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November 26, 2013 at 4:27 PM

DSHS accused of ‘negligence, carelessness’ in child-abuse lawsuit

Two Thurston County girls Tuesday sued the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), claiming the agency mishandled complaints that their mother was abusing them.

The mother, Theresa Ann Hutton, was convicted in 2009 of second-degree criminal mistreatment after a court found she withheld the “basic necessities of life” from one of the girls, who was forced to sleep outside, denied food and made to perform difficult chores.

Hutton had gained sole custody of the girls after their father died in a car accident. At the time, she was pregnant with the younger daughter; the older daughter was 5.

The lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, alleges DSHS received “numerous complaints and referrals regarding Ms. Hutton’s treatment…but negligently, carelessly and unlawfully failed” to adequately respond.

As a result, the suit claims, the girls “suffered both physical and mental pain, disability, discomfort and anguish.”

The girls’ lawyer, Stephen Bulzomi, said public records indicate DSHS was alerted about potential issues at least 24 times.

An appeals court ruling in Hutton’s criminal case noted that Child Protective Services “sent investigators to the Hutton property many times” and “found Hutton’s home cluttered, dirty and smelling strongly of urine or ammonia,” and “did not attempt to remove the children, however, because there was adequate food and shelter, and there were no reports of physical abuse.”

The older daughter eventually ran away.

The girls, now 18 and 12, are in the custody of their paternal aunt, who filed the suit on behalf of the younger daughter.

The suit requests an unspecified amount of compensation for the girls.

A DSHS spokeswoman said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

Comments | More in Government | Topics: child abuse, DSHS, lawsuit


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