WA STATE PAYS FORMER TRI-CITY WOMAN RECORD $2M FOSTER CARE SEX ABUSE SETTLEMENT
December 21, 2020
Washington state paid a record $2 million to a former foster child who said she was abused in Benton County for over a decade.
Tamaki Law, which represented the now 28-year-old woman, said they believe it is the state’s largest-ever sex abuse settlement in Eastern and Central Washington.
The woman filed suit in 2018 against the state, the Department of Social and Health Services and Child Protective Services, as well as her foster mom who later adopted her.
The girl was 3 1/2 years old when she was placed in the home of Abel and Diana Ortega in 1995.
She was put in their care even though another female foster child already had accused Abel Ortega of sexual abuse, said the lawsuit.
The suit alleged that over the next 14 years she was subjected to abuse and rape by Abel Ortega, and that the state failed to investigate or take action after multiple complaints.
The lawsuit accused Diana Ortega of negligence for failing to protect the girl from her husband. That case has yet to be settled and will proceed to a trial.
Diana Ortega is accused of knowing of the abuse and verbally threatening the girl and other victims to keep quiet. It also alleged she physically assaulted the girl.
Jeff Kreutz of Tamaki Law told the Herald that Able Ortega was not sued in the original lawsuit over technicalities. However, amending the complaint to include his name is an option the firm is considering, he said.
Kreutz said they are pushing for a trial date to be set but that COVID restrictions have caused delays.
“The state failed to take any steps to protect a defenseless child in an environment that they originally placed her in,” said attorney Megan Chang-Ngaruiya, who also represented the woman.
“This case illustrates the failure of our state’s system to carry out the sole purpose it was created for — to protect the physical, mental, and emotional health of children,” the firm said in a statement.
Kreutz told the Herald that he believe there needs to be better accountability and, perhaps, better training.
“There has to be a real insistence that that state believes children,” he said. “What the research has shown for many years is that children do not lie about sexual abuse.”
He said that children should be taken out of a home when there is alleged abuse for more than just a day or two.
“If for some reason they cannot be taken out of the home, they must be given an opportunity to go to counseling regularly,” Kreutz said. “There has to be opportunities over long periods of time to grow a relationship with an adult who they trust.”
He added that the biggest failing of the state was that aside from not removing the girl from the home, he believes they should have insisted on counseling and repeated unannounced visits by social workers to the child where she was away from abusers — such as at school.
SEVERAL ALLEGED VICTIMS
The girl continued living in the home, and an order to terminate the parental rights of her biological parent was issued in 1997.
A decree of adoption was filed in Benton County Superior Court in January 1998 after a report was issued by a Child Protective Services social worker and supervisor recommending adoptive placement of the almost 6-year-old.
In 2004, the Kennewick Police Department conducted an investigation over accusations that Abel Ortega had sexually assaulted several victims, including raping a child.
The investigation was forwarded to the Benton County Prosecutor’s Office. However, prosecutors did not file charges after an investigation was found to be inconclusive.
The girl remained in their home over the next several years, and she continued to complain to the state but her claims proved inconclusive each time, said officials.
Then, in 2009, the victim reported to Kennewick police that she was being raped and molested by Able Ortega — at which point the then 17-year-old was removed and placed in foster care.
Prosecutors filed criminal charges against Able Ortega but they were later dropped because they said there were problems proving the allegations.
Kreutz said they agreed to a settlement outside of a trial because the woman did not want to relive her abuse during a trial.
He told the Herald that a couple of months ago the state asked if they were willing to engage in mediation and she agreed, which allowed her to resolve the claims without publicly reliving the abuse.
“She has spent years trying to work through the physical and emotional damages caused by the abuse,” Kreutz said. “Hopefully this settlement sends a loud and clear message to the state that it must protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
He added that the woman, who no longer lives in the Northwest, has sought professional counseling for a lot of issues and gone back to school to better her situation for herself and her three children.
“She is trying to move forward the best she can for her and her children. She is an extremely resilient young woman ....” Kreutz said.
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