August 15, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
It looks like the State of New Hampshire is again going to pay out large sums of money due to its failure to contact a father when his daughter was in dire jeopardy (Union Leader, 8/14/18). Almost three years ago, Katlin Paquette murdered her daughter Sadee. She pled guilty to second-degree murder for which she’s serving a 21 – 42 year sentence.
Sadee’s father, Christopher Willott has sued the state due to its Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) ignoring the danger Paquette posed to the child and its own protocols, all of which allegedly resulted in the 21-month-old’s death.
Case workers from the Division for Children, Youth and Families had visited the home on multiple occasions before the fatal incident but failed to take appropriate action, according to the lawsuit…
Despite those warnings, according to [Willott’s Attorney Rus] Rilee, “DCYF failed in its fiduciary duty when it knew of allegations concerning behavior and emotional and physical neglect and abuse by Katlin of Sadee, and further failed to properly investigate these allegations.”
As a result, the lawsuit states, “Sadee was the subject of multiple separate incidents of serious physical and emotional abuse and neglect, including but not limited to beatings that caused serious bruising and broken bones.”
Of course those are nothing but allegations in a lawsuit. But it looks very much like they have merit.
Manchester police interviewed caseworker Samantha Nolin in December 2015, at which time Nolin reported that she did two assessments of the case, one in May and one in July.
She told police she knew from coworkers that there had been previous DCYF investigations of the family, but did not review them, despite a written DCYF policy requiring reviews of prior assessments.
She also stated that during her investigations, she did not contact anyone outside of the family or hospital staff, nor did she implement any written safety plans.
The lawsuit quotes Nick Willard, Manchester police chief at the time, who told the New Hampshire Union Leader in September 2015, “In the Willott homicide, DCYF failed to protect Sadee.”
Needless to say, it appears that, despite the obvious risk to Sadee, DCYF caseworkers failed to offer her father an opportunity to provide a safer home for her. That of course is in keeping with the findings of the Urban Institute when it investigated state CPS agencies. UI found that in fewer than half the instances in which a child was taken from an abusive or neglectful mother was any effort made to locate the father as a possible placement for the child.
In this case, it looks like that failure resulted in Sadee’s brutal death.
I say it looks like New Hampshire is going to pay not only because of the facts of the case, but because the lawyer filing it looks like he knows what he’s doing. Rilee obtained a $6 million verdict in another case in which a child’s death resulted from the negligence of DCYF. Plus,
In 2016, Rilee won a precedent-setting case before the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which allowed him to file his lawsuits against DCYF publicly, over the objection of the attorney general.
“I think these lawsuits are shining a light on the various systemic problems within DCYF,” he said. “We remain hopeful that these public lawsuits will continue to bring accountability and change in the system.”
Yes, the agency whose actions are kept almost entirely secret from the public anyway sought even greater secrecy. It asked the courts to keep revelations made in court under wraps so DCYF’s conduct could remain safely away from the inquiring eyes of the press and public. That of course is utterly disgraceful and Rilee’s right to bring as much light on them as possible. State agencies that operate in secret will never change. When children’s lives and health are at stake is when We the People need more information, not less.
Oh, DCYF seems to take very seriously its own interest in secrecy.
The lawsuit reveals that employees of DCYF were “either detained, arrested and/or criminally investigated themselves related to their failure to cooperate with the criminal investigation into Sadee’s death.”
The usual excuse offered by CPS agencies is that publicity would be too traumatic for a child who’s already been abused or neglected. I don’t buy that, but in this case the child was already dead and yet caseworkers still refused to cooperate.
More power to Rus Rilee and his campaign to (a) hold DCYF accountable for its incompetence toward Sadee Willott and (b) let the public know what its paid employees are up to. With a lot of both, maybe the State of New Hampshire will change how it treats kids who are in danger. And maybe that’ll mean contacting fathers when mothers are deemed a risk to their kids.