers [Oregon Live 12/21/15 by Emily E, Smith]