CASA defendant in DCYF lawsuit

Reportedly did not stop sexual assault on toddlers

MANCHESTER – New Hampshire’s nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, is now a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the adoptive family of two girls who were sexually assaulted despite having CASA and New Hampshire’s Division of Children, Youth & Families to protect them.

Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson ruled Thursday that CASA could be sued, over the objection of DCYF, which was also seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.

“CASA of NH intends to vigorously contest the plaintiff’s’ allegations based on both the facts of the case and the state’s child protection laws. It is the position of CASA of NH that it acted in accordance with its duty under the law to advocate for the best interests of the children and that it will not be found liable for the actions or inactions of others,” the organization said in a statement released Thursday.

CASA now joins DCYF and Easter Seals of New Hampshire as defendants in the case.

Abramson also ruled the family can waive confidentiality laws and enter documents into evidence that DCYF wanted to keep out of open court. Attorneys for the state argued the records should be confidential in order to protect the girls.

“The court finds the children in this case – as well as all children in this state who may experience the misfortune of being involved in abuse and neglect proceedings – have a strong and legitimate interest in ensuring the proper functioning and public accountability of the entities responsible for their care,” Abramson wrote. “On the other hand, the court finds (DCYF’s) interests in maintaining confidentiality in this case is motivated purely by their own self-interest in minimizing public exposure of their alleged errors.”

The original lawsuit, filed late last year, did not name CASA as a defendant. The amended complaint granted Thursday by Abramson alleges a CASA volunteer was part of the support system that allowed the girls to be abused by their parents.

The biological parents are serving life prison sentences after they were convicted of repeatedly sexually assaulting the girls during unsupervised visits arranged by the DCYF and CASA, the lawsuit states. Part of the criminal case uncovered video recordings the parents took of the sexual assault of the girls, ages 4 and 18 months at the time. The videos depict violent sexual assaults on the children by their biological parents.

According to the lawsuit, DCYF staffer Jennifer Damien and CASA guardian ad litem Lynn Liptay were told numerous times by the foster parents that the children were being abused by the biological parents. The children had been removed from their parents in 2012 and sent to live with the foster parents, who went on to adopt them.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, Damien, Lipay and an Easter Seals volunteer, known as “Missy” in the lawsuit, supervised visits between the children and the biological parents. During some of the supervised visits, the children were assaulted during “bath time,” when the Easter Seals volunteer allowed the parents time alone with the children, according to the lawsuit.

In September 2013, the Claremont Police Department sent Damien a copy of an investigative report in which the biological father is accused of sexually assaulting another child. New in Friday’s filings is the email Claremont Detective Emily Cobb sent Damien, including the report.

Damien continued to allow unsupervised visits with the parents even after being sent the police report. This was finally stopped in November 2013 when the oldest child started telling the foster parents about being sexually assaulted, resulting in the biological parents’ arrest.

When confronted by the adoptive parents and Cobb, Damien reported said she wanted to give the biological parents “the opportunity to fail,” according to the lawsuit.

DCYF filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the state can’t be held responsible for the actions of the biological parents. DCYF also wanted the adoptive parents dismissed as plaintiffs since they themselves did not experience the abuse. Abramson did not side DCYF in her motion released Thursday.