Two young brothers were emotionally, physically and sexually abused while in the care of a Douglas County foster home, according to a civil complaint filed recently against the state and the Department of Human Services that is seeking more than $5 million in damages.
The complaint was filed on Sept. 17 in Douglas County Circuit Court. Beaverton attorney Paul C. Galm is representing the boys in the case. Steve G. Milla, a Beaverton attorney who is the guardian ad litem for the boys, is also listed as a plaintiff in the case.
The state has not yet filed a response to the complaint. A DHS spokesperson said the agency would not comment on the specifics of the complaint.
“Anytime a child experiences abuse it is a traumatic and tragic event for them,” DHS press secretary Jake Sunderland said. “We however do not comment on litigation and have nothing else to share related to this matter.”
The boys are now 9 and 7 years old. The older boy is referred to as D.S. in the complaint, while the younger boy is referred to as A.S. The two boys currently live with their adoptive parents in Oregon. The parental rights of their biological parents were terminated and they were adopted in December 2020.
According to the complaint, around September 2016, when D.S. was 5 and A.S. was 3, DHS removed them from the custody of their biological parents. DHS placed D.S. that same month in the foster care home of a couple referred to in the complaint as S.R. and M.R.
A.S. was put in another home until June 2017, when he was placed in the foster care home of S.R. and M.R., alongside his brother. An older boy referred to as P.F.C. was also in that foster care home at the time.
DHS was notified of problems in the home in May 2017, a month before A.S. arrived, when an agency worker assessed a report of abuse and neglect at the home. The report included a conversation between a DHS worker and D.S. and a foster care sibling during a drive back to the home after visiting relatives. In the conversations, D.S. and the sibling expressed excitement at the prospect of A.S. coming to live with them. But they were disappointed they would have to move into the “choke-out room,” where both the foster parents and other foster children “were mean to them and choked them,” the complaint said.
When a DHS worker investigated, D.S. denied saying anything about a choke-out room, and DHS found the statements to be unfounded.
Around Sept. 8, 2017, DHS received another report of abuse at the home, this one alleging sexual abuse and exploitation, in addition to neglect. The report alleged that P.F.C. made D.S. perform oral sex in exchange for allowing D.S. to use his tablet. The abuse continued through September and October 2017, according to the complaint.
MORE ABUSE ALLEGEDOn Sept. 13, during a forensic interview with the agency Douglas Cares, D.S. stated that P.F.C. had on multiple occasions, forcedly kissed him and his brother and forced inappropriate sexual contact.
On about Sept. 18, A.S. reported that he had seen P.F.C. sexually assaulting D.S. When he saw the abuse, he flipped the light on, but it was futile, according to the lawsuit.
On or about that same day, DHS became aware of unusual disciplinary techniques being used in the home. Specifically, D.S. disclosed during a forensic interview that his foster parents would “send him to the gate at night.” D.S. described being very scared and “hiding in the dog house.”
About two weeks later, D.S. elaborated on the mentally abusive discipline and neglect at the home. He said the last time he got into trouble he was forced to stand outside in the blackberry bushes in the dark for about 20 minutes. The boy said he was scared because there were bears, cougars and coyotes in the area.
D.S. also said his foster parents choked and spanked him, and covered his mouth with tape so that he had trouble breathing. Both boys suffered such abuse, according to the complaint.
Sometimes the two boys would be left under the supervision of “the big kids,” who would also make them stay outside. Sometimes the boys hid under the house, where there were bats, they said.
A.S. told caseworkers that P.F.C had repeatedly punched him, and that “it makes him cry but he does not tell anyone.”
DHS concluded that the sexual abuse allegations from September 2017 were founded but concluded that it was unable to determine the veracity of the neglect allegations from September and October 2017.
In April 2018, a DHS worker assessed a new report of neglect at the home. Specifically, the report alleged that firearms had been left accessible to the foster children and that the foster parents had been neglectful of the children’s health needs. DHS closed the report as unfounded.
”IT’S HEARTBREAKING”In March 2019, another DHS worker assessed a report of neglect at the home. The worker noted that D.S and A.S seemed to be “very anxious” during a visit to their grandparents’ home. The DHS worker noted that the boys hadn’t been to a primary care doctor in over a year. The worker noted that the foster children in the home told her that they were having “fighting matches in the living room,” and that they often walked two miles along a dirt road without any adult supervision, the complaint said.
The foster children also told the DHS worker that the foster parents had disciplined them by “forcing them to fight and punch each other” while the parents watched. The children also told the DHS worker that their foster parents spanked them and told them not to tell anyone about it, the complaint said.
DHS concluded that it was unable to determine a threat of harm based on this report.
In June 2019, DHS investigated a report of neglect and abuse at the home. DHS determined the report to be unfounded.
Over the period of time that P.F.C. lived in the home, he repeatedly physically, sexually and mentally abused the boys — who were age 5 and 7 at the time — including forcedly kissing them, touching their private parts, and sexually abusing them, according to the complaint.
The abuse caused the boys to suffer non-economic losses, including emotional injury, mental anguish, embarrassment, shame, fear, hyperactivity, lack of focus, isolation, displacement from their school and peers, nightmares and sleep disruption, anxiety and other physical trauma, the complaint said.
The complaint is seeking $2.5 million for each child for those damages. The complaint also seeks another $50,000 for each boy for economic losses, including the cost of counseling and other treatments. Combined, the complaint seeks a total of $5.1 million, plus court costs and other fees.
“There are a lot of good people at DHS who do a good job, but sometimes they are overwhelmed with cases,” said Galm, the Beaverton attorney representing the two brothers. “There are also people at DHS who do a bad job. Just like any other business, you have good and bad.”
Galm said he learned about the case from an attorney in Southern Oregon who it was initially assigned to. Galm also said he is one of about a dozen attorneys in the state who specialize in these kind of cases.
These foster children are especially vulnerable because they have already been abandoned, which makes them easier to take advantage of, he said.
“These kids really had it rough. It’s heartbreaking,” Galm said of his clients. “You just hope they get out of the system with some normalcy in their lives.”