Fostering Sexual Abuse

Foster kids say the state ignored its own policies, exposing them to sexual predators

Two years after the state finally banished Lucy Jones from the foster-care system, the former foster mom's natural family made the evening news. In 1995, Lucy Jones' son--Hubert's brother--decapitated his own son in a van on a New Mexico highway and hurled the boy's severed head onto the asphalt. Another child, age 13, managed to escape. The father, who was demented by methamphetamine abuse, is currently serving a life prison sentence in New Mexico.

The Jacksons watched the coverage of the murder on television. The irony did not escape them: Mama Lucy, the woman touted by CPS as one of the finest foster mothers in the state's system, was the biological parent of a confessed child molester and a confessed child killer.

Seven-year-old Tommy had been beaten by his father, so in 1987 state CPS workers in a western Arizona county placed the boy in the home of foster parents Nancy and Dick Warren.

Two months later, the Warrens' 17-year-old grandson Darren moved into the home. Before he arrived, the Warrens had told CPS that their grandson had been accused of molesting a little girl in Oregon.

When Betty Miller, Tommy's CPS caseworker, learned that the teenager had moved into the same home as Tommy Smith, she rang up Darren's caseworker in Oregon. The Oregon caseworker confirmed a "substantiated report" that Darren had molested a little girl, who happened to be his half-sister.

Caseworker Miller feared that Darren would molest Tommy, and twice recommended that "the foster placement [of Tommy] be terminated." But Gary Arnold, her CPS supervisor, overruled her, according to Miller's notes. He told her not to investigate Darren's background further. The reason: Arnold was satisfied that Tommy would be safe because the Warrens had promised that they would watch the boy 24 hours a day.

That didn't happen.
One day Betty Miller discovered that 17-year-old Darren, the "substantiated" child molester, was baby-sitting Tommy when his grandparents were out of town.

Once again, Miller noted her concern in her notes about the danger of "possible molestation" of Tommy.

For the next seven months, Tommy lived in the Warren home. Then, during a visit to his natural family, Tommy French-kissed a relative and said his "new uncle" at the foster home taught him how to do it.

A DES psychologist concluded from Tommy's stick drawings and his sexualized behavior that Tommy had been sodomized. Police were notified. The child was removed from the Warren foster home.

According to Tommy's lawyer, Larry Berlin, supervisor Arnold then "doctored" Tommy's file by writing that he'd checked with the Oregon caseworker, who had said that Darren had not been involved in child sex abuse in Oregon. The Oregon caseworker, however, said in a deposition that he'd told Arnold just the opposite.

(Arnold could not be reached for comment. He was eventually promoted to a district manager position, but left the agency earlier this year. CPS officials, citing employee confidentiality, would not say whether Arnold was disciplined for his conduct in the Tommy Smith case.)

After an extensive interview with Darren, police charged the teenager with sodomizing 7-year-old Tommy.

A doctor examined Tommy and concluded that the sodomy had caused the child to have anal scarring. The anal scar was key evidence in the criminal case against Darren.

In 1989, Darren avoided a trial by pleading guilty to attempted sexual abuse. He was eventually sent to an Arizona prison, but was later released for this reason: In defending the state against a civil lawsuit filed by Tommy, the Arizona Attorney General's Office produced scientific research revealing that anal scars such as Tommy's might also be birth defects. The doctor who examined Tommy then acknowledged that the scar might not have been caused by sodomy.

Tommy's 1991 civil suit named Gary Arnold, CPS and his former foster parents, the Warrens. He claimed in court that Arnold and others should have protected Tommy from Darren by heeding advice of caseworker Miller and removing Tommy from a foster home that contained a suspected child molester.

In 1993, after the doctor admitted in a deposition that the anal scar might not have been caused by sodomy, the state settled Tommy's civil suit, paying him $237,500. The money came from the state's self-insurance program, which is funded by tax dollars.

Why did the state settle with Tommy after the doctor recanted her earlier testimony?

"I think there are two reasons," says Tommy's attorney, Larry Berlin. "One, because Tommy had been sexually abused and settling with him was the honest and righteous thing to do. Two, our discovery revealed that the DES supervisor [Arnold] had doctored records to protect himself and had refused to listen to his caseworker--at the child's expense."

When asked last month to comment on Tommy's case, John Wolfinger, an assistant attorney general who defended the state against Tommy, claimed that Tommy had "recanted" to his guardian and said he'd never been sodomized.

Tommy's court-appointed guardian, Tucson attorney Allan Bogutz, says Tommy never recanted to him.

Tommy did not respond to several requests for interviews for this story.

How Many Children?
Stephanie, Brittany and Tommy all were represented by Tucson lawyer Larry Berlin. According to records obtained from the Arizona Attorney General's Office and the state Department of Administration, Berlin's clients have been the only CPS foster-care kids who have obtained settlements from the state in the past five years. (Five other children claimed they'd been sexually abused in foster care, but their cases were dismissed. In one case, a foster father wrongly accused of molesting his foster daughters obtained a $1.5 million settlement from the state and his former defense attorney.)

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