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Kenai jury awards sisters $2 million

State agency found to have failed to protect girls while in foster care

Posted: April 25, 2012 - 8:29am

After an eight-day trial, a Kenai jury has awarded $2 million to two sisters who were abused in foster care.

The jury on April 13 found the Office of Children's Services failed to protect the sisters, now adults, from harm and provide necessary counseling services when the agency had legal custody them.

They filed their case against the state in 2010. OCS had legal custody of the sisters from September 1998 to 2002 and again from September 2003 to 2006. 

Fairbanks attorney Mike Kramer represented the plaintiffs.

Kramer praised the verdict in a press release as a step toward accountability for an agency whose operations, he said, are cloaked in secrecy and have minimal oversight despite their responsibilities.

"It is assumed that kids come into state's custody with some significant trauma," Kramer said in an email. "However, it is the state's duty to protect them from further trauma and to provide necessary mental health services. The jury found OCS negligently failed to protect these girls emotionally and physically."

The trial began April 5 at the Kenai Courthouse, with the older sister sharing her memories of growing up with her parents -- a mother who used drugs in front of her daughters and an abusive stepfather -- in Nikiski, according to trial testimony.

The sisters went to stay with their grandparents, who became their state-appointed foster parents. They were 8 and 6 when they went to live with Barbara, now deceased, and Jack Dominick.

But the situation was worse. The girls were physically abused by Barbara Dominick and sexually abused Jack Dominick, according to trial testimony.

Jack Dominick pleaded no contest to allegations of sexual abuse during the summer of 2000, according to records.

In March 1999, a condition report stated one of the girls may have been sexually abused in the past, which was likely based on counselor Linda Jacobsen's records. Jacobsen was offering "play therapy" to the sisters from November 1998 to March 2001. She suspected the girl was experiencing night terrors due to sexual abuse. However, none of the records were maintained at OCS.

The plaintiffs argued the destroyed records contained substantial reports of abuse, which could have been stopped if the agency followed policy and investigated all reports of harm.

Before the trial began, OCS argued that all actions regarding investigation, removal and placement of children in need of aid are discretionary policy decisions, and immune from civil claims.

The court disagreed.

The girls' mother eventually reported the sexual abuse to social worker Patricia Gray.

During the trial, Gray was confronted with numerous documents that Kramer said show she did not take necessary steps to protect the sisters after Jack Dominick's abuse was reported.

Gray also failed to address the grandmother's increasingly harmful reactions toward the girls.

"Grandma became abusive," the plaintiff said in court. "She didn't believe us (about Jack's abuse)."

Gray petitioned the state to release custody of the girls on April 2, 1999, less than a month after the sexual abuse was reported and two weeks after the counselor reported the grandmother's physical abuse.

When the petition was denied, Gray focused her efforts on giving the girls' permanent fund dividends to the grandmother. She also learned the girls were missing more than half of their counseling sessions, but did nothing about it, Kramer said.

"(Barbara Dominick) is committed to caring for the children as long as needed" and "it would be (Barbara's) responsibility to make sound judgment for the children" says OCS's petition and order for release from custody, dated April 2, 2001; an exhibit used during the trial.

Kramer said he believes Gray's testimony aided in obtaining the awarded sum.

Psychologist Mike Hopper, an expert hired by Kramer, also testified before the court. He testified that young abuse victims can overcome their plights if they are believed, validated and counseled during the immediate aftermath of abuse.

The jury decided OCS evaded providing such services.

An OCS supervisor wrote in a letter that the sisters required mental health counseling for at least two to three years. But as of January 2004, there were no mental health services in place for them. There had been none since they were discharged for non-attendance in July 2002.

The girls then lived in another foster home in Kasilof where, they argue, mistreatment occurred.

The girls were not visited by their caseworker. OCS policy requires monthly face-to-face meetings.

During the trail, the Kasilof foster parents denied any mistreatment. OCS argued it maintained regular contact with the girls.

The jury held OCS responsible for 95 percent of the awarded sum. The sister's maternal mother is responsible for the remaining 5 percent.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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jlmh
335
Points
jlmh 04/25/12 - 01:29 pm
0
0
"OCS argued that all actions

"OCS argued that all actions regarding investigation, removal and placement of children in need of aid are discretionary policy decisions, and immune from civil claims."

That's an alarming position for OCS to take. Imagine an agency that has the right to seize your children at its discretion, and bears no responsibility for what happens to them. Notice that their statement does not just apply to placement and monitoring of children - which was the faulty component here - but also to the removal of children. What a potential nightmare!

steelhorse
48
Points
steelhorse 04/25/12 - 01:58 pm
0
0
right on the money

agreed jlmh!

justamom
12
Points
justamom 04/25/12 - 04:23 pm
0
0
To the Jurors

Good job and thanks for your service. You did well.

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 04/25/12 - 05:33 pm
0
0
Where are the Parents?

4/25/12
Where are the Original Parents in this OneHellofaMESS ?

Yes this State Agency really screwed up but doesn't the Basic Love & Care for these Sisters begin with the Parents?

SPW

bornalaskan
31
Points
bornalaskan 04/25/12 - 08:23 pm
0
0
State

Great this is right for the girls. Now its time to fire everybody that dropped the ball. They should loose their retirement to help pay for this very bad mistake.

SLynnM
0
Points
SLynnM 04/25/12 - 09:54 pm
0
0
Thank You!

Thank you everybody for the positive comments :) they really mean alot!

quietnomore
0
Points
quietnomore 04/27/12 - 09:50 am
1
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something wrong with all of AK justice system

Im 32 now...(heavy sigh). This case like so many others bring me to tears....because I know. Living with the nightmares, social anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression, sadness, loneliness, having lost all trust and faith in your own law enforcement, and the states justice system. Its hard to raise children, of our own especially, teaching them about our justice system and our law enforcement, that they are there for good, to protect us, when they failed us...many times. Growing up in Anchorage, the countless days and nights helping my bloody beaten mother, survive another beating from her abusive boyfriend, or stopping her from harming herself, cutting my own fingers with the blade of a knife, just to make her stop, (and im tearing up now)..... that being one of many times the police showed up......and left...me...confused, as a little girl, knowing they left me and my mother, now haveing to go back in and face this again.... Im a victim, as is she, of sexual, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse...and a lot of it couldve been avoided, for us and many others. I was forced, by my own will, so many nights to run away, about 8, 9 yrs old, and sleep some where on the street or just not sleep at all, because of the abuse. I finally had friends, and teachers that started responding and noticing. They are the only reason Im still alive. No Thanks, to any of this states justice system, I could go on and on how This states judicial system has continued to fail me and many others...leaving its innocent children in danger, when they know whats going on. Its been corrupt and lousy for years. Im glad these young ladies got some compensation for this states incompetent system. Not all of us do. They just dont understand or know the mental pain we have to endure through the years....as if they think it goes away....

looseleif
11
Points
looseleif 05/06/12 - 01:17 pm
0
0
This is not new in Alaska

Go back through the files, in any AK city, and find countless cases of spousal and child abuse, for many decades. AK has the highest rates, and by an order of magnitude.
Neither the legislatures nor the governors are willing to back up their mouths with money, so the agencies haven't the personnel, retention, or money to follow through. And who elects those people? The citizens of this state don't want their money being "wasted" on this, apparently. I see & hear the opinion all the time that "government has no business interfering with families." I'm as horrified as JLMH, but point out that that was the upper level - the political appointees and their brown-nosers, both in Social Services and the AG office (who the Governor appoints) - that made the decisions on the course they wanted this trial to take. So what responsibility should we assign to Parnell for this? He didn't know? Didn't we hear that at Nuremberg?
Sat on a jury once where we did convict the adult, but it was a hard decision. Then next day in the KTN paper, the article said he only pleaded not-guilty because the prosecution refused to give him no jail time at plea-bargaining. So give some credit to the KTN prosecution.
The jury had the following questions. There were numerous times in trial when diary-entries of a friend of the victim were mentioned, but the diary was never entered nor a reason given as to why not. There were several references to the abuse being reported to school officials. Since the law requires such reports to be followed up, why were they not? The abuse was reported to other state and medical officials - but no follow-up. Why didn't we hear from all those? The abuse went on for years. We were not impressed with the Prosecution or the Troopers. Maybe if she had sued, it would have helped? Or would we have forgotten and gone on as before?
The town and family of the victim were opposed to the victim reporting the crime. I and other jurors found that inexplicable. One of the Aunts was called to testify and could only be described as a hostile witness.
So examine your voting record. Have you always paid attention to a neighbor child or a friend's child when they exhibit symptoms or say something? Do you create an atmosphere where a scared child can talk?
I participated taking a random poll in KTN once. Time after time, respondents told me we didn't have a problem with child abuse in this state compared to the Lower 48. Some didn't even believe we had a drug or alcohol problem, or at least we were better than the Lower 48. Can you say "Denialism"?

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