NANCIE WILLIAMS

Nancie Williams

A couple’s lawsuit claims the Shenandoah County Department of Social Services withheld their son's records of committing sex offenses to push through his adoption.

The plaintiffs state in their written complaint that other children were sexually assaulted by the boy after he was adopted.

The plaintiffs, who filed the lawsuit in Shenandoah County Circuit Court, seek $8 million in damages and a jury trial.  The Northern Virginia Daily is not publishing the names of the plaintiffs because the complaint alleges some of the children residing with the plaintiffs were victims of sexual assault committed by the adopted boy.

Nancie Williams, of the Front Royal law firm Williams and Bell, represents the plaintiffs and filed the complaint on their behalf. Williams said by phone Monday that department employees named in the lawsuit were served with the complaint the same day.

The complaint names DSS Director Carla Taylor and former department director John T. Ayers; employees Beth Delullo, formerly known as Beth Oliff, and Bridget Diehl; and former employees Judy Bell, Michelle Cantner and Mary Westcott as defendants.

Taylor did not return a call for comment on the complaint.

The complaint alleges the defendants committed fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and breach of contract.

The plaintiffs claim the department workers illegally and fraudulently failed to properly disclose background, psychological and medical records.

“Basically, DSS has always been under an obligation to disclose information about the children before they’re adopted to give the adoptive parents kind of an even playing field, like ‘hey, here’s information about your child,” and they have to swear under oath in court that they’ve done that,” Williams said.

Social services departments must provide reasonably obtainable background as well as medical and psychological records on any child prior to adoption, Williams explained. The departments also need to provide a list of all records provided, she added.

The plaintiffs claim they did not receive an “adoption notebook” that would contain required records on the child, Williams said.

“So then it led my client (to take) over 10 years to decode what was going on with this child and the entire time he was sexually offending everything in their home,” Williams said, adding the family likely would not have adopted the child had they known about his behavior. Such a child, she said, should only live in a household with no other children.

“My information is, in a wider range, that Shenandoah (DSS) never does that and in this case it’s especially egregious because before the adoption happened, there was a report made to DSS, this particular DSS, that the child had sexually offended another child, and DSS not only didn’t disclose (the information) but actively concealed it,” Williams said. “(It) turns out, fast forward 10 years, the child is a sexual predator and even after the child was adopted out fraudulently to my client.”

The child and his sister were the first children Williams’ client had adopted, she said. The disclosure about the child’s behavior was made to the DSS in May 2011, and the adoption went through in June 2011, Williams said. The couple asked department workers if they had any information pertinent to the adoption and the child such as a family history, and staff said "no," Williams noted.

A month prior to the adoption’s approval, a report deemed the child a sexual predator, Williams said. A witness would testify that department workers told her not to divulge the report exists because the adoption was looming, she added.

The department placed at least 25 additional children with the same family over that time period, either adopted or fostered, while the offending child remained with them, Williams said. Of the children adopted, two are the offender’s victims, Williams added.

Shenandoah County DSS repeatedly denied the couple’s request for information about the child and told department employees he showed sexually deviant behavior, Williams said.

“In turn, many of those children became the victim, and they knew or should have known that that was possible,” Williams added. “My clients had no idea and the lady that originally reported the molestation or the sexual offense believe that they told my client. They did swear an oath to the judge that they did tell my client, and they didn’t.”

“In the end, you have a completely destroyed family,” Williams said. “You have two young children who are victims now of sexual abuse that didn’t need to be. You have a boy that’s now in the custody of juvenile justice that didn’t need to be either because they systematically denied him proper treatment.”

Virginia provides treatment for juvenile sex offenders, Williams said.

The attorney called the case especially egregious. A juvenile court judge in 2017 found the child delinquent as a juvenile of committing four counts of aggravated sexual battery of children under the age of 13, Williams said. The judge ordered the child committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice for an indefinite period of time about a year ago. The offender, now 18, remains in state custody, Williams said.

“It is sexually graphic and awful in this scenario, and they don’t care,” Williams said.

The complaint states that a child in need of services petition was filed Feb. 20, 2009, in the Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. The petition identified the boy cited in the complaint as a child at risk of abuse and/or neglect. The boy was placed in foster care with the plaintiffs. Westcott and Diehl, employees of the DSS, at the time, oversaw the couple’s training in July and August required to foster a child. At that point, the couple provided the child, then 8 years old, with custodial care on weekends. The couple provided respite care every other weekend to another child in the department’s custody until Feb. 13, 2010, the complaint notes.

Oliff approached the couple in December 2009 about adopting the boy. At that time, the couple asked Oliff and Westcott about the boy’s relevant family and mental health history, the complaint states. The department employees said then that they could not divulge that information due to confidentiality rules, the complaint states. The couple participated in an adoption meeting Jan. 15, 2010, with counseling and mental health specialist Dawn Welch, with the boy’s foster parents in attendance.

The couple asked for information at the meeting on the boy’s psychological, medical and familial history. Welch told the couple she had not received any such information from the Shenandoah County DSS, nor did the foster parents have any, the complaint states.

The county department placed the boy in the couple’s home Feb. 13, 2010, with the goal of adoption. Shortly after the boy’s placement, the child began to show “disturbing behaviors” such as angry outbursts, temper tantrums and habitual lying, the complaint states. Each time the couple asked Westcott for information about the child, the department worker said confidentiality rules forbid such disclosure. The couple reported his behavior to the department where workers called his actions “normal trauma,” according to the complaint.

After the boy turned 9, he started showing other behaviors such as soiling himself and difficulty with self-care. Westcott, Oliff and other workers said the  behavior would resolve itself in time. Westcott left the department in August or September 2010, and Diehl became the boy’s foster care social worker.

By November 2010, the couple noticed the boy would physically abuse family pets, the complaint states. The couple contacted the department and workers again told them this behavior was normal.

The boy continued to see doctors and therapists with no resolution to his behavioral problems, the complaint states.

Oliff contacted the couple in spring 2015 and told them about an incident in 2010-2011 that involved the boy and another child, the complaint states. Oliff said then she could not provide more details because the incident was under investigation.

The complaint goes on to state that the boy was caught on Oct. 24, 2015, performing a sex act on a neighbor’s horse. The neighbor told the couple, who then got rid of their farm animals, which had served as therapeutic animals for their special-needs child.

At the same time, Shenandoah County Public Schools informed the couple that the child had been caught watching pornography involving animals at school, the complaint states. The couple segregated the boy from other children and installed security cameras around the home as precautions, the complaint states. The couple continued to report the behavior to the county department but were denied alternative treatment or services. The boy’s behavior deteriorated, despite counseling and other treatment.

In the fall of 2016, the boy admitted to having inappropriate sexual contact with another child adopted by the couple, the complaint states. The boy was admitted to a treatment center Sept. 20, 2016. Shortly after the boy’s admission, the couple learned that Cantner had failed to disclose the child’s sexually inappropriate behaviors, the complaint notes.

The boy revealed, in a psychosexual polygraph performed Jan. 11, 2017, numerous incidents of inappropriate sexual contact with siblings and foster children while in the couple’s custody and prior to his adoption, the complaint states. The couple reported the polygraph results to the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office. No one from the DSS reported the information to the law enforcement agency, the complaint states.

Authorities charged the boy in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on July 5, 2017, with four counts of aggravated sexual battery of a child under the age of 13.

The complaint states that a Sheriff’s Office investigator attended an interview of one of the boy’s victims and provided the results to the victim’s mother. The mother told the investigator she had reported her child’s allegations of sexual assault to Oliff and Bell at the Department of Social Services during a meeting in early 2011. The victim’s mother has stated that during the meeting she was told “you are aware he is being adopted in a month” and “this meeting never happened.” 

Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com