Sacramento County agrees to pay massive settlement for failure to protect a teenager tormented by his caregiver until his brave escape
SACRAMENTO, Calif., July 23, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — The teenage boy who made national headlines after escaping horrific abuse by his caregiver will receive $4 million in a settlement with Sacramento County on behalf of Child Protective Services (Superior Court of The State of California, Kyle Doe vs. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Protective Services, Sacramento County, et al., Case #34-2011-00101330).
Child Protective Services (CPS) social workers were accused of repeatedly breaking the law and violating protocol as they failed to protect Kyle, who was imprisoned, tortured and starved for seven years by his caregiver, first in Sacramento County and later in Tracy (Kyle’s full name is being withheld because he was the victim of abuse as a minor).
“It’s not just justice for me,” Kyle said about the outcome of the case. “It’s for other kids all over who struggle just like me.”
CPS left Kyle in the care of a woman who was not a relative and never had custody, according to the lawsuit filed by attorney John N. Demas of Sacramento (please see below for a detailed list of CPS violations). CPS records also reveal nine separate abuse reports from teachers and neighbors, yet social workers failed to take action to protect Kyle. CPS failed to follow State mandates and their own policies and procedures, and left Kyle with a caretaker who brutalized and nearly killed him. He suffered immensely until his brave escape in 2008 from a home in Tracy to a nearby health club. Kyle required skin graft surgery and spent ten days in the hospital. His tragic story drew widespread media attention and demands for CPS reform and accountability.
“This could be the biggest CPS settlement paid out in the state of California, which reveals just how poorly they handled Kyle’s tragic case,” said attorney John Demas, founder of the Demas Law Group, P.C. “We can only hope this lawsuit will bring changes to CPS. Our fear is that there are other ‘Kyles’ out there, suffering abuse that no child should ever endure.”
Sacramento County attorneys tried repeatedly to have this case thrown out in an effort to dodge any responsibility for what happened to Kyle, according to Demas. Their legal tactics were rejected by the court, and Kyle prevailed after a four-year battle.
“We hope that the settlement spurs changes at CPS and sends a message that you have to follow the law and can’t cut corners when it comes to protecting children,” said Demas.
“The County did everything they could to win,” said Kyle’s aunt, Sydney Perry, who has served as his caretaker since his escape. “I’m just so grateful that Mr. Demas fought so hard for Kyle and held CPS accountable. Justice was served for Kyle.”
As for the criminal case, Kyle’s caregiver, Caren Ramirez, and her friends Michael Schumacher, Kelly Lau and Anthony Waiters are serving prison sentences for their participation in the abuse. Remarkably, Kyle does not express ill will towards the captors who relentlessly tortured him.
“I wish them the best with where they are at in life,” Kyle said. “I hope they find their peace.”
Kyle’s story is now one of inspiration, as he recovers from his painful past and tries to piece his life together. After missing most of elementary, junior high and high school because his caregiver kept him home to conceal injuries, Kyle worked hard after his escape to graduate from high school. He is now a college student and football player. Kyle is eager to move on with his life.
“I’m doing great, I feel better than ever,” said Kyle. “I’m healthy. I have a roof over my head. I have friends and I have family that love me. I’m happy with where I’m at right now.”
Timeline and CPS Violations
The timeline below was derived from a collection of documents tracking CPS’s handling of the case involving Kyle and his half-brother.
- May 23, 2001: CPS receives a call that Kyle’s birth mother has left Kyle and his half-brother with a family friend, Caren Ramirez. Kyle is 8 years old at the time. CPS investigates and closes the referral as “inconclusive,” despite failing to contact Kyle’s birth mother, as required by law. Instead, CPS accepts a one-page, hand-written note from Ramirez, allegedly written by the birth mother, giving her custody of Kyle. The note is notarized, but it is Ramirez’s signature that is attested to, not Kyle’s mother.
- April 22, 2002: CPS receives a report of Ramirez neglecting Kyle and his half-brother, and using inappropriate discipline (The half-brother was allegedly dropped off barefoot in Del Paso Heights and told to find his way home to Carmichael in the rain; both boys were also bringing cookies to school in place of lunch.) The half-brother is reported to have blisters on his feet, but Ramirez explains that they are from rollerblading without socks. CPS fails to contact the birth mother as required, and closes the referral as “unfounded,” essentially labeling the allegations as false. In fact, CPS ends up assisting Ramirez by contacting the Social Security Administration and local welfare office and falsely confirming that the boys are “rightfully in Ramirez’s custody” and that “Ramirez possesses a notarized note granting her custody.” Ramirez starts claiming she is their aunt.
- Feb. 11, 2003: CPS receives another referral regarding abuse of the boys by Ramirez, this time alleging that she smacked the half-brother in the face and that sounds of physical abuse (hitting) were heard coming from her apartment. CPS fails to investigate and closes the referral because no bruises were observed on the children. CPS fails to report the abuse to law enforcement and fails to determine if the children were at risk or in need of services as required by law. CPS documents following the referral state that “… the boys are safe and doing well in Aunt Caren’s home. No evidence of abuse or neglect. The children are safe in this home. They have a chance to make something of their lives with Caren’s influence. She is a strong taskmaster.”
- March 7, 2003: CPS receives another referral of neglect and designates the referral as appropriate for a ten-day response, but do not investigate until twenty days later, in violation of State law.
- June 24, 2003: CPS receives another report, this time from a teacher, describing Kyle as appearing very thin and jaundiced, losing patches of hair, with broken teeth and rarely bringing a lunch to school. CPS accepts Ramirez’s explanation that hair loss is from a genetic condition (i.e. that “he’s always had issues with thinning”), that he eats lunch earlier in the day, and that he is on medication that makes him hungry. CPS declares the allegations made in the report as unfounded, and fails to contact or give feedback to the mandated reporter (teacher) as required by law.
- July 28, 2004: Kyle’s half-brother is picked up by the police outside a local hospital, and gets placed temporarily in protective custody. However, Kyle remains at Ramirez’s home. A CPS document acknowledges that “…without placement, one or more children will be likely to be in danger of immediate serious harm.” CPS requests, however, that Ramirez be allowed to provide written consent for the voluntary removal of the half-brother from custody and to consent to family services for Kyle. State law requires that consent must be from the parent or guardian only. CPS fails to contact the birth mother as required. Had they contacted her, the mother would have demanded her children back based on a referral of this very issue shortly thereafter (see October 9, 2004 referral).
- October 9, 2004: While Ramirez is receiving family maintenance services for Kyle and his half-brother, a referral is made by a nurse that the birth mother is reporting that a woman by the name of Caren Ramirez “took her children away from her a few years ago and won’t give them back.” CPS deems the mother’s request for help in recovering her children not worthy of an investigation and closes the referral without conducting an investigation. No effort to contact or locate the mother is made as required by law. CPS also fails to report the kidnapping allegations to law enforcement as required, and never explains the reason the referral was closed.
- Sept. 20, 2005: Kyle’s half-brother is taken into protective custody due to physical abuse by Ramirez. He tells CPS that Kyle has also been abused by Caren for years, and CPS describes what has happened to Kyle as “seven years of … physical torture, abuse and denial of the basic necessities of life.” However, CPS does nothing for 15 days and by the time they begin investigating, Ramirez is in hiding. CPS fails to investigate the report in a timely manner, fails to report the allegations to law enforcement, and does not file a missing person report for Kyle.
- March 28, 2006: A felony warrant for child abuse is issued for Ramirez, stemming from the alleged beatings of the half-brother. She isn’t located and arrested until a year later.
- May 30, 2006: Sacramento County Sheriff officers respond to a report regarding Ramirez’s abuse of Kyle. The call is made by Ramirez’s daughter, who discloses Kyle’s abuse by Ramirez and confirms there is no familial relationship between Kyle and Ramirez. Kyle tells the officers about how he was beaten with a martial arts stick several times, and the officers note severe bruising across Kyle’s back, legs, and buttocks, as well as a split lip. Photographs confirm Kyle’s injuries. The Sheriff’s office then calls the CPS hotline to report the abuse, and ask CPS if Kyle should be brought into protective custody. CPS fails to make any record of the call. Instead, CPS tells the officer to make a placement decision about Kyle. Kyle is left with Ramirez’s daughter, who promptly returns him to Ramirez. Sacramento Sheriff officers do not transmit a written report of the abuse to CPS within 36 hours as required by law. A referral for child abuse by law enforcement was not opened until 11 months later (March 2007) when the allegations are finally reviewed by a Detective in the Sheriff’s office.
- April 11, 2007: Ramirez is finally arrested and Kyle is placed into protective custody at the Sacramento Receiving Home. His case is assigned to a social worker with less than three months experience. CPS recommends that Ramirez have telephone access to Kyle, despite not completing an assessment regarding Ramirez’s history with CPS, drug abuse or her actual relationship with Kyle. CPS allows Ramirez’s daughter visitation rights. Despite wanting to stay at the Receiving Home, Kyle acquiesces to the urgings of Ramirez to leave. He leaves the receiving home the day of his court hearing as instructed by Ramirez, and returns to Ramirez who eventually takes him to Tracy.
- December 1, 2008: Kyle escapes from a home in Tracy and flees to a nearby health club. He reports that he’d been chained inside a fireplace, beaten, burned and starved. He is hospitalized for 10 days for skin graft surgery.
- January 7, 2009: Confirmation is made that Kyle’s birth mother died in 2008. Kyle is placed in the care of an aunt and uncle, with whom he lives today, while attending school and continuing his recovery.
About John N. Demas and Demas Law Group, P.C.
Demas Law Group, P.C., is one of Sacramento’s leading personal injury firms. The firm represents individuals and families injured in automobile and premises liability accidents, as well as those harmed by dangerous and defective products throughout California. John N. Demas is the founding partner of Demas Law Group, P.C., and has been representing injured victims for over twenty years. He has extensive trial experience with several multi-million dollar verdicts, and has been selected by his peers as a Northern California Super Lawyer every year since 2009. In 2014 and 2015, he was also named a Top 100 Attorney for Northern California, and made the Top 25 List of Sacramento Lawyers. More information can be found at www.injury-attorneys.com.